July 30th, 2004


Search for Words with Multiple Meanings

A search engine claims to create lists of context-based homonyms, which sounds like a darn good idea to me. But then I got started thinking about the nature of spelling and language, especially in English which stems from so many sources (including Norse, who would guess?).

The classic IR example of how a search term can be ambiguous is "bank" -- does that mean "financial institution", "to store something", "side of a river", "airplane maneuver" or what? How should the search engine handle this situation? It gets even more complex to cope with when there are names, slang, acronyms and abbreviations added to the mix. Does a person searching for "coke" want to find the cola, the drug, the form of coal? How about searching for "freddy mac" or "jones" or "ARIA"?

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Oddly enough, there seems to be no accepted linguistic term for words which are spelled the same, may or may not sound the same, but mean different things:

  • Homonyms sound the same or are spelled these same but mean different things (e.g. bore vs. boar).

  • Homophones sound the same but are different in meaning or spelling or both

  • Homographs are spelled the same and may or may not sound the same, but mean different things (e.g. bow, card, swallow). Note: many linguists use this term only for words that are spelled the same but do not sound the same.

  • Polysemes have the same etymological word source but multiple meanings (according to some)

  • Heteronyms are spelled the same but have different pronunciations (according to some)

For text search purposes, we only care about homographs, because the spelling is what matters.


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SearchTools Listing: Search Engine Optimization

Promoting Your Site on Web Search Engines

The SearchTools.com site concentrates on search engines for web sites, e-commerce, intranets and topical portals. Web search engines attempt to index the entire web, or a significant portion thereof. To bring people to a site, you need to make sure that the web search engines know about the site and index the text on it. This is called search engine promotion or search engine optimization (SEO). Advertising using keyword based pay-per-click (PPC) systems is called search engine marketing (SEM).

There are a lot of unethical consultants and services that will claim they can guarantee you top listings. Be sure that the search engine optimization strategies you use also make a good web site, rather than faking it. Do not use hidden text, cloaking, link farms or any other gimmick to try to improve your rankings in webwide search engines: that will likely backfire.

Search Engine Optimization / Marketing Sites

  • SearchEngineWatch covers how search engines work and how to get listed and ranked. I highly recommend this site.

  • SearchEngineWorld is another site that is devoted to promotion and optimization.

  • Traffick.com provides news and analysis on search engines, portals, and marketing via them.

  • Selfpromotion.com has lots of excellent information on this topic, and a shareware approach to promotion: you get useful tools for free and more useful tools if you pay for them.

  • Spider-Food is a cheerful and friendly site with helpful information on dealing with search engines.

  • About.com's SEO 101 is a good introduction to making web sites rank well in search engines by site design and architecture.


  • Danny Sullivan, SearchEngineWatch - the leading expert in the field, has an in-depth understanding of web search engines.

  • Shari Thurow of Grantastic speaks and consults on this topic, understands information architecture problems as well as search engine-specific issues.

  • Jill Whalen of HighRankings.com provides clear and useful advice on her site and as a consultant. She's particularly good at explaining how to write focused and topical pages, among other optimization processes.

  • Andrew Goodman Page Zero Media has specific expertise in search engine marketing and pay-per-click keyword advertising.

  • Amanda Watlington of Searching For Profit provides creative solutions in many areas including search traffic analysis, information architecture and content issues.

  • iProspect is a full-service company providing both search engine optimization and marketing solutions.