I've long advocated a common-sense approach to algorithm chasing with SEO. What most people don't understand is that with today's algorithms, there is almost no such thing as a top search engine ranking. There is simply exposure. You either get more of it or less of it. Rankings play a role, but not in the way most people think.

Here are some little known facts about Google:

  • Google analyzes somewhere around 200 different ranking signals. At least that was in 2009. It's probably more today. Most of these ranking signals are pretty well known, but there is still some significant argument within the community about many of them.

  • Each Google ranking signal may carry varying degrees of weight and importance, any of which may be tweaked, improved, degraded or removed at any time. Google is constantly rolling out algorithm tweaks and changes, adjusting the signals or even adding or removing them as they feel the need. While these changes may not be major, they can - and do - have an effect on how pages rank.

  • There is no one single Google algorithm. In fact, at any one time there may be anywhere from 50-200 different algorithms at work. These different algorithms might be in play for different industries, different types of searches or testing the effects of various algorithm changes before a full push.

  • Panda and Penguin updates are not updates, but filters that they periodically run their index through. If your site got hit with these updates, fixing the problem that caused it won't bring immediate results. You have to wait until the next time Google runs the filter.

  • The zip code you are searching from can have an impact on your search results. Google tries to determine which queries are geographical in nature and deliver results most relevant to your particular location. The same search from a different location will produce very different results.

  • Google has been working personalization into the search results for some time. If you're logged into Google, it's keeping record of your search history and sites you typically click on. The more information it has on your preferences, the better it is able to deliver results to your liking - or at least what Google thinks is to your liking.

  • Adding a new twist to personalization are your social signals. Google is now personalizing results based on who you are connected with (in Google+) and pages they may have +1'ed. That means your "friends" are directly influencing which sites you see when you perform a search!

So what does all this amount to? Well, it means that the results you see may or may not be a reflection of the Internet at large. If you see your site come up #1 in the search results for your keywords, that might simply be a result of your own personalizations, localizations or socializations. If you turn all those off and you're still in the top spot, you likely aren't for a lot of other searchers that are getting results based on their own personalizations, localizations and socializations.

This makes the algorithm pretty difficult to game. It's also why SEO guarantees are useless. So, while keeping track of algorithm changes is smart SEO, chasing them really isn't. It's like trying to chase 50 rabbits at once and hoping to catch them all. At best, you might be able to chase down one or two, but you certainly won't capture all of them.

So what's an SEO to do?

They have to know what your audience wants and deliver it, because that's what search engines want, too! It's not about trying to get just the right amount of words on a page, your keywords in just the right spot or even about the perfect backlink graph. It's about building a site that visitors love, focusing on the keywords they search and doing it better than your competitors.

You may not be able to beat the algorithm. But the right web marketing strategy can help you beat the competition.

Image credit: tomwang / 123RF Stock Photo

December 27, 2012

Stoney deGeyter is the President of Pole Position Marketing, a leading search engine optimization and marketing firm helping businesses grow since 1998. Stoney is a frequent speaker at website marketing conferences and has published hundreds of helpful SEO, SEM and small business articles.

If you'd like Stoney deGeyter to speak at your conference, seminar, workshop or provide in-house training to your team, contact him via his site or by phone at 866-685-3374.

Stoney pioneered the concept of Destination Search Engine Marketing which is the driving philosophy of how Pole Position Marketing helps clients expand their online presence and grow their businesses. Stoney is Associate Editor at Search Engine Guide and has written several SEO and SEM e-books including E-Marketing Performance; The Best Damn Web Marketing Checklist, Period!; Keyword Research and Selection, Destination Search Engine Marketing, and more.

Stoney has five wonderful children and spends his free time reviewing restaurants and other things to do in Canton, Ohio.


Ah, where to begin?

Yes, Google use a lot of signals .... or may do.
There is nothing definitive stating that they use all the signals all the time - there may be selective approaches in use.
Then you have the simple reality that many of the signals may be clumped together (more than 30 signals may pertain to Links alone!).

