21 Aug 2009, Posted by admin in Google, 3 Comments
It’s always useful to think about what Google could do to improve the relevance of its results. If you can think of a way for them to improve, Google is no doubt considering it too. It’s a good way of guessing how the search engine might change over time, and it can help you to adapt quicker if it does.
Google wants relevant results. That’s it’s strength, and anything that can give Google better results is worth considering.
(flickr image from Danny Sullivan)
At the moment it looks like Google values backlinks massively (as long as they’re dofollow). It’s one of the things that makes argumentative linkbait work, where you create controversy that causes people to link to you. If they link to you, even though they don’t agree with you, that link can still in many cases help you to rank. Look at Habitat when they started spamming Twitter with the #iranelections hashtag. They got an absolute ton of criticism, and quite rightly. But at the same time, Habitat have benefited from getting a number of juice passing links, as shown by Yahoo. There’s thousands of blogs out there that talk about how much they hate Ryanair, for example. Thousands. Yet the strength of their links is, from where I’m sitting, letting them rank 2nd for the term “flights”. A while ago the UK furniture company MFI announced that they’d gone into administration and their website displayed a notice of this on the front page. They picked up a ton of links from UK news sites and for a short time even ranked on the first page for “furniture”.
Personally, I think it would improve Google’s results if they checked the sentiment of the linking page. If the page that was linking to Ryanair, Habitat or any other site also included a lot of negative phrases, and Google was able to determine that the page was referring to the link negatively, maybe that link shouldn’t pass quite as much value. Maybe it shouldn’t pass any value at all. In theory, this would prevent sites from benefiting (or at least, not benefiting as strongly) from getting negative press. I think it makes perfect sense, users aren’t likely to want to see unpopular brands appearing in the search results, just because they’re newsworthy.
Focus Less On Anchor Text
Anchor text is a huge clue to search engines what the topic of the linked page is about. A link that says “search engine optimisation” currently reinforces very, very strongly to Google that the linked page is highly relevant to “search engine optimisation” and is a good contender to rank for this term. The problem with that, though, is that most people don’t link to things like that. We do as SEOs, of course, but there’s a significant amount of people that don’t. There’s a surprising amount of people that link with just the URL as the anchor text, and there’s still an unbelievable amount of links out there that say “click here”, “more info” and “find out more”. In a lot of cases that I’ve seen, the anchor text doesn’t always relate to the page being linked to. That’s a huge problem for Google because all of those “click here” links that should pass on a decent benefit aren’t as strong as they could be. A site that should be on the first page, or ranking first, might not be. When you scale that idea to something the size of Google’s index, it becomes a problem. If Google wants to progress then it might help to focus less on anchor text and more on…
Topic of the Linking Page
Instead of having such a strong reliance on the anchor text, Google could instead focus more on the theme of the linking page. A page that’s all about cars, when linking to another page that’s all about cars, should (technically) pass more value. If a page that’s all about cars is linking to a page that’s all about badgers, that link shouldn’t pass as much value. I’ll be honest in that I suspect Google may already be doing this, but I have absolutely no idea to what extent they’re doing so. While it’s not really possible for me to prove this, I think valuing links more if they’re from related pages will lead to better search results. If I link out to SEO ROI, SlightlyShadySEO and UXBooth (all really useful sites by the way) then those 3 links should pass the full level of juice. If I link out to sites that have nothing to do with this site or post, like The Badger Preservation Society then perhaps that link shouldn’t pass quite as much value. In turn this could lead to more relevant results – and it has the added bonus of potentially negating quite a large chunk of spam.
Anticipating changes that Google might make can give you a bit of an advantage when it comes to getting your site ranking both now and in the future. Even if Google doesn’t start to change by tracking sentiment or focusing less on anchor text, you’ll still benefit massively from being talked about positively, and from getting links from relevant sites and pages.