Anatomy of a #1 Search Result
By Andrew Goodman, 10/11/2002
Contrary to popular belief, you don't have to optimize for search engines
to achieve #1 rankings. Many sites have pages which are not fully optimized
(in the sense that no thought has been given to writing appropriate title
tags for different pages, etc.) which still do very well in search engines.
How can this be? Simple: they're relevant.
Search engines like Google don't care a whit whether a web site has hired
a specialized consultant to goose pages' rankings. Well actually, as best as
they can, search engines like Google try to assign lower scores to
sites which have been obviously tweaked to improve rankings. What they do
instead is to attempt to measure the types of relevance factors which
Look at this page, for example:
umblings.com/bye_weeks.php. It's not optimized, but because the creators
were just trying to create a topical page, they "accidentally" stumbled into
a #1 ranking on the phrase "nfl bye weeks 2002." - a feat that NFL.com and
Yahoo Sports were unable to match!
They didn't do it with their page title, that's for sure. That same
overly-long title exists on every page of the site - which is considered an
So what did they accidentally do right?
- The keyword-laden title of the page was posted using bold text in a
large font. Not exactly how most of us would code it, but this is something
that Google seems to take into account. Large and bold headings are watched
closely, no matter what code is used to generate them.
- The site itself is pretty popular with grassroots fantasy football
players, with over 350 links in.
- This specific page has only one link to it, according to Google - an
internal link from the same site. But that internal link - and the
keyword-laden anchor text of that link - are obviously making a big
difference in the page's rank. It's on Google's radar screen and from there,
the keywords appearing in internal links are matching up well with my search
The moral of the story is: mean what you say, say what you mean, avoid
unorthodox code, dynamic pages, and time-consuming graphics, and make your
site's navigation clear and factual, and your target audience will find your
key pages near the top of search engines every day of the week. Basically,
the more content the better, so long as it is well organized.
Internal site navigation seems to be paramount here. NFL.com, which is
the definitive site in this category with 38,800 (!) inbound links, is
nowhere to be found when you search for "NFL Bye Weeks 2002." Why? Although
the "schedules" page lists all bye weeks, it calls them "open dates." If the
actual words don't appear in the navigation or on the page, then how can
readers, or search engines, find them? In short, there is no quick way to
find "bye weeks" from the NFL.com site's main page, and those specific words
don't appear on the schedules page. Further, there apparently no site search
capability. If visitors can't find stuff when they get to your site, then a
robot can't be expected to do any better.
It looks like information architecture and the "black art of SEO" are
going to become more intertwined in future. My colleague Jim Allison of
href="http://www.webaliza.ch">webaliza.ch, a company that offers web
site usability audits and info architecture consulting, has been talking
about it to me and it makes a lot of sense. SEO Consultants will have to
become information architecture experts, and the latter will have to
understand the added marketing benefit (from search engine traffic) that
will follow from doing their jobs well.
End users can only win when some attention is paid to a quality
navigational experience. Commonly-searched items shouldn't be unfindable.
Arbitrary navigation needs to be rethought with your visitors' most common
informational needs in mind. Unfortunately you may never know those needs
unless you pay attention to the whole gamut of customer contacts - in
emails, phone calls, and in (possibly futile) internal site search queries.
If you don't even have a decent internal site search capability, or the
ability to act on this data (as with
href="http://www.traffick.com/article.asp?aID=94">Ask Jeeves Enterprise
Solutions), then you're behind the 8-ball.
Because Google was really the first to key in so much on the internal
linking structure of a site, we have them to thank for initiating the
long-term trend towards better-architected sites, and making cheap
optimization tricks largely obsolete. It's no easy matter for an outside
consultant to come up with a quick fix for a poorly-architected corporate
site which ranks poorly in search engines. Ideally, this process is
integrated from the ground up, with search engine marketing and information
architecture working in tandem.
Andrew Goodman is Editor-at-Large of Traffick.com and the author of "Winning Results with Google Adwords".