Indeed, the values/thresholds and applications may change/vary over time ... but changing something from 0.01 to 0.011 is not likely to have massive impact.
Most of the tweaking that G does is exactly that - tweaking ... tiny little refinements.

Panda and it's ilk
Minor addition here - you are likely to need to wait for more than "the next rollout".
I'm nor sure that G check every hit site on every rollout (has anyone seen them confirm/deny this yet?).
Then there is the little know issue of the "lagg" - G need to built up a little trust in you ... so there is a further delay.
You get hit in Month 1 ... you fix everything ... they rollout at in Month 2 ... you will not instantly reappear ... you may still suffer for another Month or two whilst the trust builds back up.

Personalisation etc.
Yes, there are personalised results ... but that does not mean there is no such things as top position etc...

Top Position
I barely touch wikipedia, amazon etc. - yet they appear at the top of many of my searches ... the same way they do for just about everyone else ... regardless of being logged in/out, having SPYW enabled, being in one county or another (or even a different country with the same language).
Some companies will show up constantly for Local searches for that region as well.
So it is still a viable objective to "get to number 1".

Chasing Algos...
I see a lot of people saying that you shouldn't chase the algos, that you cannot fathom the algos etc.
They miss the point completely.
You do Not have to know the algorithm.
You do Not have to beat the algorithm.
All you have to do is be able to identify roughly the shape of it, what it's intentions are.
That simple.
It's not magic, it's not even that difficult in some cases.
When you know what G are looking for, you can start identifying likely items/signals. You can then do some simple tests (repeatedly) to see if you get a respons. You can then do some null testing to refine it down and identify what is contributing.
You still have no clue what the algo looks like, what the weighting really is, how far it extends ... but at least you have a clearer clue as to what seems to trigger it and why.
Then you can incorporate that information into a strategy - and get the benefits.

Build a quality site...
Just to be clear - I don't hold with this general view that much.
Yes, a quality site is important - but on it's own it will achieve virtually nothing (or nothing of value in any short/immediate sense ... which is what most people want/need).
It boils down to Marketing and Promotion, every bit as much as knowing what is Needed, Wanted and Desired.
So for every step you take on the site, take a step on the promotion as well.
And most of that boils down not to "SEO", but to basic, standard, common-sense business practices and knowing your audience/market/customer/client base.

The only problem is - it is still possible to game the system. It is still possible to rank for copied content. It is still possible to benefit from bought links.
Don't be fooled into thinking that G have cleaned everything up.
All they have done is remove the more obvious garbage (in many cases), and crippled a bunch of mediocre sites who didn't promote/build links and were thus vulnerable.

Lyndon, I don't think I disagree with anything you said. I think we're on the same page, just approaching it from different angles.

To me it's like the 2 guys who ran into the man eating lion. One of them grabbed his tennis shoes out of his backpack. The other guy says "What are you doing? You're not going to outrun that lion!", and the one who grabbed his tennis shoes answers back, "I don't have to outrun the lion I just have to outrun you." Which is a realistic look at the ever changing algorithms. You just have to be more relevant to those in your keyword market than your competitors so the updates don't swallow you whole. The conventional SEO efforts can still work if you keep a more relevant context in all of your external and internal link strategies compared to your competitors. Becoming a master of the relevant details. Short I think are the days for blasting out ill spun comments and articles.

so this article equals one sentence:

Build a quality site

seo is astrology now

Ted, In the same way that an article titled "how to win the Indy 500" could be boiled down to: Build a better race car, I think we're in complete agreement.

Thanks for a great post. I understand that google make a diffrence from your site is running does it means that if I am using a .com address and my customers are from Israel my google ranking will be bad!?
Dr Eran Hadad

This is an interesting article and the first comment is worth a post on it's own!
Of course the main thing for most of us with these regular google algo updates is that nothing much usually changes.
After each algo change there are doom mongerers and people complaining about being hit, it's been going on for years.
After each algo change there will be a new raft of ebooks and guides published for people 'punished' under the algo change to buy - which will just make someone rich.
Then there will be another algo change and the merry go round continues.

