Thursday, July 28th, 2011 – The Day After In-World Search Changed Forever. (again)

Overnight the results presented by In-World Search have changed for everyone. Some will be ecstatic at the results, some will be decimated. Since the changes took effect (and actually since just a few hours before they kicked in) I’ve been answering IM after IM from people frantic to find out what they should do now. To be totally honest, I’m not sure yet. But then again, that’s exactly how Linden Lab wants it.

I have a secret and I’m not telling you!

The trick to running a search engine development team is to keep all the ranking and relevance factors secret. When you’re someone like Google, Bing!, etc. those factors can be exploited to gain unfair advantage over others and push your web pages to the top of the results. On the Interwebs, that’s a big problem. The Search Engine Gurus spend a lot of time and effort cooking up new algorithms, factors and techniques to “properly” rank pages. The Search Dev Team at Linden Lab, having cut their eye teeth on the GSA and now employing the open source Lucene engine, have followed the same rules.

However, folks like me that are engaged in “Reverse Engineering” their secret recipes do what we can to understand or at least be able to throw enough darts at the board to understand to some degree exactly what they’re doing under the covers. Now that the bomb has dropped, I’ve got some preliminary guesses that might help a few folks. But let me stress, unless I say otherwise these are GUESSES! Educated perhaps, but all the same they are formed from very preliminary and incomplete information. I’m giving them away for free, so most likely they’re worth every penny.

Groups and Personal Profiles

The first thing to realize is that the ranking results returned by the DGP4SL Search Bot V2 includes Groups that contain your search term or keyword and any personal (Avatar) profiles too. For some search terms that are wildly popular in Group Names or Avatar profiles/names, that could mean your listing appears way down the page .. or even on the next page. Back in the early GSA days it was learned that Group and Avatar profiles should not be included in basic results unless specifically requested. When people are looking for a Group, they use the “Search” function in the Groups tab of their Viewer. When they are looking for an Avatar, they (should) use the People filter. Including these two types of results by default will do nothing but frustrate anyone using Search.

Yo! Linden Lab! Please remove Groups and Avatar Profiles from default Search Results! PLEASE!

The Most Relevant Is …

It appears that the most relevant bit of text in any listing is the Land Name. I have a suspicion that they are actually ranking the second and following words higher in relevance than the first word too. This makes sense … sort of … because most people put their business name first. So if that first word isn’t as “relevant” then that’s okay. However you should also note that overall word density matters too. (I’ll get into that a bit later on.)

Following that is the Land Description. For a long time now they’ve been advising people to use the Land Description to provide a human-readable synopsis of what you sell or provide on that parcel. The new search reinforces that by making it highly relevant too. However they also seem to have employed some filters that look for keyword stuffing, so if you just load it up with keywords, it might not work so good for you. Also again, overall word density matters.

What About The Stuff I Sell?

This is the one question folks have asked me the most (after the general “Now what?!?” question). The short answer is .. meh! From my initial analysis, it appears that the objects set to Show In Search on your parcel matter, but they matter about as much as raindrops on Godzilla. It is my suspicion that this is how Linden Lab has decided to deal with “Spammers” … those folks that actually USE In-World Search to attract business.

So if you’re engaged in an upward spiraling “Battle of the Prims” with your competitors … let the Wookies win. Instead spend your time tweaking your Land Name and Description so that it is concise, human readable and sparse. Then uncheck just about everything you can (like .. y’know .. everything) that is currently set to show in Search. Set just the highly relevant objects to Show In Search, but only if they have the keywords that matter to you in their Name and Description and they have really short Descriptions. Don’t get verbose, it will hurt you.

I Fall Down Go Boost!

That magical mystical “WTF is it used for” Boost factor still matters too … sort of. The problem is that Boost is calculated by the program that generates the HTML pages from your Parcel’s objects and info. The rules it uses to assign a negative Boost factor are not exactly the same as those used by the new Search Engine to calculate your Parcel’s Rank. So sometimes a negative Boost will knock you plum out of Search Results, and sometimes it won’t affect your rank in the least. Generally if it gives you a negative Boost because you’ve spammed hell out of your objects then .. you’re gone. But if it gives you a negative Boost because you only have 10 things listed to Show In Search then it probably won’t matter .. much.

