Optimising for Search

So you’ve created and launched your parcel or region; but now how is anyone going to find it?  You’ll of course probably promote it offline through targeted marketing, as well as in all likelihood via a web site.  But you’ll also want to make it findable by users in-world via a viewer’s Search window.  The four snapshots below (click to see the full size version) show search results for the keyword ‘university’ in the Second Life Viewer 2 (top row) and in Phoenix (bottom row) in the All tab (first column) and the Places tab (second column).  You’ll note in the bottom right snapshot that, in Places search, locations are ranked by volume of traffic.

What is presumed still to be the current traffic algorithm is published on the Second Life wiki:

In May 2008, Linden Lab provided a description of the traffic algorithm, which they assure is still current:

How ‘traffic’ works:

  • Every user gets 1 point of dwell to give out during the 24 hours between midnight and midnight. Any parcel of land that the Resident spends more than 5 sequential minutes on gets counted as a place that they spent time.
  • Parcels owned by the Resident (or group) are counted as if they were the same parcel. The user’s 1 point is then evenly divided between those parcels.
  • So, I if was online for 1 hour and spent 20 minutes on Resident A’s parcel and 40 minutes on Resident B’s parcel, Resident A would get 0.333 from me and Resident B would get 0.666 from me.
  • Alternately, if I only spent 5 minutes online and spent all of it on resident A’s land, she would receive 1 point from me. Those raw point totals are what is reported in the find window. Traffic does not take into account the length of time someone spends on a parcel, but rather is based on the proportion of their inworld time spent there.

As you can see, the traffic measurement is confusing to understand and doesn’t necessarily result in useful statistics for Residents, which is another reason why the Popular Places tab is being replaced with the Showcase. (Source, LewisPR on behalf of Linden Lab, 16 May 2008)
» http://wiki.secondlife.com/wiki/Talk:About_Traffic

Your ranking by traffic in the Places search (the greater the traffic through your parcel the higher your ranking) of course becomes a classic ‘chicken and egg’ dilemma: in order to be placed high enough in the Search results to be visible to potential new visitors you need to be generating significant traffic, while in order to generate the significant traffic you must be enticing a sufficiently large number of visitors to your location.

There are obvious ways of increasing traffic, depending on the nature and purpose of your build, for example:

  • use both in-world and web-based groups to promote your region.  Invite your region visitors to join your in-world group, and make judicious use of notices posted to the group.
  • if the purpose of your region is to create a shared-interest / special interest group (SIG) community, you will undoubtedly want to organise events on your parcel (and these need not be directly related to the core purpose of your region; for example, a dance, an art show, a discussion or debate, a picture contest, a book club, a quiz night).  Use group notices to promote your events.
  • consider allowing visitors (perhaps under condition of joining your group) to set their home location to some parcel in your region.

But there are also, during the building process itself, further measures you can take.  Phil Deakins, in an article posted to the Second Life wiki, identifies four basic ranking factors:

  • the HTML page Title tag (parcel name)
  • the HTML page Description tag (parcel description)
  • the HTML page content (names and descriptions of objects on the parcel)
  • inbound links (a simple count of IBLs)

He therefore suggests that the way to improve rankings is:

  1. Craft the parcel’s name and description carefully, with the most important search term(s) in the name, and the most important one at the front, because that’s what is put into the page’s important Title tag.
  2. Get people to add the place to their Picks, and to LM it. That increases the IBLs, which probably weigh heavier than the words on the page, simply because they can be seen as votes for the place – that’s something that Google’s whole system is based on. I’ve tested the words in people’s Picks, and they aren’t used, so getting them to change the place name to suitable target phrases is no good. IBLs are merely counted, as was stated in the blog.
  3. Add various search terms in the names and descriptions of the objects on the land, and make sure that the objects are set to show in search. That gets those phrases onto the page where they will improve the page’s score, so add at least several instances of each phrase. Existing objects can have the names and descriptions modified for the purpose. It doesn’t necessarily need a load of extra prims.

Keep on with 2 and 3 until you move up the rankings. Don’t forget that there may be quite a gap before you catch the ones ahead of you, and they may be doing the same things too.
» http://wiki.secondlife.com/wiki/User:Qie_Niangao/Optimizing_Parcels_for_Search

Crucial as it is, traffic alone is nonetheless as unreliable a measure of both the popularity and the success of your SL location as is a raw head count of shoppers entering a department store in the real world.  Just as what matters in real life is the number of window shoppers who are ‘converted’ to buyers, so in Second Life what matters is the number of casual visitors to your region who are ‘converted’ to regular visitors.  So, as a final word, you might wish to take the following further steps:

  • set a distinctive spot as the landing point for your region, with a clear indication to the visitor of where s/he is
  • ensure as best you can that casual visitors to your region know that the purpose of the sim is (an explanatory poster, for example) and of what the visitor will find in your region
  • assist the visitor in navigating around your region by providing internal teleports
  • use a visitor counter to capture the names of your visitors (there are free scripts that will do this), and consider sending out welcoming IMs

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