The Ever-Elusive Algorithm One element of search marketing that has many people scratching their head in confusion is the algorithms that actually determine what the rank of a page should be. These algorithms are proprietary in nature, and so few people outside the search engine companies have seen them in their entirety. Even if you were to see the algorithm, you’d have to be a math wizard to understand it. And that’s what makes figuring out the whole concept of optimizing for search engines so difficult. To put it as plainly as possible, the algorithm that a search engine uses establishes a baseline to which all web pages are compared. The baseline varies from search engine to search engine. For example, more than 200 factors are used to establish a baseline in the Google algorithm. An though people have figured out some of the primary parts of the algorithm, there’s just no way to know all of the parts, especially when you realize that Google makes about half a dozen changes to that algorithm each week. Some of those changes are major, others are minor. But all make the algorithm a dynamic force to be reckoned with. Knowing that, when creating your web site (or updating it for SEO), you can keep a few design principles in mind. And the most important of those principles is to design your web site for people, not for search engines. So if you’re building a site about springtime vacations, you’ll want to include information and links to help users plan their springtime vacations. Then if a crawler examines your site and it contains links to airfare sites, festival sites, garden shows, and other related sites, the crawler can follow these links, using the algorithm to determine if they are related, and your site ranks higher than if all the links lead to completely unrelated sites. (If they do, that tells the crawler you’ve set up a bogus link farm, and it will either rank your site very low or not at all.) The magic number of how many links must be related and how many can be unrelated is just that, a magic number. Presumably, however, if you design a web page about springtime vacations and it’s legitimate, all the links from that page (or to the page) will be related in some way or another. The exception might be advertisements, which are clearly marked as advertisements. Another exception is if all your links are advertisements that lead to someplace unrelated to the topic (represented by keywords) at hand. You probably wouldn’t want to have a site that only had links from advertisements, though, because this would likely decrease your search engine ranking. The same is true of keywords. Some search engines prefer that you use a higher keyword density than others. For all search engines, content is important, but the factors that determine whether or not the content helps or hurts your ranking differ from one search engine to another. And then there are meta tags, which are also weighted differently by search engines. So this mysterious baseline that we’re talking about will vary from search engine to search engine. Some search engines look more closely at links than others do, some look at keywords and context, some look at meta data, but most combine more than one of those elements in some magic ratio that is completely proprietary. What that means for you is that if you design your web site for search engines, you’ll always be playing a vicious game of cat and mouse. But if you design your web site for people, and make the site as useful as possible for the people who will visit the site, you’ll probably always remain in all of the search engines’ good graces.
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