How to Manage In-World Search on Second Life

A number of people that depend on Second Life’s In-World Search have come to me and asked for help in optimizing their parcel or store. However a much larger number have chosen the Do It Yourself method. I’m pretty much a DIY kind of guy too, so I completely understand. But doing it by yourself only works if you truly know what you are doing. Just as you wouldn’t rent a bunch of tools and start replacing the head gasket on your car’s engine if all you’d ever done was add oil … you shouldn’t start tweaking and adjusting your Object Names and Descriptions until you have at least a basic idea of how Search works. More importantly, you need to know how it DOESN’T work … it doesn’t work immediately.

Lag Shooting

“Lag Shooting” is a term my kids use all the time in conjunction with their favorite online first-person shooters (games). It means you must aim ahead of your target because the target has moved by the time your bullet/grenade/energy pulse gets there. Lag Shooting also takes into account the inherent delays of the internet, the game being played and all the other bits in between the players. With online games and the Internet, those delays can vary by quite a bit. Since Linden Lab’s Search Dev Team has been messing around with the GSA and how it works, anything you try and do to improve your rank in Search must also take their built-in (and widely varying) delays into account as well.

The GSA Two-Step

There are two primary processes involved in the GSA indexing process as I mentioned in my previous post Playing Hide and Seek in Second Life. (There are actually three steps, but we only need be concerned with the two primary ones.) In order to ensure that any changes you make are accurately reflected in Search Results, you must make sure that both steps have completed properly. Those two steps are:

  1. Update of the publicly available HTML page listing your Parcel’s Objects set to Show In Search, and
  2. The GSA has indexed and saved the updated listing in its internal Keyword Database.

So how do you know when these two steps have been completed? And how long does it usually take? Read on and I’ll fill you in.

Finding the HTML Web Page for Your Parcel

Before we dive in, first you must be able to find and view the HTML web page that lists all the Objects on your Parcel. So how do you find that page? Simple .. more or less.

There are a number of Freebie Tools available on the SL Marketplace that can provide the URL (or web link) to your Parcel’s web page. The two that I recommend most are:

Both are easy to operate. Simply wear or rez as appropriate and follow the instructions. Both will display the full URL to your Parcel’s web page. All you need to do then is click on the link and the web page will open in your choice of Browser. (I also recommend bookmarking or favoriting the page so you can find it easily in the future.)

Step 1 – HTML Parcel Listing Page Update

When you make changes to the Objects on your Parcel that are set to Show In Search, those changes are reflected immediately In-World, but the HTML web page that lists every object is not. The Search Dev Team has decided that immediate updates of those pages is not allowed. In a sense this is understandable because we often make changes in spurts, so trying to update the web page after every single change could impose quite a heavy load on their servers. Thus they have injected a delay by means of performing the HTML updates on a (wildly varying) six-hour schedule.

Once you make a change to any single Object that is set to Show In Search, that change will not appear on the Parcel’s web page until the next scheduled update. Since updates are scheduled every six hours, it should be an easy matter to just wait six hours and check again. (Yeah .. right. You want me to wait SIX HOURS?!?)

Okay, okay … there is a quicker way too. At the bottom of your Parcel’s web page is a “last generated” timestamp that shows when the last update to the HTML was made. Here’s an example:

I have highlighted the timestamp in the example above. Without getting into deep techie goop, just know that the time and date shown in the timestamp is GMT (Greenwich Mean Time) and not the more common SLT (Second Life Time). If you live in the UK, you’re in luck, the time shown is also your local time. The rest of us have to do some math. (Yes, math! Shush!)

My local time zone is GMT-5, so to convert the timestamp shown above, I would subtract five hours. That tells me that the web page was last updated at 11:03AM on March 12th, 2011. Adding six hours to that gives me the next “expected” update time of 5:03PM on March 12th, 2011.

I say “expected” update time because the web pages are not updated exactly on time. The update WILL use the Objects set to Show In Search that existed at the expected time, but it may not actually update the web page until some number of minutes later .. sometimes as much as an hour later. The best way to know that the update has occurred is to note when the “last generated” timestamp updates. You can then be sure that the Objects it lists are current and up to date (as of the time and date shown at least).

NOTE: Any available SEO Analysis tools work from the HTML web page, so they will not reflect proper information until the web page has been updated. This includes any tools that report Boost or analyze keywords on your Parcel.

Step 2 – The GSA Index Spider

The next step occurs when the GSA (Google Search Appliance) Indexes or “Crawls” your Parcel’s web page. During this process, the GSA Spider crawls all the web pages for all the Parcels on the Second Life Grid, updates its internal keyword and ranking database with the results and prepares excerpts (or “snippets”) that are displayed in Search Results. This process also occurs approximately every six hours, but once again the schedule can vary, sometimes skips altogether, and may even stop before completing the entire process.

