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January 2010The monthly newsletter by Felgall Pty Ltd

My Word

Search Engine Optimisation

No one except the search engine programmers themselves really know how the search engines determine which web pages are going to appear in which positions in the search results for any particular search term. The rest of us only have two things on which to base any action that we take in order to try to improve the position in which our own pages appear.

The first of these is the known objective that the search engines have as their ideal results (and which they are constantly modifying their processing in order to attempt to get closer to achieving). That objective is to place the pages that are most relevant to the search term and most likely to contain the information that the searcher entering that term is looking for at the top of the results list.

The second of these ways is to examine the pages in the results and see what the differences are between them in an attempt to guess what has made the difference between the pages that has resulted in the search engine placing one above the other. Generally the differences can be determined to be what the pages themselves contain and the number and relevance of the links to the page from other related pages.

Anything that we change as a result of examining either of those two factors should be effective in further optimising our web page to get it positioned better in the results. At its most basic level that is all that there is to effective search engine optimisation. Everything else in connection with achieving results from seach engine optimisation comes down to how you actually work out what to change and how to implement the changes.

Those factors are not the only ones that people who claim to be working on search engine optimisation consider though. In fact many people totally ignore these factors entirely and concentrate on one or two factors where the search engines have published their algorithm. What these people ignore is the fact that the search engines have published the algorithms for those particular factors because those factors are no longer relevant in determining where a page will appear in the search results. If those algorithms were still relevant then the search engines wouldn't publish them so as to try to reduce the opportunity for people to try to manipulate those factors in order to get a page placed higher in the results than it really deserves to be.

One of these irrelevant factors that seems to be an obsession with a lot of people is the Google algorithm they named 'Page Rank' after one of their founders - Larry Page. There are actually several different things that Page Rank refers to with respect to a web page. There is the incoming Page Rank that the page is given by the links to the page from other web pages and the outgoing Page Rank that the page distributes to the pages it links to. The incoming and outgoing Page Ranks are always equal to one another and the value assigned to each link in passing the outgoing Page Rank of one page to the incoming Page Rank of another page is dependent on the number of links on the first page. Outgoing Page Rank is split between the links on the page itself and incoming Page Rank is determined by the values passed by all the links to the page. No one other than Google know what these actual Page Rank figures are as Google never publish the actual Page Rank values.

The other type of Page Rank is the one that is published. Every so often Google convert all the Page Ranks using a logarithmic scale to reduce all the ranks to a number between 0 and 10. In every case the result is rounded to the nearest integer. This means that you could have three web pages where the second page has a real Page Rank that is several times that of the first page but where both get mapped to the same published number and where the third page has a Page Rank that is only slightly higher than the second page but where it gets a reported Page Rank that is higher just because the rounding works out that way. The other thing that we don't know is how long Google leave it between calculating these published numbers and actually publishing them.

Even though most of the information about how this Page Rank algorithm are known, it is not possible to determine the true Page Rank of any given web page since the true PR of the pages that link to it are not known. The published Page Rank is so far removed from the real one in terms of what it tells you that it is no help in working anything out. This does not stop people from becoming obsessed with Page Rank and trying to create as many links back to their page as they can in the knowledge that adding lots of links will result in an increase in their Page Rank.

In the vast majority of cases the links that these people add have little or no relevance on the pages that they add them to (usually in forum and blog signatures since those are the easiest places to add links to sites other than your own). Now consider what I said at the start of this article on what the objective of the search engines are in producing their search results. How much do you think that these links that the PR obsessed people are adding all over the place do in terms of helping their web page achieve those objectives and hence get a higher position in the results. The answer is of course that such links add nothing at all in terms of the page being more likely to be the one containing what those entering the search term into the search engine are actually looking for. It is also unlikely to be a noticeable factor when you look at what is different between two pages in the results. At best it will be used as a tie breaker between two pages that would otherwise be considered to be equally relevant.

The one big advantage with people spending huge amounts of their time on SEP factors such as Page Rank is that those people are not spending the time looking at the far more relevant factors of search engine optimisation. This reduces the competition for those people who do consider the more relevant factors and makes it much easier for those people to get their pages higher in the results for their selected keywords.

In many cases this time wasting on the pat of those who have the wrong idea of SEO helps the search engine to better distinguish the pages most appropriate to appear higher in the results since in many cases these people are not concerned at all about trying to provide valuable content and so their pages do not deserve high placement anyway. It does nake things more difficult for the occassional person who has been writing worthwhile content but who then becomes obsessed with the wrong aspects of SEO as it means that it will take longer for their page to reach the position in the results that it really deserves.

On Site

Caught up with a few tasks over the Christmas/New Year break. One thing I was expecting to do during that time which didn't happen was a book that I'd been approached to write where I'd agreed to write half of it. The delays in their finding someone to write the other half after the first person they found dropped out meant that I no longer had the time to do it. Hopefully they'll find someone else to do the book properly. Last week's there were lots of deliveries including four books for me to review, three of them I reviewed here and the jQuery one I reviewed on

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