Searching the Internet for Eating Disorder Information
Reprinted from Eating Disorders Recovery Today
Fall 2003 Volume 2, Number 1
©2003 Gürze Books
Searching the Internet for information about eating disorders can either be fruitful or frustrating. A Google search for "anorexia" turned up more than a half million listings in less than two seconds. Certainly, checking out a few of these sites is a manageable job, but no one will look at all of them. It could take a couple of days worth of clicking just to get access to the last names on the list.
In this article, we will explain why certain listings come up in the first few pages and whose sites they are. We will also look at the most commonly used search terms in this genre and recommend the best ways to surf the web.
How are searches performed?
Google and Overture provide results for practically all of the most common search engines. AOL, Earthlink, and Ask Jeeves use Google. Yahoo, MSN, and Lycos use Overture.
When you search Google for terms like "anorexia" or "eating disorder" "sponsored links" appear at the top of the list and on the right hand side of the screen. These links primarily mention treatment facilities that pay to be prominently displayed. Only the top two are paid spots, and these are repeated at the top of every page. Two additional sponsors are always presented to the right.
Otherwise, the list is (supposedly) ranked according to a variety of factors, including: keyword terms embedded in the pages, links from other sites, "spiders" that electronically gather information that is archived in search engine databases, and "directories" that rely on submissions from site owners.
Among Google's Top 20, the two sponsored treatment facilities are followed by two of the oldest national organizations, but a few links later one of them is listed again. Another of the organizations, which is not well-known, opens up its site up with a promotion for a television episode of "Dr. Phil" that ran over a month ago. Others include the National Association of the Mentally Ill, a group not prominently involved in the eating disorders field, and the American Academy of Family Physicians, whose page only offers a brief description of anorexia nervosa. The rest of the Top 20 has a few listings in foreign languages, a mother's page, a dietitian selling a "healthy body calculator," an article about males with anorexia, and a site promoting an "anorexia and bulimia ring" that does not actually provide access to the ring.
In Overture, sponsored links appear at the beginning of the list in the order of the amount that they pay. Currently, if you look up the word "anorexia," the initial 19 names list sites that pay to be there. Overture actually holds an endless auction, in which the top names continually change as sponsors outbid each other. Anyone can pay for a listing, regardless of the quality of their site. This process may enrich the corporate shareholders of Overture, but it does not necessarily ensure the best search results for the word "anorexia."
Of those top 19 paid spots, 14 are for eating disorders treatment facilities, and five are for businesses that provide products or services. The 20th link, which was not paid for, is hosted by a government agency.
The results from both search engines are unfortunately inadequate, leaving web surfers with too many paid sponsors, a few quality links and many obscure ones — despite the fact that large numbers of superb websites devoted to eating disorders actually exist. But, many of these sites are not listed highly-enough to be easily seen. What are people looking for?
During the month of June, 2003, about 70,000 searches in Overture included the word "anorexia." Sadly, according to Overture's "search term suggestion tool," 45% of those searches sought pictures of people with anorexia, "pro-anorexia" sites, and celebrities with anorexia. Students often want pictures for school reports on eating disorders, but most individuals looking for pictures are either driven to compare themselves to other thin people or have other perverse and sometimes salacious motives. Regardless of their reasons, they represent a sizeable number.
Our website at Gürze Books (www.bulimia.com) receives about 25,000 visitors per month. Nearly half of them are attracted by the phrase, "Are you looking for pictures of anorexics?" However, when visitors get to the page they see no pictures, only an essay describing our policy about not displaying photos and detailing our criticisms of pro-anorexia websites. We purposely posted the article to increase traffic to our site, and other webmasters use similar tactics. Incidentally, many of these web surfers go on to read our free articles about anorexia and some purchase self-help books. Many also investigate treatment facilities and organizations and use our links to other educational websites.
Fewer people search for "bulimia" than anorexia, even though far more people suffer from bingeing and purging than self-starvation. About the same number, 40,000, use the word "eating disorder" in their searches; about equal numbers are looking for "eating disorder picture" as "eating disorder treatment."
Finding what you really want
The best strategy for finding information on the web is to locate a few large sites, such as ours at Gürze Books, that are wholly devoted to eating disorders. Most of the national organizations are good places to begin, as well (see list on next page). Explore their high quality links.
Finally, when you find a few sites that you like, be sure to add them to your "favorites" list so that you will not have to wade through search engine debris in the future.