Six Search Engine Variables
When working with search engine optimization, you have control over five basic variables, and a sixth that waits for no man: keywords, content, page optimization, submissions, links, and time.
Everything you do will be with the intention of affecting in some way one of the first five variables, and as you work, the sixth, time, will keep on ticking. Here’s a quick summary of each.
Keywords are incredibly important. They’re the very foundation of your search engine strategy. Keywords target searchers. You place keywords in your pages and in links pointing to your pages as bait to attract people to your site. Pick the wrong keywords and you’re targeting the wrong people.
Content, from a search engine perspective, really means text, and you need content, and a lot of it. Search engines index words, and you want them to index the keywords you’re interested in. The more words you have on your site — the more pages of text content — the more times your keywords can appear.
Think of a page of content as a ticket in the lottery: The more pages you have, the more lottery tickets you have. One common SEO strategy is to build huge sites, hundreds of thousands of pages, with vast amounts of text with keywords scattered through.
Each page has a chance to match a search now and then. The site has hundreds of thousands of lottery tickets. (However, it is important to keep in mind here that SEO is more than just creating massive amounts of content. This example is just an illustration of a common technique used in SEO strategies.)
You can play the content game a couple of ways:
Create thousands of pages and hope that some of the text matches searches now and then.
Create pages optimized for specific phrases that you know are used frequently.
Content is just a start. Content has to be placed onto the pages in the correct way; the pages must be optimized to get the most out of the keywords. You must place the words onto the pages in the correct places and formats.
If a search engine finds the relevant keywords on your page, that’s good. If it finds the keywords in the right places on the page, that’s a really powerful thing that differentiates your page from your competitors’.
In some ways, submissions — submitting information to the search engines; telling them where your pages can be found; and asking them, in effect, to come to your site and index it — aren’t as important as many people imagine.
This may be one of the biggest scams in the business — the idea that you have to submit your pages to thousands of search engines, when in fact, up until mid-2005, it really didn’t matter much. You could submit, but the search engines would quite likely ignore the submission; links are what really counted.
However, in 2005, Google introduced a new concept, the XML sitemap, and was quickly followed by Yahoo! and Bing. This sitemap file is placed into your website’s root directory containing a list of links to all your pages so that the search engines can more easily find them.
(In effect, now, there are two different types of submissions; one, the one many companies are still selling as a service, is still a scam, while the other is essential.)
Links pointing to your website are incredibly important in a competitive keyword market. If you’re targeting rodent engineering, you probably don’t need to worry too much about links (although every site needs at least some incoming links — links pointing to your site from other sites). But if you have lots of competition vying for your keywords, you won’t win without links.
Links are so important, in fact, that a page can rank in the first position in any of the three major search engines even if the page doesn’t have the keywords that have been searched for — as long as links pointing to the page have the keywords. The more competitive your area, the more important links become.
Time and the Google sandbox
Finally, the one factor you have little control over. You really have control over time only in the sense that the sooner you get started, the older your search-engine project becomes. Age is critical because the older the site, the more credibility the search engines give it.
There’s something known as the Google sandbox or aging delay. (Some people will tell you that these are actually two different types of time-related effects.) The idea is that when Google first finds your site, it puts it into a sandbox; it may index it, but it won’t necessarily rank it well to begin with.
It may take months before the site comes out of the sandbox. (People talk about the Google sandbox, but it’s likely that, in theory at least, other search engines have something similar.) That’s the theory, anyway.
There’s a lot of debate about the effect of age; some say it’s critical, and that for about eight months your site hasn’t a chance of ranking well, and others say that although search engines may take age into account to some degree, it’s by no means an overwhelming factor.
My belief is that if there are time-related weighting mechanisms, even a sandbox of some kind, they are not as powerful as many in the business claim. Time is certainly an issue; it takes time for the search engines to index your pages, it takes time for you to create links to your site, it takes time for the search engines to find the links, and so on.
It comes down to this: The longer your domain has been registered, the better, and the longer your site has been up, the better. So you have control over this essential factor in just one way: The sooner you get started, the better. Register your domain name as soon as possible.
Get a site, even a few pages, posted as soon as possible, and get links pointing from other sites to your site as soon as you can. Get new content posted as soon as possible. The sooner you start, the sooner you’ll start ranking well.