Search Marketing Sage published an article yesterday entitled Federated Search: Did You Know? I read the article plus one of the articles it referenced, Understanding Federated Link Building: A Primer With Examples, at Search Engine Land. I found them interesting enough to tweet them but I didn’t think about responding to them because both publishing blogs are SEO (search engine optimization) related and I didn’t think there was much of a connection between what I blog about and SEO. So, I forgot about the two articles.
To be honest, warning lights went on in my head when I noticed articles in the SEO community about federated search. My knee jerk reaction was that the articles were going to tell people how to exploit federated search engines to get spam into the search engine indexes. The articles turned out not to be spammy at all but I still didn’t have any thoughts on what I might be able to contribute about SEO and federated search. The federated search applications I write about all provide scholarly content and getting your site aggregated by such an application is next to impossible, unless, of course, you’re a university or other major institution that provides top notch content. So, I mentally filed the two articles away.
Then, this morning I did my regular twitter search for “federated search” and noticed a bunch of tweets for the “Did You Know?” article. And, I noticed that the “federated link building” article was also getting attention on twitter. So, I reconsidered my attitude about these two articles. A number of people found these articles valuable enough to retweet. Maybe I could find something to say.
Heck, if nothing else, maybe I’d get some inbound links for this post. Maybe if I write about the subject and reference my article on enough blogs that discuss SEO and “federated search” I could get some new blog subscribers and new twitter followers. Maybe some of the blogs I could comment on would be “do follow” blogs with a high Google PageRank that would give me some PageRank juice, although with a PageRank of 7 I’m much more likely to give more through my link love than I would receive.
Seriously, though, the “Federated Link Building” article got me thinking about SEO and federated search applications. There’s actually a tremendous interest in SEO by the organizations whose content is being federated. OSTI, one of my clients, makes a large amount of content available via OAI-PMH, through OAISTER and OpenDOAR, and to anyone else who wants to harvest it. Plus, they create large sitemaps to make it easy for the big three (Google, Yahoo!, and MSN) to index their content. This blog’s sponsor, Deep Web Technologies, is creating a product that creates topic pages which allow organizations to create static SEO-friendly pages that combine search results from their primary sources with reference material and images from outside sources. Scitopia.org is just one Deep Web Technologies customer that is very interested in the outreach potential of having Google find and index their content. Creating sitemaps and topic pages and making content “harvestable” are all ways to expose content in the deep web that is very difficult if not impossible for the crawlers to find without help. At the end of the day, every online organization wants to attract readers, followers, subscribers, and buyers of what they’re providing. Even organizations who give away information are wanting sufficient traffic to justify their worth.
Going back to Eric Ward’s “federated linking” idea about building links by getting aggregated by metasearch engines, I think that can work for folks who have authoritative, or at least highly desirable, content. This is a case of the rich getting richer; if you already have popular content then you may be able to attract search aggregators who might make your content even more attractive. If your content is poor then no aggregator with a reputation to maintain would want to touch it.
I think the point of Eric’s article might be that SEO folks don’t swim in the “deep web” waters and that they should consider dipping their toe in the water, so to speak. Many might never have heard of the deep web or think about how many metasearch engines there are out there. Charles Knight and his writers cover the alternative search engine industry at AltSearchEngines, including metasearch engines, so I recommend that blog as a way of looking for sites that might aggregate you.
My suspicion that many in the SEO world may never have heard of federated search is confirmed by the “Did You Know” article I mentioned early on. Author Catherine Potts leads with this:
What is Federated Search?
I really feel like an idiot because I was unaware of this term until yesterday but I guess it’s a pretty obvious thing. Eric Ward discusses it in his latest article over at Search Engine Land. After all the reading I’ve done… was I not paying attention or is this topic just not really something most SEOs focus on? It’s just not something I’ve had to really deal with in my job. It is something I’ve used while in college, however.
Catherine goes on to give a nice introduction to federated search and to the limitations of crawling and is kind enough to reference my blog. Plus, given the number of retweets by link builders, her thoughts and her article have struck a chord in her community.
So, those are my thoughts on SEO and federated search. If you like this article please Digg it, tweet it, Stumble it, and link to it from your highest ranking site. Oh, and if someone can tell me how I can get higher in the SERPs for “federated search” than Wikipedia I’d very much appreciate it.