Two big things have just happened in Google-land: Jagger and Google Analytics. Together, these two events may have changed the face of search forever.
First, let's discuss Jagger... Just like hurricanes, Google updates have names. (A Google update is a change to the way Google determines its rankings. Google makes these changes periodically, and they're universally feared because they can impact dramatically on a website's ranking.) The latest update is called Jagger, and it has search engine optimizers (SEOs) all around the world in a state of panic.
Why was Jagger such a fearful update? Simple... With Jagger, Google once again outsmarted huge numbers of SEOs. You see, many/most SEOs spend their time (and their clients' money) trying to trick Google into thinking that their websites are more relevant and important than they really are. They do this mostly by swapping links, buying cheap links, and placing links on free directories. While there's nothing wrong with these sorts of links (i.e. they're not considered 'black-hat'), they don't really show that the site is relevant or important. All they really show is that the site owner has made a deal with another site owner. In these deals, the incentive for the linking site owner is a reciprocal link, money, or increased link volume. Google much prefers it when the linking site adds the link simply to enhance the value of their content or to increase their own credibility and authority.
In other words, Google wants its search results to contain relevant, important sites, not sites that merely appear to be relevant and important. To this end, Google invests millions of dollars and employs the world's smartest mathematicians to create algorithms which identify sites that are trying to trick them. And that's exactly what Jagger did; and when it found those sites, it simply adjusted their ranking to more accurately reflect their true importance. (Unfortunately, it also demoted some sites which actually deserve a high ranking. It is hoped that these mistakes will be ironed out with future minor updates, but that's a topic for another article...)
From a technical standpoint, Jagger was well described by Ken Webster in his article, http://www.webpronews.com/topnews/topnews/Jagger . To summarize, Jagger:
1) Increased importance placed on IBL (Inbound Links) Relevancy?
2) Increased importance placed on OBL (Outbound Links) Relevancy?
3) Promotion of relevant Niche Directories (related to #1 & #2)?
4) More weight thrown back to PR @ top domain?
5) Increased importance on AdSense placement relevancy?
6) Possible introduction of CSS Spam filtering?
7) Overall Blog demotions?
8) New and unresolved "canonical" issues?
Some more interesting effects were reported by WG Moore (http://www.sitepronews.com/archives/2005/nov/9.html) who runs a number of test sites for SEO purposes. By monitoring the links to his test sites as reported by Google, he established that:
"all reciprocal links had vanished. We think that this is because Google is down-grading or eliminating reciprocal links as a measure of popularity. This does make sense, actually. Reciprocal links are a method of falsifying popularity. Sort of a cheap method of buying a link, if you want to think of it that way... During the second week of the Jagger Update, a few of our reciprocal links did come back up. However, we also noticed that these were from places where we had highly relevant content. They came from articles where we discussed our area of expertise: Web Analytics, or from forums where we had relevant threads. So we feel that these links came back because of content, not linking.
The other group that came back up was one-way inbound text links, regardless of the originating web site. These links also had strong relevance to our web analytics business. In other words, they contained keywords and/or phrases related to our site and its business."
In short, Jagger undid the hard work of thousands - if not millions - of people! As a result, hard-won high rankings and revenues plummeted.
Interestingly, article PR (article submission) came through Jagger seemingly unscathed. My SEO copywriting website http://www.divinewrite.com , for example, went from no.4 to no.1 worldwide for "copywriter", and I've employed article PR almost exclusively. Whether it was promoted or the sites around it were demoted, one thing is clear: article PR is one of the best ways to obtain a high ranking.
The second monumental event to occur recently was Google Analytics - http://www.google.com/analytics/index.html . Google Analytics is a free web-stats solution which not only reports all the regular site stats, but also integrates directly with Google AdWords giving webmasters and insight into the ROI of their pay-per-click ads. According to Google, " Google Analytics tells you everything you want to know about how your visitors found you and how they interact with your site."
