SEO for Engineers

Bob Dumouchel

Nobody walking among the mere mortals on Earth, including your humble narrator, knows exactly how the page ranking at Google works in complete detail.  We do however know many of the attributes that count and the basic structure of the formula. The process starts with hundreds of attributes that are scored and then the real magic happens when they blend these scores.

swami crystal ballThe Magic SEO Formula

  1. Attribute Points * Attribute Weight = Attribute Score
  2. Sum(Attribute Score)
  3. Sort Descending ( Attribute Score) = Page Rank

Attributes come in several different flavors and two common ones we call “the-more-the-merrier”,  “the sweet-spot”, and “Value over time”.  These are far from the only type of measurement but it helps us here with an example of how competing with one type using a strategy of another is a major mistake.

Let’s start by defining how a sweet spot attribute works. For discussion purposes only, let’s say that the sweet spot in keyword density is 2% so at 2% you get the maximum points then as you move away from that point the points decline. The farther from the sweet spot, the lower the points and this goes for over or under the sweet spot. So this is a case where more is not always better.

Another type of attribute is the more-the-merrier and an example of this is the back link. In this case, the more you can get the better. Not all back links are created equal in this world. Some back links are worthless or might even be cause for penalty if they are purchased or grossly off topic. The value of the back link is based on the trust and authority of the source of the link. A front page link from cnn.com is very different than a link on an obscure sub page in some unknown web site. The authority juice from the source flows to the target. It is possible that links from sources that Google does not like such as known link farms could actually be negative but as everyone knows, proving a negative is exceptionally difficult. My guess is that links from bad places have no authority or trust level at Google so they transfer zero to the points.

The process is more complex than just these simple statements and you have to consider the type of site that is being processed. In a simple world we have editorial, reference, commercial, and many others and content is treated differently depending on its type. For example in an editorial site like cnn.com, the older the article the lower its value. After all, who wants to read yesterday’s news. In a reference site like Wikipedia.com, older is often better since it is a well established highly referenced page.  The example of this is Einstein’s theory of Relativity, very old but also well respected.  So older is better in one case but worse in the other.

One thing about SEO that makes web site owners crazy is that most of it is outside of their control. This does not mean that you cannot influence it, but you cannot directly control it. Back links are one of many examples of this in that you probably do not have control over the other site pointing to you but you can influence the link by proactively seeking them.

Themes NOT Keywords are the core of the logic and Google has been working on this challenge for a long time. A theme is a broad collection of related keywords and they cross support each other.  If your site theme is Adwords then terms like PPC, SEO, Adsense, Display Network, and many others are going to support your theme. The more your site is about your theme, the higher you will rank for your keywords.

Nobody knows the exact percentage, but our guess is that 80% or more of the organic score comes from off-site items. This is just like the real world in that your reputation is more about what people say about you than what you say about yourself.

There are a thousand ways to earn the top position in Google, all of them hard. When people get into a discussion of SEO, they desperately look for one thing to grab onto and to run with it. But SEO is about a collection of attributes and in some cases you have to rank low in one to rank high in the other.  Keyword density in your page title is a great example of this. For discussion purposes, let’s say that your page title is worth 10 points and you have 5 words in the title then each word is carrying a weight of 2 points. If you reduce the total number of words to 3 then each word is worth 3.33 points resulting in an increase of more than 50% on fewer words.

In the last 16 years, I have seen the calculations evolve from very simple to today’s nuanced logic and over that time I have noticed that most successes have been accidents but with a common theme. The people that rank well for their keywords are largely good communicators that are passionate about their topic. So write and publish what you love and do it consistently over a long period of time and you will eventually win the game.

Can I prove what is written here? Absolutely positively no. Anyone who tells you that they can tell you exactly how the Google Search Algorithm works is lying to you.  I do believe that there is a preponderance of evidence supporting the statements in this article and that it this is generally correct but certainly not absolutely accurate.