To understand any technology you have to first be aware of its foundation and SEO is no exception to that. SEO is based on the search engine’s evaluation of the page’s trust & authority and the keyword match. We believe that the fundamental parts of this evaluation consist of:
- What you say about yourself
- What others say about you
- Election Results
Each of these building blocks gets progressively more important as you reach toward the SERP (Search Engine Results Page). Nobody knows exactly how much weight goes to each level but our guess is that each level is about twice as important as the item before it.
1. What You Say About Yourself
This level is driven by the content on your website and while it is a small percentage of the total score it is absolutely essential because this sets up the first phase of eligibility. If your page fails eligibility then the rest of the optimization is a complete waste of time. Eligibility is a simple Boolean test so you either are or are not. The search query either matches your keywords or not. When you conduct a search on Google one thing it shows is an estimate of how many pages are eligible for the search.
After eligibility comes the scoring of the on-page content and this gets into what most people consider page optimization. The most critical items here are the support for the keyword and its location and density on the page. This is not rocket science but it can certainly get complex.
Again, nobody knows exactly how every aspect of document scoring happens but if our guess of each stage being twice as important as the one before it then on-page optimization is only about 11% of the score but it is a critical 11%.
2. What Others Say About You
Just like in the real world “What others say about you” is more important than “What you say about yourself.” On the internet the way they talk about you is with links that point back to your site and the infamous back-links. Not all back-links are created equal so you have to concern yourself with the link quality and quantity. There is no doubt that Google weighs links differently when they come from different sources and the essence of this comes from the original page rank formula developed by the founders of Google when they were PhD students at Stanford University. The Google Page Rank formula is documented at Stanford University and while I am sure it has evolved since that paper was written, the core of the formula is still very much a part of the SERP results of today.
Here is the formula:
We assume page A has pages T1…Tn which point to it (i.e., are citations). The parameter d is a damping factor which can be set between 0 and 1. We usually set d to 0.85. There are more details about d in the next section. Also C(A) is defined as the number of links going out of page A. The PageRank of a page A is given as follows:
PR(A) = (1-d) + d (PR(T1)/C(T1) + … + PR(Tn)/C(Tn))
Now let me translate this for you. Page rank is driven by links in and links out. The inbound links increase the page rank of the page and it passes its rank to the location that it points to. If the page has lots of inbound links then an outbound link from that source is worth that score divided by the number of out bound links.
3. Election Results
There is no doubt that Google values votes from users. A user ‘votes’ when they click on your listing and act as a satisfied search, meaning they don’t immediately leave the page to return to the SERP to find what they were looking for. This is commonly called CTR an acronym for “Click-Through Rate.” We have discovered over the years that the AdWords Quality Score and the pages’ SEO score are largely the same thing. In AdWords, most experts believe that the CTR is about 65% of the Quality Score. The reason I believe this is true is because of a presentation by Google’s Chief Economist, Hal Varian. In this video he graphically represents the CTR weight and clearly states that it is the largest factor. I contend that Google gives the same weight on the organic results.
One reason we like to work on accounts that use AdWords is that it gives us the Quality Score, which we believe is the same as the organic score. Programmers love to reuse code and I am certain that Google uses much of the same code in AdWords Quality Score that they do on the Organic Page Score.
Two elements that greatly affect the CTR are the title link and the snippet that appear on the SERP. Those are the only clues to the user about what they are ‘voting’ for, or what information they will see when they click the link. This is why we stress the importance of carefully writing these two items. The vote measurement is much smarter than most think and we know Google tracks some items. For example, if a visitor clicks on your listing but then returns quickly to Google and searches the same thing that is not a good thing for you. The reason this is a problem is that Google will see that as an unsatisfied search.
The key elements to the part of the SEO puzzle is the title, snippet, and the content they land on. If you concern yourself with the quality of the visitors experience you can win this game.
What you will find with SEO is that if you work very hard on creating a great web experience for your visitors the optimization will take care of itself. A website with a great experience gets talked about and pointed to and that wins the SEO game.