My Search Engine Radar

Do you remember that old song from Fiddler on the Roof: If I Were a Rich Man? It was a hit record for Topol back in the sixties. The lyric was the address of a poor man asking God why the almighty had not seen fit to make him wealthy. It finishes by asking the question, “would it spoil some vast eternal plan, if I were a wealthy man?”

The song came to my mind when I was thinking about starting this post on the subject of search engine ranking. You’ll see why in just a minute. But, over the years, I have managed to develop a kind of radar that always manages to alert me to the folly of someone proposing that they can increase my traffic for me, usually at only a modest fee, of course. It is not that I could not do with a bit more traffic. Most sites could quite easily benefit from an increase in targeted visitors.

When you look at the methods that many apparently well-meaning people employ for increasing their traffic, my reasoning tells me that they may actually be doing long term harm. Now I fully understand the arguments against this proposition. There are plenty of people who would say that if some tactic were indeed found to actually harm search engine rankings, then they would employ that very tactic to knock out their competitors.

However, we do know of tactics that once worked which are now considered to be search engine spam. Here is a useful list of indicators taken from Google’s Webmaster site:

• Hidden text or links
• Misleading or repeated words
• Page does not match Google’s description
• Cloaked page
• Deceptive redirects
• Doorway pages
• Duplicate site or pages

At one time, someone repeating a keyword or phrase might have thought they were simply helping the search engines to understand what their page was about. These days, anyone using any of the above tactics is clearly asking for trouble.

Now, for our purposes, I would like to define search engine spam as any technique that Google deems to be unacceptable. So, the first thing to understand is that what spam actually is will be constantly changing. If Google decides to update its algorithm to include yet another method of detecting spam sites, you can argue all you like, but whatever that factor turns out to be (encompassed by the above definition) will certainly be used as a yardstick for assessing the quality of your site.

This is the knowledge that has led me to develop my own internal radar that has kept me well away from the lure of the kind of services that purport to help increase search engine rankings. At the end of the day, we cannot know Google’s algorithm which apparently consists of around 200 or so separate factors. But I believe the sites that are placed to do exceptionally well in the future are those which do not make use of any technique that can be identified as having been deliberately manipulated.

By definition, seo (search engine optimisation) techniques can be characterised as being factors that can be deliberately manipulated, otherwise there clearly would be no seo industry. Do you think the people at Google are unaware of the techniques that are currently popular with seo companies? Of course not. They know, better that most, exactly what people are doing to attempt to game the system and that consideration is the raison d’etre for changes to their famous ranking algorithm.

The most recent update to the Google algorithm was codenamed Panda, apparently named after one of the Google engineers. Someone recently asked me what the effect of the Panda update was on my site’s rankings. The answer is that they have improved a little. Why is that? Because any sites listed above me, that fell foul of the algorithm changes, found their rankings affected and for every site moving down there was naturally another moving up. In my opinion, every algorithm change will only ever benefit those sites that stay away from deliberate attempts to manipulate rank.

So my internal radar has served me well. How do I use it? It’s simple, when contemplating a way of promoting my site, which of course I do, I simply ask myself the question: if I were a search engine (biddy biddy biddy bum 😉 ), how would I feel about this technique? If the technique is something that actually works, that can be performed by a site owner or webmaster and that is against the original spirit of the web to provide the most relevant information to the searcher then that alert goes off for me.

If, subsequently, a method for detecting the use of such a technique can be developed, you can be sure it will be appearing as an extra factor in a future algorithm update. At that time my site will be moving up again, and so can yours if you avoid the short-sightedness of attempting to deliberately manipulate your rankings. Promote your site, of course and also ensure your metadata is a correct reflection of your content – that’s what is expected by Google. But beware of anyone who approaches you with some magic technique to improve your site rank. If that happens, just ask yourself that little question above and let your own heart answer.

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