A tale of two searches.

While plotting a gift for my wife, I recalled an Oprah episode featuring interior design. [For the record, I wasn’t actually watching Oprah, I just happened to be in the same room while it was on. Glad we got that cleared up.] One of the guests had written a book about decorative wall painting that looked to be good gift material… except I could remember neither the name of the guest, nor the name of the book, save for “painted” something or other.

Plan A… Oprah.com. I plugged away at the site’s search engine, using virtually every related key word I could think of–painted, walls, decorating, design–and while I believe I found an abstract of sorts for the show in question, I still couldn’t uncover the name of the guest… or the book.

Plan B… Amazon.com. Plugging in the search terms “painted walls” returns a very small, targeted set of results, with Debbie Travis’ Painted House at the very top of the list. A home run with my very first swing.

So what’s the difference? Why would Oprah.com fail to return usable results after several minutes of searching and a dozen terms, while Amazon.com found my target in 3 seconds and two terms? I can’t be certain, but it may have something to do with semantics. First, Amazon can reasonably expect that most searches will target book authors and titles. Oprah’s web, by contrast, likely hosts a much broader variety of searches… show topics, guests, causes, what have you. Second, I’d expect that Amazon employs key word targeting, so that searches that are similar to a particular book’s title–especially searches that previously resulted in the selection of a particular title–are programmed to return precisely that book. Oprah’s site clearly doesn’t employ targeted searches… or doesn’t do them well.

It *is* possible to find the book in question on Oprah’s site. It requires a minimum three clicks down a very specific path, and you need to know when the episode that featured the book aired. Probably not the best way to track down a book….

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