Overall Word Density

To understand Overall Word Density, you have to picture a giant pot of stew. In that stew are all the ingredients found in your Parcel’s Listing. In this case, those “ingredients” are the various words used in the Land Name and Description as well as the Name and Descriptions of the Objects you’ve marked to Show In Search. With any stew, the goal is to have specific “flavors” be more noticeable than others. With beef stew, you want to taste the beef, bean stew should taste like beans, etc. It’s the same with keywords and search. You want the dominant keywords (flavors) to be those that matter to you and your business. So what is the best way to go about that?

The short answer is … short. To be precise, use as few words as you can. So for example if you want to make your “stew” all about Shoes then you would:

  • Name your Land “Shoes”
  • Give your Land the Description “Shoes”
  • Deed it to a Group named “Shoes”
  • Don’t list any of the objects on the Land to Show In Search

What that gives you is a stew with one ingredient … “Shoes”. (Be sure to boil liberally .. them things can be tough to chew.)

Of course any reasonable shopper will look at your listing in Search Results and breeze right past it. Why? Because it looks like SPAM! (Duh!) So you do need to add some additional flavors. For example:

  • Name your Land “MyNeatStuff Shoes” (assuming your business is called MyNeatStuff)
  • Give your Land the Description “Shoes and more Shoes. Low Prim, Sculpted Shoes. Styles for Men and Women.”
  • Deed it to a Group named “Shoes” (or something similar)
  • List your Shoe Vendors to Show In Search, then edit their Names and Descriptions to keep the total word counts low.

As with any good recipe, too much spice, too many flavors just make it a horrible meal to try and consume. The trick is balance. Remember that humans want to visit your store and buy your stuff. If your listing looks friendly only to computers, humans will stay away.

What About Spim Prammer?

Yes, Spim Prammer and other similar tools and techniques for adding Prims with specially constructed names and descriptions remain useful. But whereas they were highly useful for advancing your rank under the GSA Search Engine, with the new SOLR/Lucene Search Engine they are more like fine adjustment knobs. The most benefit is to improve your Overall Word Density or eliminate a negative Boost value by adding Prims with specific keywords. But all in all, such devices are not as important or “Killer” as they were.

Final Editorial Comment

I totally get why Linden Lab keeps changing In-World Search. The problem is, Linden Lab doesn’t “get” why people use Search, nor do they “get” why Merchants spend so much time and money optimizing and tweaking their parcels to improve their rank in Search Results.

Big companies, big sellers with high volume use Search to attract new customers. And I don’t just mean new to their products, I mean new to Second Life. Newbs with no idea what to buy, what’s available or what is possible. By using Search to find the “Big Names” those new users get an introduction to all the virtual world of Second Life can offer.

There is a reason 100’s of thousands of people shop at WalMart … it’s got everything. When you get to any new town, the first thing you find is the local WalMart. After you live there a while and learn the local peculiarities, that’s when you discover the little shops, the gems in the rough and the hidden delights that add true character to each area. But when you’re new and you need to feel at home, you want some place that has what you want, what you need … and stuff you didn’t even know existed. And those are always the Big Shops.

With this latest change in In-World Search, once again Linden Lab has smacked the Big Sellers down hard. Some have bubbled up, true enough. But of the handful that rose some, there are scores more that have been banished “below the fold”. Not only is this damaging the economy, but it’s also damaging the hallowed “New User Experience”.

So once again I beseech Linden Lab, stop twiddling with In-World Search. Resign yourselves to the fact that it’s going to get gamed and it will (eventually) be “Pwned” by the big names. But that’s a good thing, because when those New Users come to Second Life and walk into the first place they find to buy some clothes … if they have a world of choices in front of them then they are a LOT more likely to spend some time (and some money) than if they wander into a tiny place with three choices … none of which appeal to them.

Visit the DGP4SL Store on SL Marketplace


One Comment on Kaaaaaaaa-BOOOOM!

  1. Second Life Search Changes Again on Thu, 28th Jul 2011 5:33 PM
  2. […] Darrius Gothly’s blog DGP4SL covers Second Life Search. He does SEO stuff for those in SL. I do SEO stuff iRL for various web clients and do pretty well. I tried using those RL concepts when I had a store in SL. RL SEO ideas do not work well in Second Life. So, if you find traffic to your store has suddenly dropped off, check out Darrius’ latest article; Kaaaaaaaa-BOOOOM! […]