The search engine optimization community is prospecting for gold in two patent applications recently made public. One was filed by Google in December 2003, the other by Yahoo in March 2004.

You can read both of them on the website of the U.S. Patent Office. If you have a law degree, doctorates in engineering and computer science, a very high pain threshold, and obsessive compulsive disorder, you might learn something by reading them. Here’s a link to Google’s patent app and a link to Yahoo’s. The rest of us mortals will have to depend on our compulsive friends to explain them to us.

From what I have read and heard, however, only one real surprise has emerged from either of the patent applications. That’s the attention that Google pays to time. And, as with all else in the SEO world, there’s no quick and easy explanation for the role of time in the Google algorithm. But we can make a few observations about it.

Google notes the date when it first spidered your site or a particular page on your site and calls that the “inception date.” In general, Google likes older sites rather than newer sites. But that doesn’t mean that it likes static content. It likes change – at some rate that only it knows.

So the longer your site has been around, the better, but only if you add pages from time to time and change the content on some of the pages, and only if your inbound links are growing. Google is watching your site, the calendar and the links to your site. It appears that Google likes steady growth in both content and inbound links over time – not too fast and not too slow.

If Google sees you radically changing your content, then it is going to suspect you of being deceptive. If Google sees a lot of links to your site spring up, all at the same time, it’s going to smell a link farm. On the other hand, if you fail to change your content or your inbound links fail to grow, Google will consider your site stale.

The good news is this makes a lot of sense. The bad news is that no one knows – and the patent application doesn’t tell us – the optimal rate of change in content and growth of inbound links. And I’d suspect that the optimal rate will vary from industry to industry. The commonsense lesson in this is to keep your site fresh, review the content, change it as conditions warrant, keep adding pages, and don’t abandon your domain name.

There have been no surprises in what I have been able to learn so far about the Yahoo patent application, but the emphasis is interesting. The emphasis seems to be on how words and phrases link together. For a simple example, Yahoo is paying attention to whether words related to fruit or words related to clothing are associated with the word “orange.”

The lesson here is another reminder of the need to write your content with search engine spiders in mind. When I first typed the last sentence, I wrote “…with spiders in mind,” and then I tried to think of an example. I didn’t have to go far to find one. By inserting the words “search engine” before “spider,” I left no doubt about what kind of spider I was referring to. Maybe the content of this column already had made the meaning clear, but then again maybe not. We are talking to a computer, after all.

I’m sure that my compulsive friends are continuing to prospect through the patent applications, looking for more gold. Maybe they will find some. But for now the nuggets are: Pay attention to 1) the rate at which your site changes, 2) the rate at which your inbound links grow, and 3) the way you weave your phrases together so the search engines understand you.

Discuss this article in the Small Business Ideas forum.
May 4, 2005

Mel Harkrader Pine, ABC, is founder and President of MHP Communications LLC, which combines public relations and internet consulting. Before the Internet Revolution, Mel wrote and edited for newspapers in Philadelphia and New York City, served as an Adjunct Professor of Journalism at New York University, and held executive positions in corporate public relations.

Search Engine Guide > Mel H. Pine > There’s Gold at the Patent Office