What really matters to Google? The Black Art Revealed

Until recently I worked in the marketing department at a major e-commerce firm where we handled the development of websites for major blue chip companies. Unfortunately marketing was never involved in the development of these sites. That disconnect between our e-commerce management and marketing services management would later haunt me for my 2 year tenure at said company. The question that would haunt me was “Why don’t I appear number 1 for “X” in Natural search?”

Because our management teams never thought to consult one another on the development and marketing of our new partner’s websites we were completely ill- equipped to handle their needs regarding SEO. We had major indexing problems with search engines due to duplicate content. Our company was using the same website template, product information, content management system, and pricing for over 23 partners.

Before I could completely appreciate the above issue I was forced to educate myself on a few basic principals regarding Natural Search Engine Optimization. It was essential that I learned these so I could handle question after question from my partners regarding their Natural Results. I would need this info to educate my partners so that they were equipped to go back to their executives and explain why they weren’t showing up for specific keywords.

So where is a person to go when they know zilch about SEO? You would think that someone employed at a company that specializes in interactive marketing would have internal resources to lean on. But after some digging I came to learn, except for one person, that everyone within my company knew as much as I did. Which was? You guessed it…absolutely nothing. So I figured why not start with the two men who utterly revolutionized Search as we know it, Sergy Brin and Lawrence Page. While researching SEO I came across an absolute gem, their thesis from Stanford for Google!
Over the next few paragraphs I will outline what Mr. Brin and Mr. Page felt were the essential factors that influence how websites appear in their large-scale search engine, Google. For those of you who were as uneducated as I was this will be very useful for: working with clients, understanding common SEO terminology, and picking out a SEO firm for your company.

Basic Factors that Affect how your Website Appears in Google’s Natural Results are:

1. Page Rank – Comes from a “ballot” among all the other pages on the Internet about how important a page is. A hyperlink to a page counts as a vote of support. The Page Rank of a page is constructed and depends on the number and Page Rank metric of all pages that link to it (“incoming links”). A page that is linked to by many pages with high Page Rank receives a high rank itself. If there are no links to a web page there is no support for that page.

a. Page Rank is on a scale from 1 – 10 with 10 being the greatest.

b. For example, has a page rank of 8 with 2,730,000 websites linking to it. ESPN directly links to Google now sees as important because ESPN, with its page rank of 8 and its enormous link popularity, is directly linking to them. ESPN Shop also has a rank of 8 from piggy backing off the link from

c. Link popularity – The number of sites which link to a particular site. For the example above, the 2,730,000 links would be ESPN’s link popularity.

2. Anchor Text – Also know as “Linked Text” is the text that you click on to activate and follow a hyperlink to another web page or another web site. “Anchor text is treated differently by Google compared to most search engines that associate the text of a link with the page that the link is on. In addition, Google associates it with the page the link points to. This has several advantages. First, anchors often provide more accurate descriptions of web pages than the pages themselves. Second, anchors may exist for documents which cannot be indexed by a text-based search engine, such as images, programs, and databases. This makes it possible to return web pages which have not actually been crawled.” This move to use anchor text in generating natural results for web pages that can not be crawled was one more step of Google trying to generate better quality results.

3. Hit List – corresponds to a list of occurrences of a particular word in a particular document including position, font, and capitalization information.

Two Types

a. Fancy Hits – include hits occurring in a URL, title tag, anchor text, or Meta tag.

Metatag – is a special HTML tag that provides information about a Web page. Unlike normal HTML tags, Meta tags do not affect how the page is displayed. Instead, they provide information such as who created the page, how often it is updated, what the page is about, and which keywords represent the page’s content. Many search engines use this information when building their indices. (Thanks, Optimization Consultants)

Title tag – HTML tag that defines the title of the web page, also used by many search engines as the title in the search results. (Thanks, Optymise [no longer active])

b. Plain Hits – consists of a capitalization, font size, and 12 bits of word position in a document. Words in a larger or bolder font are weighted higher than other words.
Is that it? Not exactly but these are the major staples by which Google uses to generate what they like to call higher quality search results. You may be asking yourself how does that all work together? Well let Mr. Brin and Mr. Page explain further.

The Ranking System

“Google maintains much more information about web documents than typical search engines. Every hit list includes position, font, and capitalization information. Additionally, we factor in hits from anchor text and the Page Rank of the document. Combining all of this information into a rank is difficult. We designed our ranking function so that no particular factor can have too much influence.” For a more detailed/mathematical explanation click here to get their full thesis.

a. Lets use the above information in an example – When searching for the keyword “Ticketing”, appears number 6. Currently Ticketweb has the following:

Page Rank – 8

Link Popularity – 402,000

Hit list Hits (how many times ticketing is mentioned in the following) – once in the URL, once in the Title tag, once in the alt tags, once in the Meta description, and once in the Meta keywords.

b. The combination of the weighted 5 hits, with a high page rank of 8, and link popularity of 402,000 tells Google that Ticketweb is the authority over my partner for the keyword “Ticketing”.

I actually ended up using the above example, as an explanation to one of my partners that was infuriated that they weren’t appearing higher than Ticketweb for the term “Ticketing”. After some education they went from ripping my head off to seeing the full picture. We ended up comparing my partner and Ticketweb’s site and it turned out nowhere on the homepage was the term “Ticketing” mentioned. At the time we ranked 85 in Google for the term “Ticketing”. We had a high page rank of 7 with high link popularity. So we made some minor adjustments to their hit list for the term Ticketing and we improved their rank in Google to 25.

In closing, I hope you found some of this information insightful. It is truly amazing the information you can find on the internet that you can apply to your business. It goes to show that digging can help you find the answers that once puzzled you.