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Secret Out – How Google Ranks Websites

Search Engine OptimizationYou might have heard about it this June, but I thought it bore repeating. The secret is out on much of what Google uses to rank your website on their search engine. To read the actual patent information released to the public, see Google’s patent for their search engine ranking technique from 2005 on evaluating historical documents and the latest patent release from 2007 which includes the new TrustRank.


Links have always played an important role in determining citation value. Incoming links help judge the value of a document. The more citations, or links, the more important and valuable it must be. But Google adds some criteria to those citations.

In the past, the number of incoming links scored high, but a judgment on quality of the incoming link source was added to the mix. If the linking page and site had a high page rank value itself, then clearly, it knew a good thing when it linked to it. Still, this link quality aspect became harder to define as so many sites were joining the web and the quality became diluted.

Historical factors now play an important roll in addition to the number and quality of the incoming links. It seems Google’s method includes counting the moment a new site is discovered and applying an “aging process” to the site. Google monitors the link as it changes over time, the speed at which the site adds incoming links, and the life span of the link. It isn’t about having thousands of sites that link to yours, but about building those thousands of links over time.

The “aging process” that monitors the history of the links and site helps to combat spam sites. Spam sites tend to come and go very quickly, building links fast through their spamming techniques, then closing down and moving on. Thus, the older the site and the links coming into it, the more “points” the site may get. The shorter the life of the site domain, no matter how many millions of links are coming in, the less Google is interested.

Google monitors the historical value and the slow building of value of incoming links, and they also monitor the changes in the link anchor text over time and throughout the site.

Consistent link anchor text scores low. This is considered “Anchor Spam”. What this means is that if you use the same text in a link, such as <a href="/link.php">perfume sales</a> consistently through your site, then it won’t score very high. If you vary the link anchor text, especially over time not just within the same page, your odds will increase as Google monitors the changes in links over time. Generally, it is recommended to change the keywords in your anchor text around the top 5-10 keywords, to maintain consistency with keyword rankings and link rankings.

So the perfume sales might include link text such as:

  • cologne market
  • perfume market
  • cologne sales
  • fragrance sales
  • sales of fragrance

This changes the whole landscape. The idea of link exchanges and link spam as a method to attract Google’s search engine bots just doesn’t work. Age before linkage.

WordPress Blogroll Tip
The WordPress Links Manager allows you to set your blogroll links to change randomly with each page view. If you have a huge list of links in your blogroll, consider setting this to random so the links will change, appearing less like link exchange spam. Check out the other options in Links Manager for only showing updated links and other features.

Google also states very clearly that exchanging and buying links won’t work. They know the tricks and techniques. Also, getting links from documents that have no content, just links, also won’t work. Links without content won’t score high.

Now, does this mean that if you link to a page and they link back to you, your scores will go down and it might be considered link spam? No. The other criteria goes into effect to help offset this normal linking techniques. But it does impact the concept of the Blogrolls, which are sometimes considered link exchange lists. So choose your link exchanges wisely and avoid hundreds of links from your site to others, or being on a list of hundreds of links.

Domain Age

One of the other criteria is the age of the domain. Again, driven by spam sites which pop up and die off quickly, the age of the domain is usually a clue they tend to be in for the long haul.

This causes some problems. If you change your domain name, then are you back at the bottom of the barrel? Well, maybe not. If the rest of the criteria stays the same and your content maintains consistency, as does your traffic and incoming links, then this might just be a temporary drop and the rise will happen again soon.

Many hosts offer special rates for long term hosting and domain registration. Consider registering your domain for at least two years, five is better. This means you need to make sure that the domain name you choose is one you can live with for two to five years. You can change hosts, but the domain registration needs to stay the same, and stay in your name over the long haul to score points with Google.

Click Through Rates

The click through rate (CTR) of your site may play an important roll in adding up good points on your Google Search Engine score card. The CTR is the rate that people click “through” to your site. Referrer statistics are the numbers and methods visitors use to visit your site. This information tells the site administrator, and Google, from where did you arrive from to land on this site. Did you click through from a search engine (which one), directly, from another site (which site), or, as revealed in the patent, from the cache, temporary files, bookmarks, or favorites of your Internet browser.

The click through rate is also based on the CTR of the advertising on your site. The more ads which are clicked, the higher your score.

The CTR is also monitored for fresh or stale content – in other words, are they visiting new content on your site or old posts or articles? Trends and seasons are also taken into account as certain subject matter gains precedence with the time of the year and the current fad.

