Google: Reward and punishment

Experts say it's easier to avoid 'bad' search engine-ranking practices than it is to implement 'good' strategies

Editor's note: This article is a sidebar to Cracking Google's 'secret sauce' algorithm

Search engine optimization insiders know Google's basic guidelines for rewarding and punishing Web sites for their search engine practices. They also agree that don'ts are easier to identify than the do's.

Within the site, Google rewards unique content. It also boosts sites that have large amounts of content, and content that is frequently updated. Other important factors include keyword use in the title and in the document, external links to the linking pages, and the link popularity of the site in its topical community.

The most important factors affecting the value of links to a Web site, according to Rand Fishkin, president and CEO of SEOmoz in Seattle, are the anchor text of the link, external links to linking pages and the global popularity of the linked site. The domain extensions edu, gov and mil appear to have stronger weight than .com or .net.

Google punishes, among other things:

  • Keyword spamming -- stuffing, stacking or overusing key terms in an attempt to appear "relevant."
  • Link spamming -- too many unrelated links to the site.
  • Cloaking the site. Programming the site in a way that shows Google's crawler a completely different site. But when users visit the site, they'll see the real site with different kinds of content.
  • Hidden text on your site -- such as white font on background.
  • Too much duplicate content on your site.
  • Overoptimized sites or severely marked-up content. Too many headings instead of body content, so crawlers think heading text is very important.
  • How does Google punish? "Usually your ranking will fall from page 1 or 2 onto page 10 or 14," says Atul Gupta, president and CEO of RedAlkemi. Or your site can be placed into a supplemental index -- those which Google considered to have no priority. Google says it often brings the problem to the Web site's attention so that fixes can be made and the site can apply for re-inclusion.

    Collett is a Computerworld contributing writer. Contact her at stcollett@aol.com.

Copyright © 2007 IDG Communications, Inc.

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