There was a time, albeit quite a few years ago, when SEOs could regularly trick search engine algorithms into listing their websites at the top of the results. Those days are long gone.
In fact, the whole idea of gaining top rankings doesn’t even mean the same thing anymore. Search engine algorithms have become so much more complex, accounting for so many different variables, that no one can keep track of them all.
So if you think you or your SEO can beat the system, think again. There are lots of automated tools on the market, but the reality is that by exploiting 1 or 2 of those 200 or so SEO factors you’re only going to stand out to the search engines as an obvious cheater.
Well, Google was already analyzing something like 200 different ranking signals way back in 2009. That’s four years ago; today, they’re almost certainly analyzing a lot more. And even if they aren’t, it’s a fair bet that they’re not analyzing the same 200 signals that they used then. Of course, the search engine developers at Google are constantly look for ways they can make their algorithms work better. So that even if you do find an SEO exploit you are very likely to be knocked down in future with even more advanced updates.
We can all make a fair guess at some of the signals Google uses, however nobody in the SEO community knows all of them. The weighting of each of these signals is always varying. How important is it that your domain name features your target keyword? Anchor text? Your title tag? Only Google knows the answer.
Now you may have noticed the use of the term “algorithms,” plural, when talking about Google. That’s because the search giant doesn’t use a single algorithm. Do you suppose it uses the exact same algorithm for the medical industry that it uses for the construction industry? More than likely, it doesn’t. That’s because those 200-odd signals I mentioned earlier actually carry different weight and significance in different industries.
How far does this granularity go? Well, it has been noted that Google might have anywhere between 50 to 200 different algorithms running at any one time.
These different algorithms might be in play for different industries, different types of searches or testing the effects of various major algorithm changes (like panda or penguin) before a full push. And it’s just gotten more complicated over time, as Google has added personalization, geo-location, and social signals as factors and filters involved in search.
So any particular search is heavily affected by the searcher’s zip code, search history, previously visited sites, and even the websites his or her friends on Google+ have visited and liked – oh, excuse me, +1ed. This means that Google’s own keyword tool may be very out of date in the near future. Search is becomming increasingly more personal and social.
Naturally, Panda and Penguin have also made “beating” Google’s algorithms more complicated. These black-and-white critters are algorithms like no other; they’re the big dogs that sort through the entire index and over-rule all other algorithms, providing a nasty beat down if you’ve used any exploits or black hat methods. The major problem for webmasters is that if your site got hit, fixing the problem that caused it won’t bring immediate results. You have to wait until the next time Google runs this filter.
So what is the humble site owner doing in the meantime? Usually he’s trying to fix the main problem, but when it doesn’t yield immediate results it’s easy to get impatient and change something else or gives up entirely. So what are you supposed to do instead? Well, you may have to give up on the idea of “top rankings.”
Even if you do have the top rank in Google for your targeted keywords, turn off everything that tells Google who and where you are. Even if you’re still at the top, guess what? You’re still not the top result for many other searchers, who have all of their customizations turned on. It’s a catch-22. Fortunately, there is a way to resolve it. Keep an eye on algorithm changes, but don’t try to chase them.
It’s not about trying to get just the right amount of words on a page, having your keywords in just the right spot or even about the perfect backlink graph. Remember what you’re real mission is. At the end of the day none of us make money by ranking in search engines alone. It’s about building a site that visitors love and trust, focusing on the keywords they search and doing it better than your competitors.