GP Ruud Hein: SEO: Why Google Can't Take It Away From You

Mon 25 January 2010 11:00, Bas van den Beld

GP Ruud Hein: SEO: Why Google Can't Take It Away From You

With a Dutch roots Ruud is someone us Europeans can be proud of, he has made it "on the other side of the Ocean". He is a very well respected writer and publisher and a post from Ruud is always a pleasure to read.

In his guestpost he talks about his predictions with a nice twist to it. His essence: things will stay the same, again. But still, there is something more to say than just that one line. Enjoy this one, I know I did!

SEO: Why Google Can't Take It Away From You

So Bas invited me to do a "Search in 2010" post; a bit of a prediction kind of thing. Which I thought was cool. I enjoy short posts and you can’t get shorter than this. I’ll sum it up by quoting my favorite fiction writer, Stephen King: SSDD. Same sh.. stuff, different day.

See, here’s what will happen. Michael "Graywolf" will use #lavalamps and #beanbags in half of his Google related tweets. Sugarrae might curse, possibly. Google will buy at least one company not even vaguely related to search. They’ll also launch at least one service or product seemingly unrelated to search.

It's a new year; not a new Universe. That means that someone will write that SEO is dead; we send them back to 1997. Bing and/or Yahoo do something pretty awesome and no-one takes note. Google adds another obfuscation layer by introducing a rel=noway tag which mitigates a -187.5 filter but only if you didn’t use hashtags on the page and are serving you page in less then 3.42 seconds – obviously. A large company will either share very private information publicly by accident or simply delete it. In both cases it won’t really hurt the company at all.

Matt Cutts still won’t be talking for Google.

Through it all the real question posed and analyzed on SEO forums will be; why are my Adsense earnings going down?

That, search folks, is 2010 in search in a nutshell.

2010: No "Search" Innovation - Again

As was the case in 2009, 2008, 2007 ... as has been the case for a number of years now, 2010 will be a year marked by the absence of innovation in information retrieval.

That isn’t to say things will stay the same. We just closed off a decennium in which Google made an animated version of its home page and Microsoft launched a search engine which has a daily changing background image, so clearly things are happening. Sort of...

But the essence of things will stay the same, again.

The core element of search that you and I work with cannot change beyond the current state until major progress has been made in fields outside of information retrieval.

Search: It’s Pretty Simple Really

Besides the technical part of search engine optimization – indexation – search consists of 3 parts: retrieve, sort, and show.

1. Retrieve

Someone executes a search. This search consists of words. The search engine will now in all its simplicity retrieve a list of documents that contain those words.

It’s that simple.

2. Sort

This list of documents needs to be sorted by relevance.

This sucks because computers can’t understand relevance from #lavalamps so search engine engineers have to rely on rather odd approximations of relevance.

3. Show

The sorted list of retrieved documents is shown to the searcher. You can do all kinds of fancy stuff here. Use wing dings or comic sans. Combine images, video and text. Or present the results as a Flash-based game of Whack-A-Mole; it doesn’t really matter.

Sort: The Only Area of Innovation

Of these 3 only 1 matters to us: sort.

"Sort" is the area we work at as SEO’s. It’s where "#1 or #999" decisions are made and filtering from "-187.5" to full blown penalties are applied.

"Sort" is the thing that comes after the fact of having met the most basic conditions of retrieval upon query and before the act of showing the results in whatever way the search engine fancies to do so.

The way results are shown? Moot. Merging the query results for video, images, news and text isn’t that earth shattering when you think about it, for example.

And if your page didn’t make it to the first stage of answering a query, getting retrieved, then, well... who cares, right?

But the part where we don’t just want to be retrieved and shown but want to be shown as #1 – that is sort. That there is SEO.

Sort is the reason you have a job – and sort is the reason you’ll continue to have a job for a good time to come.

Relevancy By Any Other Name...

The intention of search engines is to sort by Relevancy. They can’t. They don’t.

Relevancy far surpasses the occurrence of words in a document. Simply because I mention "Google Nexus" here doesn’t make this document relevant concerning it.

You and I assess and see that in an instant. Search engines don’t ... because they can’t.

To truly parse relevancy, natural language processing and artificial intelligence have to make major strides out of the relative stage of infancy it’s still in.

Failing and lacking that, search engine engineers can either have human assessment and intuition do the job, something that obviously doesn’t scale, or rely on "as good as it gets" approximations of relevancy as expressed through voting and popularity.

By counting how many votes a document gets (links) and/or measuring its popularity (SERP click tracking, toolbar data, social media mentions, etc.), search engines have opted for the latter. They effectively established a criterion which can stand in for relevancy.

The difference is that relevancy is while voting and popularity are mere calculations.

Calculations: Reverse Engineering Google

Where relevancy consist of God knows what, calculations are made up of a finite number of operations on a finite number of variables.

Google states they use 200 such variables.

That’s no less than 200 variables that can be influenced outside of true relevance.

True, it’s been argued that the fact that there are 200 such factors makes reasoned observation and testing of them not just virtually impossible but "all crap". This no doubt comes as somewhat of a surprise to those applying the scientific method on phenomena as extensive as the Universe, the calculations of which have to factor in variables numbered well beyond 200.

If Newton can figure out and calculate why the apple fell, we should be able to distinguish the influence of a text link from an image one; Google is much a smaller Universe to observe than the one we live in.

Yes, it can be hard. Yes, it’s a moving target. But there’s nowhere for them to hide.

No matter how the variables are re-arranged, we can observe their influence, their effect, and work back from that.

Some factors will weigh more heavily than others. In doing so they cloud or effectively "hide" the less-weighted factors, making themselves easier to spot as they stand out from the rest – and thus easier for us to work on. Think here of the apparent value links have, for example.

And the less-weighted, more delicate variables? Well, they’re just that: less-weighted. While these do provide potential areas of improvement and opportunity, the very fact that they’re "out-shouted" by the louder, more heavily weighed factors diminishes their importance to us.

However scientifically unsatisfactory that may be, the purpose is to rank – not to devise an theoretical model of I.R.


"Ranking", being top dog when it comes to sorting, is not based on relevancy but on calculations of approximation of relevancy.

The results of these calculations are public in the form of SERP’s and their fluctuations.

Through observation and testing we can determine factors weighed and thus arrive at a method of search engine optimization.

Until natural language processing and artificial intelligence progress to new, revolutionary heights, nothing will happen in this area that is truly game changing.


About Ruud Hein:

""Ruud Hein is an SEO with Search Engine People where he's also the editor of the SEP Blog. Involved with information technique, his main focus remains his family life."

Ruud can be found:

On Twitter
On his website
On Searchenginepeople
On Google

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