Why is this such a landmark move? Because for the first time ever, Google will have access to your real web stats. And these stats will be far more accurate than those provided by Alexa - http://www.alexa.com . Furthermore, Google's privacy statement says: " We may also use personal information for auditing, research and analysis to operate and improve Google technologies and services." - http://www.google.com/intl/en/privacy.html . Now let's put two and two together:
1) Google is 'giving' every webmaster in the world free access to quality web-stats.
2) Millions of webmasters will accept this 'gift', if only because it integrates directly with their Google AdWords campaigns.
3) Google will then have full access to the actual web stats of millions of commercial websites.
4) Google will have the right to use these stats to develop new technologies.
5) What's the next logical step? Google will use these statistics to help determine its rankings, of course!
It should come as no surprise. It's been on the cards - and frequently discussed - for a long time. For example, Jayde Online CEO, Mel Strocen, recently published an article on this very topic, ' The Future of WebSite Ranking' . He quite rightly asserts that:
"Google's "democratic" vision of the Web will never be achieved by manipulating algorithm criteria based on content. It will only be achieved by factoring in what is important to people, and people will always remain the best judge of what that is. The true challenge for search engines in the future is how to incorporate web searcher input and preferences into their ranking algorithms."
In fact, the Jayde Online network already owns and operates a search engine, ExactSeek (http://www.ExactSeek.com) which incorporates user popularity statistics in its rankings.
The Future of Search & SEO
To date, ExactSeek is the only search engine which uses visitor stats as criteria for its rankings. But Google isn't far behind. We all know that Google specializes in taking a good idea and implementing and adapting it brilliantly. This is exactly what we'll see in this case. By combining link popularity and user popularity statistics, Google will be the only major search engine to consider both what other sites think of your website and what your visitors think of your website. And because they have the most advanced algorithms for assessing link popularity, and will soon have access to the farthest reaching, most accurate web stats to assess user popularity, its competitors will be a long time catching up.
So if that's the future of search, what's the future of SEO? The future of SEO is undoubtedly one where:
• One-way text links from relevant pages continue to be the most valuable links
• Reciprocal linking continue to decline
• The 'shotgun' approach to link buying declines
• Mass email link requests decline
• Free directory submission declines
• Niche directory submission increases
• Article PR (article submission) increases
• Article submission sites (e.g. EzineArticles - http://www.ezinearticles.com , GoArticles - http://www.goarticles.com , and ArticleBlast - http://www.articleblast.com ) play a much bigger and more important role in helping online publishers locate quality articles (due to the increasing article volume)
• User popularity is just as important as link popularity, which means:- The quality of article PR improves in order to increase site traffic, credibility, and loyalty- The quality of website content improves in order to convert traffic and encourage repeat visits Clearly, the choices for SEOs will be pretty much limited to paying for links at niche sites and/or engaging in article PR. Being an SEO copywriter, I may be a little biased, but for mine, article PR is the hands-down winner in this comparison:
• It satisfies Google's criteria for relevance and importance. Linking site owners include your article and link because, in doing so, their site becomes more useful to visitors, and their business gains credibility and authority.
• It generates hundreds of free links quickly enough to make it worth your while, but not so quickly as to raise red flags at Google (in the form of link dampening).
• Links are permanent and you don't have to pay to keep them there.
• You get a lot of qualified referred traffic who already trust you and your expertise. This satisfies Google's visitor popularity criteria, while at the same time bringing you a lot of extra customers.
(For more information on article PR, read How to Top Google with Article PR .)
The lesson from Jagger is, don't try and trick Google! They've got more money and more brains than virtually any company in the world. It'll only end in tears! Don't spend time and money trying to make your site look important and relevant. Instead, spend that time and money actually making it important and relevant! Content - the real content behind the optimization - is the answer. After all, whether it's an article or a web page, it's the content that keeps 'eyes on paper', and that's what it's all about.