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The Magic Bullet - A chat with Bill Slawski

Written by David Harry   
Thursday, 25 October 2007 20:43

The other day I posted an article about ‘relevance in SEO’ and it generated some conversations in my web-wanderings. Some of the chats I had were with people looking to establish some sort of path to the ‘secret sauce’ via the concepts I was discussing.This got me thinking about the 'quick fix’ attitudes that I run into now and again from folks that seem to be looking for the easy way out.

Come to Ranking NirvanaI can’t speak for others that have the addiction for all things technical, but I find that I often run into those that believe in some mystical way one can see the path to ranking Nirvana through the odd patent here and there or reading analysis of them. I certainly believe that seeking to understand the mind of a search engineer can give one insight into potential avenues of competitive advantage, but that does not mean I can deconstruct the methods and mechanisms of a given search engine - nor can you.

But what’s a guy to do?

Well, when you’re a lonely technical junky in the world of SEO, there is only ONE thing you can do… ask your pal Bill Slawski – the wise Search Turtle of all things technical-SEO;

“The main benefit from looking at patents isn't necessarily seeing the methods that they describe, but rather being able to view the assumptions and the mindsets that they uncover.  We can be so absorbed in looking at things from the perspective of marketers, and make up our own folklore and mythology (sandbox, anyone?) that having this other perspective can be really helpful

See, now that’s what I am talking about people. The journey into the depths and bowels of technical gobble-D-goop means a commitment to the ideal – not the answer. It is not the search for the Holy Grail but the desire to understand ‘a little bit more’ than you do now. A patent filed, is not a patent used, furthermore, even if it was implemented, there is no way of knowing the initial thresholds or ‘weighting’ that is given to that particular method. Trying to read more into them is often foolhardy.


The Magic Bullet

Patent Bending 101I understand the motivations behind many of those that approach me; tell me HOW it all works, give me the Magic Bullet. I truly wish it were that easy, I’d be a rich man. I am pretty sure there is many a Google search engineer that doesn’t know how all the ranking/scoring elements are used in concert nor their weightings, that’s not what it’s about for me anyway. It’s about understanding the underlying concepts behind ‘indexing and retrieval’. I give up the floor to monsieur Bill once again;

“Patent filings and white papers from search engineers don't necessarily provide a magic bullet, but they do provide the chance to look at information that comes directly from people working in search.  To ignore those documents means not taking advantage of publicly available information that gives us a glimpse what those search engines find valuable enough to protect as intellectual property.”


Don’t believe everything you hear

Another important aspect that shouldn’t be over-looked is that this is all publicly available information. What’s that mean? It means that due-diligence has been given to the wording and what exactly is being filed. To think that the actual ‘secret sauce’ would be contained in such technical documents is just silly. Given the environment of 21st century business, I dare say, there could even be some misdirection in there. Once again, I hand it back to Bill;

“Care should be taken to not read too much into what is described in a patent filing. But even more care should be taken in ignoring this source of information, or dismissing it out of hand as propaganda, or red herrings, or a diversion.  There are trade secrets that will likely never be disclosed in patent applications.  And, the descriptions of processes in patent filings are only examples, and illustrations, that describe enough to protect the intellectual property behind the documents, while not disclosing enough so that they can be easily reverse engineered.”


Are we getting the idea?

There is no magic bullet and no secret formula – and that’s not the point of the exercise. On a professional level you are simply covering all the bases and digesting all that you can to enhance your ability to do your job. As an enthusiast, it’s fascinating and captivating… and occasionally, sleep inducing. It’s about the thrill of the chase and respect for the creative thinking that’s involved with the technologies.

"It is like a finger pointing away to the moon. Don't concentrate on the finger, or you will miss all the heavenly glory." Bruce Lee in Enter The Dragon 1974

**A special thanks to Bill (search engine marketing guru) for letting me publish his comments – we both seem to have the same underlying passion, but express it differently. I felt his words would add to the flavour of the stew.


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