One SEO fundamental is a constant and that is backlinks.

You must have a permanent link building
process for your money or authority sites.

Get diverse links. Reciprocal links still count for something.

The fundamental essence of Google's algorithm is backlinks,
and Google has forced on us some abominations (DoFollow -
NoFollow) to cure the exploitable weaknesses in their
fundamental algorithm.

If a high quality authority site links to you and it offers
highly relevant info for your readers, WHY SHOULD YOU BE

Lastly, the "long tail" prevails, and there is little competition
for much of the "long tail" keyword universe.

I've been giving some thought to the "keeping up with the algos" idea as of late. There have been some 23 or so Panda updates confirmed by Google, often in direct response to queries by Barry Schwartz. Often, Google also states a given percentage of sites impacted by the update- usually this number seems low, like "1.5% of websites were impacted by this update." The issue becomes cumulative in volume as the updates aggregate. If a different 1.5% of websites were affected by an update, you can do the math a few different ways but it adds up to a higher risk of your website being impacted in some way, so yes, we have to pay attention to the algos and keep in mind what to avoid.

Of course, if your entire strategy is simply "build it and they will come" regarding content, you will see no difference among algorithm updates. These updates are generally related to linking strategies so keep your strategies, whatever they are, on the north side of the intent of the algorithms.

you mentioned the algorithm of 2009 and compared to 2012 and 2013 there were many changes.
sometimes it seems that Google is tired of the SEO industry and is trying to move it off the shelves mainly due to spam and unfortunately many tricks that following by SEO companies that bring organic results inaccurate.

from what i can see there are a lot of changes to the algorithm and apparently the emphasis is on terms of quality content images and Unique Graphics links from sites that related to our and sharing our content through social networking sites.

It's almost impossible to understand Google's signals. SEO people who pretend that they know Google algorithm's are only making you fool because SEO is not an exact science. Just you can do is never use any sort of unethical tactics to popularize your site and never try any black hat technique, then I am sure Google won't be seeing your site in a doubtful manner.

It really is more complex than we can imagine. But there are things that work and other that don't. People can't know for sure how to blow up in Google but they have a pretty descent idea what should be done and what should be avoided. To beating the algo I say impossible. To quality SEO I say yes.

A very interesting discussion and interesting to read all that facts and opinions about gaming G algorithms and understand it's filter to increase or even decrease our page rank. For some guys (not seen here) doing or talking about SEO it has become some kind of a religion or they feel challenged to conquer G or make money with it and fight for their right to exist. If we would start a search engine that delivers good results. What would we do? I think we would focus on two mayor simplified topics: find most relevant pages and second filter out those who try to cheat us or using suspicious tactics to look like relevant. Just by logic. We would do human search behavior analysis, develop complex rule based filters, use neuronal networks and artificial intelligence algorithms. This is what G is doing since years, almost perfectly and with tremendous know how and man power. I fully agree with Lyndon and Eddie. We could spend a lot of time or money to analyze and game the algos, but it seems to be a better idea to do it just naturally, focus on building high quality sites and to provide good content, made for customers and page visitors.

No one can Predict or Assure about SEO ranking of any website, it is very hard to understand Google Algorithms. SEO is not rocket science that you done some efforts today and expect result next day. It is periodical process which takes time, you need to have patience. Right said, quality SEO gives good result but it is very difficult to work with Google frequently changing algorithms.

The recent updates have caused a lot of confusion. I see great quality sites that have been punished and low quality spammy site that are still doing well. I am looking for consistency from Google, but at the moment this is not apparent.

I don't think Google has ever been accused of consistency. With an ever-changing algorithm, I don't think we're every likely to see that.

Google strategy and algorithm is changing all the time, it's really hard to follow their strategy! Google will continu is this way because it makes them powerfull.

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