It’s totally unfair.
You’ve worked your butt off, writing content ‘til you’re fairly sick of the word “content.” You’ve optimized. You’ve keyword-researched. You’re STILL on page 3 and it’s not fair. Don’t these search engines know how hard you’ve worked?
Take a deep breath. Because you’re not going to like what I’m about to say:
Suck it up.
That’s right, I went there. Questions like that betray the asker’s fundamentally flawed view of search engines. And here’s the real deal, the God’s-honest truth:
Search engines don’t give a crap about you, Mr. or Ms. Site Owner.
Where’s the Love?
Their raison d’etre has rien to do with you.
The way they see it, you are there to serve them. Or rather, their BFFs: the searcher.
That’s what search engine companies care about. That’s all they care about: the searcher’s experience. Another way to put it: their mission is to deliver the best, most relevant, most trustworthy content to the searcher.
(Not to boost you up the rankings, hot shot. The good news implicit in that, however, is that they’re not there to keep you down in the double-digits either.)
So why am I being all tough-love on you guys? ‘Cause of this:
Once you understand that – and expand your basic knowledge of how search engines work into a higher level of grokitude – you can use that knowledge to get better results for your work.
Zen and the Art of Search Engines
To triumph over the search engines, you must know your enemy, grasshopper. How they work, specifically, and how they make the decisions that drive you bonkers.
It’s pretty simple, and not a little scary in a dystopian V for Vendetta kind of way, when you get right down to it. It’s even elegant, this little three-part recon plan they all embrace:
- First, they scout. Snippets of code called spiders go crawling all over the web (get it? Web? Spiders? See, search engines have a sense of humor!) and all they do is look for new stuff. New pages. New changes to old pages. Whatever’s out there, they grab that information and run home to mama.
- Mama – that is, the search engine – then assimilates the information. Kinda like the Borg from Star Trek. The info gets collated, assembled, analyzed – all the boring stuff that your typical 9-to-5 cubicle worker usually does.
- Then, it all gets ranked. Here’s the slightly magical part – and exactly how it’s done is super-secret, and jealously protected by the security goons at the search engines. All you need to grasp here is that each search engine company has its own algorithm, and that algorithm is responsible for the rankings.
Whether this process is entirely automated or includes human checks and balances (as some hybrid search engines have played with), the basic process is the same.
More High-Level Search Engine Knowledge For You to Digest
So, what else can we reasonably know about search engines and why they do what they do that drives us cuckoo?
Well, take a look at this infographic on search engine analytic factors from Rand Fishkin at SEOMoz. What can we learn from this information (gathered from top SEO analysts by SEOMoz)?
Well, for one thing, your worst fear is probably true: it’s the links from other sites coming in to your site that count the most, cupcake. We call those external links and because they’re so hard to manipulate or game, search engines consider them one of the top factors indicating trustworthiness and reliability.
Simply put: if other respectable folks like you, then you’re probably OK – at least, in the search engines’ estimation. As with life, it really is all about who you know, and who likes you.
Specifically, the search engines look at several key external factors – that is, things that happen off your page entirely, such as …
- The measure of your page’s authority as indicated by incoming external links from other authoritative sites, as measured over time
- The number of links coming to a specific page on your site
- The anchor text for each external link to your page (this is the actual text in the link; for example, in the link 3 grafs up, “infographic on search engine analytic factors” is the anchor text)
What This Means For Site Owners in Search of Better SERPs
So what lessons can we learn from this analysis?
- It bears repeating: search engines do not care about you, Site Owner. They only care about giving the searcher what s/he wants.
- Anyone who tells you they know exactly how to get you to the top of Google is either lying or will soon get slapped with a multi-million dollar lawsuit.
- If they can get you to the top, then they’re gaming the system, and it is inevitable that Google will find out and slap you hard for it. Note: I said “slap you hard” – not the black hat SEO genius who talked you into whatever squirrelly tactics got you to the top of the heap. You. Your site will pay the price. And if you think it’s hard dealing with being on page 3, wait until you’re not even on the list at all.
- There is a way to better placement that does not include the risk of getting Google-slapped – focus on getting those incoming links from good, authoritative sites.
How to Get Better Ranking Results Without the Risk of Search Engine Banishment
By now you’ve probably guessed where this is all leading, right? You’re sitting there on the other side of your computer, rolling your eyes, thinking, “Oh God, she’s gonna tell me to write better content.”
Nope. Not gonna say that. (Though it wouldn’t hurt.)
I’m going to tell you: In addition to writing your best stuff, start focusing on building relationships with other site owners.
See, if you want those links, you’re not going to buy them (which will get you Google-slapped, too) or beg them (which will just turn off other site owners). If you want link love from good, trustworthy sites (yes, you do) you need to create relationships with those other site owners.
How you do that is a topic for another post but here are a few clues: think what’s in it for the other guy? Think what can I do for her without asking for something in return? Think how did I make friends in kindergarten? (Seriously, you’d be surprised how well those lessons translate.)
I’m also gonna tell you to stop writing for yourself and to start writing for the search engine’s BFF: the searcher.
Write with the person who’s using the search engine in mind. Know intimately the nexus between what you’re providing and what that person’s looking for. Figure out – in advance — what search string they’re going to utilize to get to the page you’re offering.
I’ll write more about this stuff in April, when I attempt a little self-challenge: a blog post a day on improving your business blog. You can join me if you like. I’ll be doing all the things I write about on this blog, and you can take the challenge on your blog along with me. We can compare notes in the comments! It’ll be FUN! (Full disclosure: It’ll actually be a lot of hard work but I’ve found if I can convince my lizard brain that it’s actually FUN! then I get more done.)