Updated January 1st, 2022 — version 308

The UnFair Advantage Book
Winning the Search Engine Wars

Chapter Two, The Relative Importance of Ranking Components

Chapter Two --
The Relative Importance of Ranking Components

In Chapter One you learned the importance of keywords to top ranking pages in the early days of search engines. And today, keywords are still an essential componentbut they are no longer the only essential component.

Today's search engines (think Google) factor in so many other components into the algorithms that keywords found on a website are treated as on-page relevance indicators that are subordinated to a slew of off-site relevance indicators. The thinking is that:

off-site relevance factors
are difficult-to-impossible for a website owner to manipulate.

Picture the search engine algorithm as a mechanism with internal relevance dials. Each dial controls a component of the overall mechanism, aka, the algorithm.

search engine algorithm dials

One dial controls the maximum importance placed on keywords found on a web page. Another dial controls the maximum importance placed on keywords found in links pointing to a web page (aka, anchor text). Another dial controls the maximum importance placed on the trust and authority of the sites that link to a web page. Another dial might control the maximum importance of having the keyword in the domain name. Now, as you will see later, this is a major oversimplification of Google's actual algorithm. It does include these factors but there are many more that are entered into the actual mix. But for example purposes, let's continue to see how this might work.

keyword algorithm dials Since Google knows that anybody can put an unlimited number of keywords into any web page that they control, then keywords found on a web page might be dialed up to only two maximum on a ten-point relevance dial. They are given weight, but not so much that people can stuff a bunch of keywords into their web page and score a top listing. In fact, Google may even penalize a page if its algorithm detects an artificial abundance of keywords or a disconnected relationship between the keywords and the rest of the page's body content. So, keywords on a web page, if detected within a 'normal' range, might only be weighted as high as a two, at best, on the ten-point relevance dial. In other words, no matter how efficient you are at placing keywords on your page in an optimized format, that element carries only limited weight in relation to other factors that make up the overall ranking algorithm. And, if Google detects an abnormality (like proportionately too many repeating keywords), that same dial might assign a negative number such as -3 on the ten-point relevance dial. keyword negative dial This would have an adverse effect on the page's ranking ability. In search engine optimization (SEO) jargon, we call this a penalty.

anchor text algorithm dials Dial two, off-site anchor text — aka, the keywords used in links pointing to a web page — is theoretically harder to manipulate. After all, if you don't have control of the external website then how could you actually control the links that are pointing at your web page? Of course, it could be done by arrangement, secret or not. But assuming that the link is "natural" (meaning it was done solely on the volition of the linking website and without any payment, arrangement or enticement), then Google views that link with a higher degree of trust. So, the relevance dial is set to a higher maximum level, maybe a six on the ten-point dial. Now, if Google learns that your anchor text link(s) are contrived — i.e., purchased, negotiated, exchanged, or "unnatural" in any way anchor text negative algorithm dial — then you're in violation of their "best practices and guidelines." And, if so, then you can expect that dial to work against you in a big way. Maybe a -6 on the ten-point dial.

trust authority algorithm dial Dial three; Google loves trust and authority. There are certain websites on the Internet that are viewed as trustworthy. In essence, these sites are basically whitelisted. They can do no wrong. They have an impeccable reputation. One such site is Wikipedia. Google knows that Wikipedia does not spam Google. Nor does Wikipedia assist others in spamming Google. They diligently patrol their own site with an eye toward eradicating manipulative content and links. Therefore, Google sees Wikipedia as both trustworthy AND authoritative. If your site has a link from Wikipedia, that's a great link. Why? ...because Google's trust and authority dial is likely to be maximized at around 9 or even 10 on the ten-point relevance dial. Google views a link from Wikipedia as highly trustworthy (because they are hard to get and keep) and from an authoritative site because Wikipedia is a brand-name known for its content integrity. It's a whitelisted site which Google thinks can do no wrong in regards to search engine relevance factoring.

More examples of highly authoritative and trusted sites are mainstream news sites (CNN.com, NYTimes.com, NationalGeographic.com, etc.) and big-name brands (Geico, Nike, Yelp, Budweiser, Amazon, Coke, etc.). To a lesser degree, sites that are linked-to by whitelisted sites that then link to you would be viewed as trusted and authoritative by association even though the dial might only be set to 5, 6, 7, or 8 on the ten-point relevance scale based upon the slightly subordinate standing to the ultra-trusted big-name sites. And, Google dials this up because they consider these kinds of links to be difficult-to-impossible to manipulate.

A while back ago Google updated their patent on this topic to include the concept that authoritative sites are industry-specific. That means that if you're in the children's clothing industry, then the best sites to be associated with are vastly different than if you're in the restaurant industry. However, to get even more defined if you're in the restaurant industry in Dallas your trusted sites will be different than if you're in the restaurant industry in Chicago.

domain name algorithm dial Dial four, keywords in your domain name, were long considered to be set to 2 or 3 on the ten-point relevance dial. However, Google webmaster, after an update to their algorythm in 2011 shared that no weight would be attributed to this as a stand alone optimization practice. However if you have a well known keyword (actually brand name) GEICO in the domain name, then the dial might register within the algorytm for the keyword geico or the synonymous search term car insurance. So, in this way, you can see that the search engine algorithm actually has dials within dials depending on extenuating variables. In general, keywords in your domain are not something to get too worried about and not something to go through the trouble to change domains for!

Now remember, this is a major oversimplification of Google's actual algorithm. But regardless, you can see that it's complicated even in our simplistic example. Google says their formula is set to provide a "good user experience" which is indeed partially true (nice spin anyway). But as you will later see, their algorithm is primarily set to reward brands and sites with the right social signals all the while dissuading search engine marketers (SEMs) from trying to manipulate Google's search rankings.

Good website vs. Less-Good website - Design Elements that Affect Rankings

Google likes to promote the impression that if you build a "good" website, everything will be wonderful. Google will rank you high, and people will visit and give you the money you deserve. However, you must always remember that Google's concept of a "good" website is constantly evolving.

For instance, whatever the focus of your website, you probably believe you provide the best product, or service, or facility as presented by your very "good" website. However, if your site's web pages aren't mobile responsive (yeah, what's that?) and your web page load speed is "slow" (yeah, how slow is slow?), and your site isn't HTTPs (secure) and instead is HTTP or some "untrustworthy" or "irrelevant" site has linked to you (which you may not even know about), or you've exchanged links with an 'off-topic' website as a favor to a relative or friend (like a Real Estate Agent or your Webmaster), then Google may very well think your website is less "good" than those that outrank you. This is especially true if you're competing for top rankings against a nationally known name-brand or "trusted" governmental website.

Another example of Google-defined "bad" website behavior is the failure to handle both Mobile and Desktop PC users in THE way that Google "suggests" that you should. Regardless of your intent, if you get any part of the recommended format wrong, you'll be penalized in their rankings. So, yes, content is important (as Google constantly reminds us) so is format and function (aka user experience).

The point is that there are a plethora of factors and design elements that were never before weighted enough or even factored into the algorithm that is indeed factored in today. And, collectively, they often become the difference between a top-ranking position on the search engine results page (SERP) and a hardly-found listing on the third, fifth, or hundredth page of the search engine results.

So, even if YOU think your website is good, remember that to rank well in the search engines, it has to be good according to Google. So that's where today's SEO/SEM strategies begin, and the rest of this book will focus on creating web pages that are Good According To Google (GATG).