The Inmates Are Running The Search Engine Asylum

For search engine marketers and clients to communicate effectively, they must utilize a shared, common vocabulary. Some search engine marketing terms and concepts are easy to explain, such as query terms, commonly referred to as keywords or keyword phrases.

And some concepts require a little more clarification. For example, it might take me weeks or months to undo the preconceived notion that PageRank (PR) is a number between 1 and 10, because so many amateur search engine marketers base their link-building services on the Google Toolbar feature.

Unfortunately, one of the reasons we search professionals have difficulty establishing and using a common vocabulary lies with the search engines themselves. If a representative from Yahoo or Google uses a term and shows supporting documentation on the search engine’s site, their words are as good as gold. In the meantime, I sit there with a furrowed, brow, clenched teeth, and an eye roll that I could only learn from a teenager, and think, "Greeeeaaaat…here is another search engine hype thing for me to deal with."

So, to help my fellow search engine optimization (SEO) professionals, here are two examples of misunderstood terms and concepts created and propagated by search engine reps. Before I begin, I want to establish a frame of reference.

The inmates are running the asylum syndrome

Usability professionals (both software and web) are probably familiar with Alan Cooper’s incredible book, The Inmates Are Running the Asylum: Why High-Tech Products Drive Us Crazy and How to Restore the Sanity. This book was required reading for me in one of my graduate school classes.

In a nutshell, Cooper basically explains how high-tech interfaces drive users nuts because they only make sense to the people who design and architect these interfaces. Sort of like the tail wagging the dog. Or a Dilbert cartoon. This is my frame of reference. And now, onto the inmates….

Google SiteMap = URL list

Okay Google, I get it. I am a marketing professional, too. I get that the word "sitemap" isn’t as sexy as the phrase "URL list."

I understand that the word "sitemap" is easier to understand because it is almost self-explanatory. People with either technical or non-technical skills alike understand the concept: map of a website.

I understand that many non-techies do not know what a URL is. I have to deal with this situation all of the time. To reinforce its meaning during training and consultations, I tend to write or display URL (web address) repeatedly.

But let’s just cut through the marketing hooha. A Google SiteMap does not even remotely resemble the world’s concept of a map. In reality, it is a URL list, clean and simple. I wish Google would do a better job at explaining exactly what their version of "sitemap" is to people who might not have the same context that Google has, or the same context that SEO professionals have. Google has a blog, a Help section, a Press Center, conference speakers. They could do a better job at explaining the difference between a wayfinder sitemap and a URL list. Plus they could give SEO professionals really good content to link to.

But I get it. SiteMap is sexy. URL list is confusing.

Yahoo Search Marketing = search engine advertising

I love Yahoo. I use Yahoo every day except on Saturdays (it is my unplugged day). But man oh man, I was really unhappy at Yahoo’s rebranding choice of Overture product – Yahoo Search Marketing? Huh? Trust me, whenever I watch people follow an information scent for advertising on Yahoo, they are not looking for the phrase "search marketing." They are looking for the word "advertising."

I have written about this topic for many years. I should not be writing about this topic now, but I find I have to write about it every year because this misconception will not go away. Search engine marketing encompasses a wide variety of services, including but not limited to:

  • Search engine advertising
  • Search engine optimization
  • Local search
  • Video search
  • Blog search
  • Etc.

I implore you, Yahoo. Google has AdWords and AdSense. Microsoft has adCenter. Will you PLEASE do some sort of contest and let your users come up with a sexy new word that uses "ad" in it? The contest winner(s) can receive free Yahoo advertising (up to a certain amount) for a year. Or give ‘em a link. You know, search engine optimizers love those links.

You can use the users’ language in a good way, you know. Readers, what do you think? Do you have any other examples where the inmates are running the search engine asylum?

Shari Thurow is the Founder and SEO Director at Omni Marketing Interactive and the author of the book Search Engine Visibility. The 100% Organic column appears Thursdays at Search Engine Land.

Opinions expressed in the article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land.

Related Topics: All Things SEO Column | Channel: SEO


About The Author: is the Founder and SEO Director at Omni Marketing Interactive and the author of the books Search Engine Visibility and When Search Meets Web Usability. Shari currently serves on the Board of Directors of the Information Architecture Institute (IAI) and the ASLIB Journal of Information Management. She also served on the board of the User Experience Professionals Association (UXPA).

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