In my previous post I discussed why you need to optimize for search. In this next installment of the SEO series, I explain a bit about what SEO really is.
SEO Part 2: So what is SEO?
Search engine optimization is the art and science of making your web pages rank as high in the natural search rankings as possible. Google is the largest search engine, with Microsoft’s Bing a distant second. Your placement on a search engine, or “page rank,” is a complex algorithm generally based on these attributes:
- Age of site (time since the site was established)
- Number of hits to the site (overall site traffic)
- Popularity (number of unique visitors and repeat visitors)
- Number of inbound links (links to your site from other sites)
- Quality of inbound links (high page rank sites will increase your page rank; low page rank sites not so much)
- Keyword density (based on keyword relevance as discovered by search crawlers, aka robots)
- Secondary characteristics like media, type, source, and domain
Page rank is a measurement of the relative importance of your site according to the search engines. Like the Richter scale, it is a logarithmic scale, meaning that a rank of 5 is ten times higher than a rank of 4. For example, here are the page ranks of several major news sites:
The top 100 bloggers range from page rank 8 for blogs like The Huffington Post, Gawker, and The Onion (all 3 use a blogging platform for their CMS and are considered blogs) to page rank 6 for today’s #100 spot, a popular fashion blog. These are updated daily on http://technorati.com/blogs/top100.
Secondary characteristics are very important, and include:
- Media: Search engines like rich media, especially video. As we’ll discuss in an upcoming posting, video and images can increase your “Google juice.”
- Type: News itself gets special treatment in a search engine; blogs and social networking also increase Google juice.
- Source: Official news agency sites (especially government and community sites) typically get higher rankings as trusted sources.
- Domain: Your domain name (including your subdomain and your domain extension, like .com, .org, .co.uk, or .tv) can identify your main keywords as well as your region. That’s why separated hyphenated words are sometimes better than a word mashup in a domain name, and for example, a .ie domain extension is more powerful if you want to be found in Ireland.
Even how long before a domain name expires may affect page rank (this is an unconfirmed yet oft-quoted assertion made by domain registrars who have a vested interest; it is based on a 2005 Google patent).
Search engines and news aggregators (Google, Yahoo, MSN/Bing and AOL) treat news as “high ranking” for any given day (i.e. the value degrades over time, unlike research content) and news stories are often given special placement, such as in news.google.com or news.yahoo.com.
Google News reports: “Our articles are selected and ranked by computers that evaluate, among other things, how often and on what sites a story appears online. We also rank based on certain characteristics of news content such as freshness, location, relevance and diversity. As a result, stories are sorted without regard to political viewpoint or ideology and you can choose from a wide variety of perspectives on any given story. We’ll continue to improve Google News by adding sources, fine-tuning our technology and providing Google News to readers in even more regions.”
For a news site, it is critical to be registered with the search engines as a bona fide news outlet. But you have to be accepted into the club: “If you’d like your news site or blog to be included in Google News, please send us the URL and we’ll be happy to review it. Please note, however, that we can’t guarantee we’ll be able to include your site in Google News.”
I call SEO both an art and a science because while the algorithms can be well understood, optimizing requires you to both understand the technology and to craft your content in such a way that you expose relevant keywords without compromising writing quality. As the Google guidelines state: “Make pages primarily for users, not for search engines.”
Next posting: SEO Part 3: How to Optimize for Search