So how do you know when the GSA Index Spider has indexed your Parcel? Most people add a unique or uncommon keyword to one of their Parcel Objects then search for that word. When the search results contain their Parcel, they know the Spider has crawled and indexed their listing.

Dancing In Lock-Step … NOT!

Unfortunately the two steps, HTML web page update and GSA Spider Indexing, are not on the same schedule. The HTML Update process varies the most, sometimes delaying several hours. It’s not exactly clear why or when this can occur, but it does. The GSA Spider is much more regular, but again it is not synchronized with the HTML web page update. This means that many times you will have to wait as long as 12 hours before your changes are properly reflected in Search Results.┬áThis is extremely important, so I’ll say it again …

Changes to your Parcel’s Objects can take up to 12 hours to appear in Search!

Monitoring these two steps manually can be not only time consuming but very annoying. I don’t know about you, but I have better things to do than sit and check a web page or run Search every few minutes to see if the GSA has updated with my latest changes. However, have no fear, there are much simpler ways to automate the monitoring and let you know when the two steps have completed.

Step 1 The Easy Way – Search Bot to the Rescue

One of the Search-related tools that we developed for use in Second Life is the Search Bot. Among its many functions is a feature that helps you keep track of when your Parcel’s HTML web page has updated. When you “Touch” the Search Bot, it will provide you with the URL to the Search Rank History web page for that parcel. On that page is a detail header that tells you many good things about your Parcel and the Objects that are set to Show In Search. Shown here is an example:

Included in this header (shown as the last line above) is the time and date of the last HTML update corrected to SLT (Second Life Time). Immediately following that is how long until the next “expected” update. Remember that the time is only approximate and that the web page for your Parcel will most likely not be updated until some time after that shown. However the Objects on your Parcel that exist at that time WILL be the ones shown in the updated page; it just takes them a while to format the page and post it to their web server.

Once the expected update time has passed, if the web page has not been updated yet then the update line will appear similar to this:

After the page has updated, the line will again show the countdown until the next update.

NOTE: The URL provided by the Search Bot is only good for 30 minutes. During that time you may “Refresh” the web page periodically to get the latest countdown time. However after the 30 minutes has elapsed, an error will be displayed instead. Simply “Touch” Search Bot again to retrieve a new URL.

Now that we know when the Parcel’s web page has updated, we need to know when the GSA Index Spider has crawled the new page.

Step 2 The Easy Way – The Spider Catcher

Another of our Search-related tools is the Spider Catcher. Spider Catcher uses the same method explained in Step 2 above, but with one handy twist … it sends you an Email when your Parcel has been indexed. It automates the process of checking Search Results, looking for the unique word it added to its own Description. Once it finds that word, it sends you an Email similar to the following:

As soon as this Email arrives, you know that the GSA Index Spider has successfully crawled and indexed your Parcel. Both steps have completed, your updates have been posted to the HTML web page and the GSA has indexed those changes. In short, you’re done! (Yay!)

Conclusion and Other Stuff

As explained above, you can manage your Parcel’s Objects much more intelligently by using the two steps described. Whether you use the manual method or employ automated tools, it is important to keep in mind that nothing about Search is instant. Too many times I see people making changes, checking Search … then making more changes because “nothing happened.” Obviously this is fraught with failure because it will be at least six hours and more often much longer before any changes you make are reflected in Search Results.

The two-step process and the extended delays imposed by the Search Dev Team at Linden Lab further complicates the process of detecting, understanding and fixing one of the most common problems with a Parcel … Negative Boost. Not only do they keep secret the details of why a Parcel is assigned a negative Boost value, the delay between your attempts to fix it and the proof that it IS fixed is delayed until the next HTML update has completed. Even if you realize that your changes didn’t fix the Boost problem, you won’t know until it is too late to try and fix it until the NEXT web page update. This means that you can waste hours if not days trying to resolve what should be a simple error. Sadly, LL’s Search Dev Team has decided that stalling and delaying you is their goal … and thus you have no choice but to wait.

As a side note, the Search Bot Parcel Detail block shown on the Rank History web page will also show you when your Parcel has been assigned a negative Boost value. The image to the right is an example of the Boost display that will appear anytime a Boost other than zero is detected on your Parcel’s web page.

Shameless Plug Time

The tools mentioned above may be purchased from the DGP4SL Store on the SL Marketplace or by visiting our In-World Main Store on the Dirty Pleasures Sim. There is also quite a bit more detail about our SEO Tools and other devices on the DGP4SL Wiki.

Visit the DGP4SL Store on SL Marketplace


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