BY ROBERT D. TRUOG
In 1994, Yahoo was the only game in town. It was the optimaldirectory, listing 25,000 sites. However, as a search engine, it rarely deliveredsatisfactory results. A typical search generated a long list of pages devoidof relevance-based ranking, so you often had to sift through pages of uselesswebsites.
Theory of Relevance
Five years later, Google changed everything. It began ranking websites accordingto importance. The more times a website linked to another site, the more importantit became and the higher it ranked.
Google encapsulated this concept in a formula. Not only does it count thelinks pointing to the site, but it also factors in the importance of the sitedoing the linking. This calculation generates a value between 0 and 10 foreach webpage, which is known as Google’s “PageRank.” Thehigher a site’s PageRank, the better it lists on Google.
All in all, PageRank resulted in Google consistently delivering more relevantresults for all searches.
The effect was profound. Searches now produced a list of sites with significantlyhigher degrees of relevance. PageRank left other search engines like Exciteand Yahoo scrambling to catch up as surfers turned to Google for superior searchresults.
Thus, if Google ranked your site well, you benefitted from all the trafficthey sent your way. Webmasters now had to appease Google and its guidelines—orbe banned and get no traffic at all.
Users’ behavior also changed. Instead of browsing pages of results,users often clicked on the first few sites listed. In fact, research showsthat 27 percent of all clicks on search results are on the first site listedand 19 percent on the second.
SEOs: Rank #1 Guaranteed!
Unfortunately, there is also the dark side of this equation, the unintendedconsequence of Google’s new ranking system: the birth of the search engineoptimizer (SEO)—the digital world’s equivalent of a snake-oil salesman,an individual who promises to rank your site number one! He analyzes your site(more keywords!) and the links pointing to it (you need more!). Think Y2K consultants,only with better software.
The SEO claims to have somehow divined the secrets of search engines and will,for a price, share them with you. But take note: there are some obstacles forSEOs to surmount.
1) Google protects the details of its formula like Coke protects its recipe.Since no one at Google is talking, this leaves the SEO to something we callreverse engineering . . . or guessing!
2) Google readily informs everyone how to be well ranked on its site. Googlewants to produce relevant search results. It happily enumerates the basic stepsto create a site that will list well in its search results. It does not, however,want to enable SEOs to introduce unimportant sites to its results. Therefore,Google will tell you directly how optimize your site. So go read their guidelines(www.google. com/webmasters/guidelines.html).
On the other hand, perhaps SEOs aren’t so bad. There is a value in nothaving to read directions yourself. I, myself, never do. It’s a guy thing.
Here is a truncated version of Google’s guidelines:
Design and Content Guidelines
• Create a site with a clear hierarchy and text links.
• Offer a site map to your users with links that point to the importantareas of the site.
• Produce a useful, information-rich site. Clearly & accurately describeyour content.
• Think about the search words that users would enter to find your pages,and include these words within the site.
• Use text instead of images to display important names, content, or links.The Google crawler doesn’t recognize text contained in images.
• Insure that your TITLE tag describes each page uniquely.
• Have other relevant sites link to yours.
• Avoid hidden text or hidden links.
• Don’t load pages with irrelevant words.
• Don’t create multiple pages, subdomains, or domains with duplicatecontent.
• Avoid “doorway” pages created just for search engines.
Finally: link, link, link—and promise me one thing . . . if you ever meetmy mother, please don’t tell her I’m an SEO. She just doesn’tthink its very . . . relevant.
Email The Webmeister at firstname.lastname@example.org
In 1994, Robert Truog founded PhysicianEmployment, one of the first and largest physician job sites, andin 1999, anadvertising network offering services from website optimising and PPCmanagement to online advertising.