Predicting Search Engine Algorithm Changes
By John Metzler
With moderate search engine optimization knowledge,
some common sense, and a resourceful and imaginative mind, one can
be able to keep his or her web site in good standing with search
engines even through the most significant algorithm changes. The
recent Google update of October/November 2005, dubbed “Jagger”,
is what inspired me to write this, as I saw some web sites that
previously ranked in the top 20 results for extremely competitive
keywords suddenly drop down to the 70th page. Yes, the ebb and flow
of search engine rankings is nothing to write home about, but when
a web site doesn’t regain many ranking spots after such a
drop it can tell us that the SEO done on the site may have had some
long-term flaws. In this case, the SEO team has not done a good
job predicting the direction a search engine would take with its
Impossible to predict, you say? Not quite. The
ideas behind Google’s algorithm come from the minds of fellow
humans, not supercomputers. I’m not suggesting that it’s
easy to “crack the code” so to speak because the actual
math behind it is extremely complicated. However, it is possible
to understand the general direction that a search engine algorithm
will take by keeping in mind that any component of SEO which is
possible to manipulate to an abnormal extent will eventually be
weighted less and finally rendered obsolete.
One of the first such areas of a web site that
started to get abused by webmasters trying to raise their rankings
was the keywords meta tag. The tag allows a webmaster to list the
web site’s most important keywords so the search engine knows
when to display that site as a result for a matching search. It
was only a matter of time until people started stuffing the tag
with irrelevant words that were searched for more frequently than
relevant words in an attempt to fool the algorithm. And they did
fool it, but not for long. The keywords meta tag was identified
as an area that was too susceptible to misuse and was subsequently
de-valued to the point where the Google algorithm today doesn’t
even recognize it when scanning a web page.
Another early tactic which is all but obsolete
is repeating keywords at the bottom of a web page and hiding them
by changing the color of the text to match the background color.
Search engines noticed that this text was not relevant to the visitor
and red- flagged sites that employed this method of SEO.
This information is quite basic, but the idea
behind the aforementioned algorithm shifts several years ago is
still relevant today. With the Jagger update in full swing, people
in the SEO world are taking notice that reciprocal links may very
well be going the way of the keywords meta tag. (I.e. extinct) Webmasters
across the world have long been obsessed with link exchanges and
many profitable web sites have existed offering services that help
webmasters swap links with ease. But with a little foresight, one
could see that link trading had its days numbered, as web sites
would obtain thousands of incoming links from webmasters who may
have never even viewed the web site they were trading with. In other
words, a web site’s popularity was manipulated by excessively
and unnaturally using an SEO method.
So with keyword meta tags, keyword stuffing within
content, and now link exchanges simply a part of SEO history, what
will be targeted in the future? Well, let’s start with what
search engines currently look at when ranking a web site and go
On-page Textual Content.
In the future, look for search engines to utilize ontological analysis
of text. In other words, not only your main keywords will play a
factor in your rankings, but also words that relate to them. For
example, someone trying to sell NFL jerseys online would naturally
mention the names of teams and star players. In the past, algorithms
might have skipped over those names, deemed them irrelevant to a
search for “NFL jerseys.” But in the future, search
engines will reward those web sites with a higher ranking than those
that excessively repeat just “NFL jerseys.” With ontological
analysis, web sites that speak of not only the main keywords but
other relevant words can expect higher rankings.
The conclusion: Write your web
site content for your visitors, not search engines. The more naturally
written sites can expect to see the better results in the future.
Offering Large Amounts of Content.
This can frequently take the form of dynamic pages. Even now, search
engines can have a difficult time with dynamic content on web sites.
These page usually have lengthy URLs consisting of numbers and characters
such as &, =, and ? The common problem is that the content changes
so frequently on these dynamic pages and the page becomes “old”
in the search engine’s database, thus leaving the search users
seeing results that contain old information. Since many dynamic
pages are created by web sites displaying hundreds or thousands
of products they sell, and the number of people selling items on
the Internet will obviously increase in the coming years, you can
expect that search engines will improve their technology and do
a better job indexing dynamic content in the future.
The conclusion: Put yourself
ahead of the game if you are selling products online and invest
in database and shopping cart software that is SEO-friendly.
Once thought to be a very difficult thing to manipulate, incoming
links to one’s web site have been abused by crafty SEOs and
webmasters the world over. It is finally at a point where Google
is doing a revamp of what constitutes a “vote from [one site
to another]” as they explain it in their webmaster resources
section. Link exchanges are worth significantly less now than ever
to the point where the only real value in obtaining them is to make
sure a new web site gets crawled by search engine spiders.
Over the years, many web sites reached top spot
for competitive keywords by flexing their financial muscle and buying
thousands of text links pointing to their site with keywords in
the anchor text. Usually these links would appear like advertisements
along sidebars or navigation areas of web sites. Essentially this
was an indirect way of paying for high Google rankings, something
which Google is no doubt trying to combat with each passing algorithm
update. One idea of thought is that different areas of a web page
from a visual point of view will be weighted differently. For example,
if a web site adds a link to your site within the middle of their
page text, that link should count for more than one at the bottom
of the site near the copyright information.
This brings up the value of content distribution.
By writing articles, giving away free resources, or offering something
else of value to people, you can create a significant amount of
content on other web sites that will include a link back to your
The conclusion: It all starts
with useful content. If you are providing your web site visitors
with useful information, chances are many other sites will want
to do the same. SEO doesn’t start with trying to cheat the
algorithm; it starts with an understanding of what search engines
look for in a quality web site.
An expert at organic SEO, John Metzler has held executive positions in SEO firms since 2001. He offers ethical search engine optimization services at FreshPromo.ca.
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Other SEO articles:
:: Why Optimize Your Site for Search Engines?
:: Google's New SEO Rules
:: What Constitutes a Complete and Effective SEO Campaign?
:: Keeping Your Website Content Relevant
:: Getting Back To SEO Basics
:: Google PageRank: Not Worth The Worry
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