Trends, Fads, and Seasons

Built into the Google page ranking technique is the ability to track current and historical trends, fads and seasons. If your site deals with beach wear, the odds are that it will have more traffic during the beach wear season of summer than it will into the fall and winter. This seasonal traffic is taken into account and you may not lose rank when the traffic dies down seasonally.

It also tracks whatever is hot in trends and fads. Right now, everything to do with Hurricane Katrina is hot, hot, hot, but a couple years ago, everything and anything to do with protecting you and your home from biological terrorism was top of the list. Paris Hilton was top of the charts for a long time, doing battle with Britney Spears, but now, both of them are old news.

This is an interesting aspect of page ranking. If your site continues to push keywords long past the fad’s life span, then this could be seen as keyword spamming. Yet, using trends and fads keywords as they come and go could attract attention. Luckily, the rest of the criteria in the page ranking evaluation can help to clear out abusers of keywords related to the current fad or current event.

Posting Frequency

How often you update your pages and add content is monitored over time. It isn’t just how much but when. If you update or add hundreds of articles within a very short time, this is suspicious, but if you rarely update your site or add content over time, then your ranking will probably drop. Finding a happy medium is still a hit and miss angle, but the information seems to point to consistency not just random spurts of energy.

If you consistently add content once a week, and it stays steady, then it is seen as stable. If you add content consistently every day, and then it drops to nothing, then this change indicates an instability. If you do hit and miss content updating and additions over time, and then suddenly post a ton of activity, this can also be seen as instability and suspicious. Steady and consistent, no matter how frequently, adds weight to the score.

Many researchers say that frequent new or updated content carries more weight than infrequent changes to the site. I could find nothing in the patent that lent proof to that theory, but showing consistent activity does work.

A “stale” page is one that is old and rarely attracts interest. A “fresh” page is one that is new, and will be watched to see what kind of interest it may attract. By updating a stale page on your site, you may attract new interest by rewriting or structuring the information and keywords to attract more attention, breathing life back into the page. Google monitors this “refreshing” of pages to show activity and an increase in interest, scoring high.

Not all “old” pages on your site need updating. If it is still attracting decent traffic, then leave it alone. It is working for you.

The patent also reveals that stable pages that are working which suddenly attract a “spike” in the number of incoming links or click throughs may be an indication of a change of site ownership or spamming. Google evaluates not only the content but the historical changes in the content of the page and the site and if the changes are dramatic and sudden, then the site will rank lower. Stability over time scores higher.

Keywords Still Play a Roll

Keywords and keyword density still play an important roll in evaluating the content and content history. Putting keywords in titles, links, headings, tags, and throughout the page is still critical to the success of your site’s page ranking and keyword ranking results.

Changes to keywords, by arrangement, closeness, and inside of links, titles and headings are also monitored, much like link anchor text. Consider reviewing and updating your keywords and checking their density and use throughout your site on a regular basis, if search engine page ranking is important to you.

In upcoming posts, we’ll discuss how to maximize your keyword density in your blog posts.

Rank by Traffic, User Behavior, and You

Like other comparative search engines, Google’s patent also tells of how page rankings are compared across the board and monitored over time. The traffic is recorded and monitored. How much traffic each page gets as well as the overall site.

User behavior is checked. Google keeps track of how long visitors stay on your site and from what pages they exit your site. You also get points for bookmarking or adding to favorites.

Keyword search results are constantly monitored. What keywords brought the visitor to your site and what keywords they used to search once on your site.

But “you” also play a roll in determining the page ranking with Google. The domain registration information is checked and compared to the information on the site to make sure the two match. The address of the domain owner may help localize search results to that specific geographic area.

How you have your site hosted also is among the other administrative items checked off. Shared IP host addresses run a risk since they are shared. If someone else is using that server for spamming or other evils, you could also be punished. Dedicated hosting is very expensive, so make sure you choose a reputable host who is publicly and actively stopping spamming sites if you choose shared hosting.

The validity of the site’s code and structure plays a small part, but is still part of the criteria. Make sure your site’s code is validated, checked for errors, and friendly to search engines. Any errors in your page structure or code can easily thwart a search engine’s process through your site. Table designed sites rank low while CSS based designs are much more search engine friendly.

Spelling is still important. Not that Google’s patented page ranking process includes a spell checker – words that are not recognized get dumped. If misspelled keywords are among your missed spellings, then your site will be hurt in the rankings.

More Information Google’s New Patent

For more information on Google’s new patent information and how this information will impact your site and how you can use it to improve your site, here are some helpful articles.

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