The Anthropology of Search

As the HMA “newbie,” I can definitely say that the past four weeks have acted as a seamless continuation of the education I began two years ago as a full-time anthropology grad-student. What’s that, you ask? Anthropology? If you know off-the-bat what the discipline entails (apart from “digging stuff up” or “Indiana Jones”), go ahead and give yourself 50 bonus points! Heck, if you know what Australopithecus anamensis is, go ahead and tack on another 100.

For all the normals out there scratching their heads and asking why an anthropologist might make a leap into the world of search engine marketing and optimization, please allow me to explain. One thing that I love about anthropology is that it is literally everything.  As a linguistic term, it is nothing more than a really fancy-pants way of saying “studier of culture.” Over the course of the past month, I have learned that culture exists not only in its traditional “tangible” sense, but in a virtual “online” form as well.

Defining culture, as one of my favorite professors used to say, is “sticky.” In fact, several scholars continue to make much of their living writing philosophical articles debating the matter. I on the other hand believe that culture – quite simply – is found whenever you “follow the people.” And for the majority of this past month, that is precisely what I have been learning to do – albeit, with very different tools than those I used in ethnography school!

In a typical study of a culture, the anthropologist usually relies upon the guidance and support of an “indigenous informant” (a grossly simplified explanation). This person serves as the anthropologist’s confidant, translator, friend and general tour guide to the new environment the former suddenly finds himself or herself in.

My first week at HMA was like a wonderful, anthropological expedition into the (previously) foreign world of SEO, SEM, Google Analytics and AdWords. All of my co-workers were so nice and willing to help me in any way they could. The only problem?  I often felt like I was speaking a different language! One facet of tech culture is the fact that it functions according to its own completely novel terminology. Terms like “302 redirect,” “anchor text,” “canonicalization,” and “bread crumbs” were initially more confusing to me than those comprising the entire lineage of Homo heidelbergensis!

Throughout my graduate studies, professors would speak about their experiences immersed in unfamiliar cultures and situations. If they were lucky, the people were hospitable and welcoming.  If they were not so lucky, they could find themselves temporarily isolated in a place where the people were not so friendly, accommodating or willing to help. I feel lucky to find myself “immersed” in an office whose culture is not only accommodating, but also possessive of a wonderful propensity for humor as well as a belief that ongoing training and education are vital components for success. As a newcomer to this “technological world,” I continue to be amazed at just how much unique culture can exist in everyday life – yet go unnoticed until the decision to dig a little deeper is made.  Yep, I’m pretty sure you wouldn’t be toooff-base by saying that HMA really stands for “Howard Miller Anthropologists.”