How Can Anyone Know How to Get Better Rankings? It’s a fair question.
There’s a TON of info on the web about how to get higher Search Engine (SE) rankings. Unfortunately, much of it is incorrect, conflicting or out of date. But a more basic question is how can we know that anything we do will actually work?
First, research & reading.
Google is the big brand name in SE’s right now. The main reason is because they were the 1st SE that really did a good job of serving relevant results in response to a search, without a lot of “noise” cluttering up the page. Google got started as a college research project (read the whole Google history here) by Larry Page and Sergey Brin. The reason this is important to you and me is that Larry & Sergey published a lot of papers about how to build a search engine.
Think about it. 2 guys spend months, years trying to figure out how to build a search engine, writing college papers about it all along the way. So when they finally create a search engine, you think they might have incorporated some of the things that were in those papers? Yep.
The big momma of all those papers is ” The Anatomy of a Large-Scale Hypertextual Web Search Engine“. Among other things, PageRank (Google’s version of link popularity) is introduced in this paper & explained in detail. Many, many other papers exist from Larry, Sergey and alot of the people who are now employed at Google.
These papers are required reading for people who are heavily into SEO (Search Engine Optimization). But it’s not something I recommend most webmasters do. They’re pretty technical and take a pretty big investment in time to make much sense out of them. So trust me, there’s a reason when I say something like: Links coming from websites at a different host are probably better than links coming from websites at the same host you use. That’s a bit oversimplified but it’s easier for most people to understand that than discussing octets in IP addresses. But if you’re interested, check out 2.1 in this paper on the Hilltop Algorithm for a technical discussion. The author is now a Google employee.
Testing & Observation
Google will tell you that they take into account hundreds of different factors when ranking pages in the Search Engine Results Pages (SERPs). So how can you test to see if 1 thing works or not when so many variables are in play?
Many people who do SEO maintain test sites or even large networks of test sites to attempt to isolate the factors that Google uses in their ranking algorithms. I went through a very simple example of isolating 1 factor of the Google algo in a post about Meta Keyword Tags.
Basically, you try to change 1 thing and see what happens. If there’s an improvement or decline in your results, that’s a clue. If there’s no change, that’s a clue. The problem is that it’s almost impossible to isolate a lot of the factors and you have to repeat the test many times to get a pretty definitive answer. So alot of people who practice SEO rely on their past experience and the experience of others to form an educated guess at what works & what doesn’t work.
As I just mentioned, getting input on what works for others can be very valuable. I network with a lot of people who are experts at SEO. Some I trust, some I don’t & most I have an open mind to their opinions. But even among the ones I trust the most, there is room for a lot of disagreements on what works best.
Fortunately for us, almost all the people who do SEO agree on the basics of SEO. That’s the 80% of SEO and 80% is usually plenty to beat the competition. The disagreements are usually about advanced techniques or about splitting hairs. The remaining 20% is beyond the scope of what most business owners want to hear. If you really want to discuss advanced techniques, buy my lunch & we’ll chat.
But in the vast majority of situations, you’ll be able to improve the performance of your website by following the basics of SEO. That’s what we’ll be getting into as we try to get your website 2 the Top of the search engines.