Search Engine Ranking Factors

The algorithms used by Google, Yahoo!, or MSN Live Search to calculate search results can change at any time, therefore we generally avoid citing specific details regarding particular search engines and their algorithms. Search engines have been known to occasionally modify their algorithms and, as a result, turn the SERPs upside down. Examples of this include Google’s Florida and BigDaddy updates. A great place to peruse to see the latest trends are the forums mentioned at the end of this chapter. Historically, search engine marketers created optimized pages for each particular search engine. This is no longer viable, as mentioned in Chapter 1, because it yields duplicate content. Rankings must be achieved in all search engines using the same web pages. Furthermore, calculations such as “optimal keyword density” and “optimal page content length” for the various search engines are almost entirely obsolete. Calculations like these demonstrate a gross oversimplification of modern search engine information retrieval algorithms.

With these disclaimers out of the way, it is time to briefly discuss the most important and consistently considered factors as a quick primer for the web site developer. We group the factors that affect search engine rankings into the following general categories:

1. Visible on-page factors
2. Invisible on-page factors
3. Time-based factors
4. External factors.

On-Page Factors

On-page factors are those criteria of a web page that are dictated by the contents of a web page itself. They are critical to a search engine marketing campaign, but less so than they were historically, because they are very easy to manipulate. Because there are obvious incentives for spammers to do so, search engines have begun to place importance on other factors as well. That is not to say that on-page factors are not important, however.

It is useful to further divide on-page factors into two categories — those that are visible and those that are invisible. The former are much more important than the latter. Many search engine marketers believe that the latter are now devalued to the extent that they are mostly not worth bothering with. This is because they can be so easily manipulated without influencing page presentation at all. Spam can be carefully hidden in a web page in this way. A search engine’s confidence in such factors being honest or accurate, therefore, is low. In short, the search engine’s algorithms regard visible content with more confidence, because the user will actually see this content.

Any content that is hidden using CSS or other forms of subterfuge, regardless of intent, may be regarded as an invisible factor and devalued. At worst, if employed excessively, the page or site may be penalized as a whole.

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