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The Metaphysics of Relevance

Online marketing information can change quickly This article is 9 years and 253 days old, and the facts and opinions contained in it may be out of date.

Search - It's All Relative‘Quality,’ as described by Pirsig, cannot be directly defined. Likening it with the Tao, Pirsig believes that Quality is a force in the universe stimulating everything from atoms to animals to evolve and incorporate ever greater levels of Quality

“Relevance” and search quality seem to have become fairly synonomous. While relevance doesn’t seem to go quite this deep, it does seem to permeate every crevice of the “search world” these days. Relevance is the new holy grail that everyone is striving for. Search results must be relevant to the user. Sites must be relevant to the search engines. Titles and headings must be relevant to the page, and advertising and text links should be relevant to the body copy.

Relevance has become a huge SE/SEO/SEM buzzword that you will hear out of nearly any consultant/manager/engineer’s mouth in the industry if you listen to them for five minutes. I see and hear it near everywhere I go now, and thought I’d contemplate the term a bit to give myself a stronger understanding of what folks are actually saying when they refer to “relevant”.

I’ve looked at the stem of the word – related…and variations relative and relevance and seem to just get a mindful of wandering ideas most of the time.

My favorite definition is from dictionary.com:
tending logically to prove or disprove a fact of consequence or to make the fact more or less probable and thereby aiding the trier of fact in making a decision Though it seems the search engines have gotten to them as well (see the 3rd definition).

Google has a couple stabs at defining the terms as well:

Google Define: Relevance
Google Define: Relative
Now you may be asking yourself…if relevance is so elusive, then how come Google can define it? Well, my answer to you is that G also attempts to define Robert Pirsig’s elusive term “quality”, and may “see the forest”, but definitely are not catching all the trees. The bigger question is whether or not they will ever ACHIEVE relevance, and what would that accomplishment entail? Perhaps incorporating more logic than most humans do would help.

Let’s take a look at the search engine’s who started this madness of defining relevance as their pinnacle of being.
Search Engine Mission Statements
Yahoo! – Yahoo’s mission is to be the most essential global Internet service for consumers and businesses.

Hmmm…sure sounds like “relevant” could be substituted for essential.

Google’s mission is to organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful.Google Corporate info
Substitute relevant here for “universally accessible and useful”, and I think you’ll see the common theme between SE goals.

Of course mission statements are mainly corporate dribble, but most of us have heard SE reps claim on more than a few occasions that their true search mission was to provide “relevant results for users”.

So basically from a couple hours of reading and considering the topic, I learned that relevance is a large black hole of intellectual time that is great in aiding the explanation of things that most people won’t understand anyways. Relevance is highly relative, and the only ways to get closer to this ambiguous goal is through personalization, specialization, and localization. Don’t be left behind…make sure your new media advertising is relevant.

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