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The Latest Innovation in Search Engine Algorithms
. . . User Popularity

by Robin

For years, the search engines have continued to introduce new factors into their algorithms to make their search results more relevant and to keep savvy search engine marketers from "cracking the system."

We've seen many ranking factors come and go in importance. For example, years ago, META tags were the key to success, or so we thought. Stick in META tags that were loaded with your keyword phrases, and you were sure to achieve top rankings.

Then, we had keyword weight as a ranking factor. We struggled to determine the keyword weight of our competitors' pages, then duplicate that weight in all of the various areas of our pages.

Along came link popularity, and with it, the massive link farms and link exchange programs. Web site owners joined as many as they could in an effort to boost the sheer number of incoming links pointing to their sites.

In the midst of these evolving ranking factors came changes to page components like the title tag. Put your keyword at the beginning of the tag for maximum ranking potential. Oops. Things have changed. Put your keyword as the 3rd and 4th words in the title tag. Wait - let's try the 2nd and 3rd words.

These are just a few of the ranking factors that have come into play over the last several years.

Can you see the potential for problems here?

After all, including keywords in your META tags doesn't mean that the page is more relevant for those keywords. Just because you have 12,792 worthless links pointing to your site doesn't mean your site is relevant for your keyword phrase.

Now, we're in the middle of another "link popularity" or "link reputation" surge. But the rules have changed. Now, we want sites that are related in content to our site, or authoritative, popular sites in our focus area.

Okay! Now we're beginning to get on the right track! After all, if an important, authoritative site in a particular topic area links to your site, it must mean that your site is important and popular for that subject too. Or, if other sites in your subject area link to you, it must mean that your site is truly about that subject as well.

Equally important, or even more so, comes the "link reputation" factor. If enough popular sites in your topic area use your important keyword phrase when linking to you, it's telling the search engines that your site is relevant for that keyword phrase. After all, the Web community has deemed to describe your site using that keyword phrase, which is a vote of confidence to the search engines.

Makes sense, except for one small problem. I can have a site that's devoted to wireless Internet connections, and you can have a site that's devoted to kitchen utilities. I can link to your site from mine and use the keyword phrase "kitchen utilities" in the link text. Some of the engines appear to use the link text as the determining factor when deciding link reputation, not the contents of the page pointing to the site. So, two sites that aren't related in content whatsoever could potentially help boost the link reputation of each other's sites. We may see the engines consider other factors in the near future, such as the contents of the title tag on the page containing the link, which will help solve this potential problem to some degree.

However, when looking at all of the factors listed here so far, do any of them truly prove that the page is relevant to a particular keyword phrase?

With relevancy comes a much more stable, trustworthy search engine. When you search for a particular topic, you're assured of getting search results that contain pages with good, solid content related to that keyword phrase.

After all, most people venture onto the Internet looking for information. If we can provide that information in content-rich, valuable pages, we've done the search engines, the users, and ourselves a big favor.

With all of these various ranking factors, what is the one area that is sorely missing?

How about a site ranking algorithm based on a combination of content relevancy and user popularity data?

"Content" relevancy and "user popularity" aren't as easy to manipulate as link popularity, link reputation, or even keyword placement, so the search engine results should certainly be more relevant. After all, anyone who is concerned about relevancy in search engine rankings should want the most relevant pages and sites to rise to the top of the rankings. If our pages aren't the most relevant, we have some work to do!

Introducing an Innovative Search Engine Ranking Algorithm

I just learned of a new search engine that actually uses a combination of content relevancy and user popularity to determine rankings. It's called

How does ExactSeek measure user popularity? The engine has teamed up with Alexa, which offers a toolbar that measures activity on the Web. By measuring the surfing activity of millions of Alexa users, ExactSeek is able to determine the user popularity and relevancy of Web sites in its index. User popularity is a far more reliable indicator of where Web sites should rank and gives users some input on the search results they see.

Mel Strocen, CEO of Jayde Online, which is the parent company of ExactSeek, says,

"Alexa traffic data will be a strong factor in the ExactSeek ranking algorithm but not the dominant factor, that being page content. Essentially, we've opted to emphasize user popularity over link popularity."

In fact, in an effort to make the results even more relevant, will be in flux for the next week or two as they work to determine how much weight to give Alexa traffic data in ranking search results.

The beauty of is that the harder you work toward increasing traffic to your Web site by adding new, relevant content, paying for SEO, advertising in various publications, investing in a PPC campaign, etc., the better your rankings will be in

Can User Popularity be Manipulated?

I think a better question would be, what search engine results can't be manipulated? The key is to consider relevancy and valuable content, which is something that has wisely chosen to focus on.

It's true that not everyone uses the Alexa toolbar. However, it does provide results based on an excellent sampling of users on the Web. Plus, user popularity will be more difficult to manipulate than other factors, because it is certainly more difficult to manipulate the surfing public than it is to manipulate the search engines.

Give a Try! is innovative in more ways than the way it determines rankings. For example, you can check your site's rankings in the ExactSeek database from a link on the main page of the engine. How convenient!

In Conclusion . . .

As the search engine industry evolves, we'll begin to see more and more innovations geared toward arriving at relevant search results that aren't as easily manipulated as some of the ranking methods in the past. One of those innovations is being put into place now at user popularity combined with content relevancy.

Robin Nobles is the Co-Director of Training of Search Engine Workshops with John Alexander. They teach 2-day beginner, 3-day advanced, and 5-day all-inclusive "hands on" search engine marketing workshops in locations across the globe. She also teaches online search engine marketing courses through, and she’s a member of Wordtracker’s official question support team. With partner John Alexander, she's co-authored a series of e-books called, "The Totally Non-Technical Guides to Having a Successful Web Site." And, they opened a networking community for search engine marketers called The Workshop Resource Center for Search Engine Marketers.

Copyright 2005 Robin Nobles. All rights reserved.

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