Mike Essex

What If… Search Didn’t Exist?

7th Apr 2010 Content Marketing Blog 5 minutes to read

There’s no denying searching for information has become an essential part of our day to day lives. However, what if search never existed? How would we find a website or explore a complex database, and what systems would we build to take its place?

First let’s define what we mean by search. In this case we’ll just stick to any means of interrogating data: that covers the ‘simple’ tasks like a find and replace on Word, right up to complete WWW exploration through Google.

From this perspective it seems we’d lose pretty much every little shortcut for navigating our way around a data process. In terms of our working life; anyone working in admin or data entry would have a hard time finding any database records, even entering addresses would be slowed down by the removal of a postcode search.

Even play could be compromised. Facebook would be far less fun if we had to find our friends through a process of A-Z scanning. Even Twitter, who held off a search function for as long as they could, have now made search their primary call to action on the homepage.


So if search had never existed we would be unaware of all these things and most likely would have devised alternate ways to find data without the need for search. Here are a few solutions (for the online arena at least) on how we could live without search, and please add your own to the comments:

1 – Larger reliance on directories: For most of us online users, the Yellow Pages is now seen as a nuisance, a giant monolith of old thinking that sits next to the BT directory, Littlewoods catalogue and other unsolicited mail, to hardly ever be used.

However, pre internet the Yellow Pages was a godsend, the way it organises data through categories and an A-Z index makes data finding fast and efficient.  It’s likely this way of thinking would have returned or be developed, and online directory sites would have seen a far greater resurgence than today. Although you wouldn’t be able to search the directories, organisation by categories and sub categories would help.

2 – More organised websites: So many poorly designed websites exist today as designers feel if a customer can’t see what they want they’ll use a search box to find it.  With this get out clause removed designers would have no choice but to streamline content and ensure it can be found through natural navigation trees. Topman do this well, with all your shopping options gradually broken down on the left hand side.

3 – Increased site loyalty – If a site is poor you can find another one very easily, but what if you couldn’t? Chances are once you found an online news site without search you’d probably stay there and return in the future. This would lead to an increased variety of large websites rather than having a handful of specialists in each industry such as eBay.

4 – More word of mouth marketing – Although we very often digg, social bookmark or tweet our favourite content for sharing, it’s often things we find funny or insightful. That’s mainly because we’ve already found the useful websites we require so can afford to spend our time viewing lolcats instead. Without search these bookmarking tools would see further growth and contain more depth and variety of content as users further seek gaps in their online experience.

5 – More advertising – Assuming that the Internet was seen as a valuable marketing tool (without search it may not have taken off at all) we would see more advertising as a way of promoting big brands online. Google AdWords and Facebook advertising budgets would also be freed up (as they simply couldn’t exist without search) for more traditional offline channels – helping at least fund the publishing industry a little longer.

We’d also return to the days when adverts for offline products actually explained what each product is. No more abstract adverts that assume we will go online to fill in the knowledge gaps and no more movie trailers that tell you absolutely nothing about the film but offer glimpses of enough action scenes to get you searching for more information.

6 – Less websites – Whilst it’s pretty hard to find a niche websites now, it’d be nigh on impossible without search. Whilst blogs would still appear – as they offer a useful way to share opinions – it would be harder to find and explore their content.  We’d also see the loss of Google AdSense as a revenue driver, removing the financial incentive for blogging in the first place.

7 – A new type of Search Engine Optimisation – Without search there would be no SEO services, without SEO there would be a lot of unemployed search specialists. However, the desire to raise a site to the top of public awareness would not disappear. Rather than finding ways to work with search engines, we would find ways to work with directories and site owners to raise good content to the top. The basic principle of SEO would stay the same, we’d simply change our way of working.

R.I.P Search

The Encyclopaedia Britannica organises the history of the world in to 32 books.
The Oxford English Dictionary explains  240,000 words in one book.

Looking at the information on offer in the two titles above clearly we can organise complex data in to a logical and manageable fashion. We can and have survived without search. Although it’ll never happen now, a world without search may have given us better designed websites and less financially motivated blogs. It could have seen better streamlined directories and a greater sense of community and sharing really useful websites.

Any good lawyer should be able to explain a case from both perspectives, and in closing it’s clear there are two sides to the search story. Search is a fantastically useful tool that speeds up our life, often in ways we can’t even see or appreciate, but we can’t become too reliant on it as we sometimes miss the hidden online gems and forget to share them with others.

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