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SEO Tips from The 90s!

Improving Your SEO Skills by Understanding Search Engine History

April 14, 2021 | Posted in: Search

Earning top rankings on Google is no easy feat. One way we can improve our odds is by understanding the basis of their ranking system (the “algorithm”). Even though their software has changed thousands of times since the original design, elements of that initial vision are still factors to this day. What made Google so dominant still exists in their algorithm and can be used to your advantage.

A Time Before Google? As If!

It may seem like forever ago or even predate your first experience with the internet, but there was a time when Google wasn’t the world’s most dominant search engine. Websites like Yahoo, Magellan, Lycos, Infoseek, Excite, World Wide Web Worm, and Altavista all started serving search results before Google.com was even registered. Huge companies like AOL and Microsoft pushed their way into the space and furthered the competition. How could a pair of college students (Larry Page and Sergey Brin) ever produce a viable competitor?

The Internet: Circa 1997

While studying as Ph.D. candidates at Stanford, Page and Brin publishedThe Anatomy of a Large-Scale Hypertextual Web Search Engine, which outlines their design for Google. Their primary focus was quality of results and improving the relevance of what came up in search results. Existing platforms at that time had already solved the issue of indexing and cataloging the web, but their simple keyword-driven methodology made search pages a hassle for humans to sift through.

On primitive search engines, if you typed in something like “fix my golf swing” you would be just as likely to see information about the Volkswagen Golf or swing sets as you would be to find an excerpt from Lesson Tee by Jack Nicklaus. You might also find a random blog outranking a legitimate source just because it contained more keywords.

PageRank and The Analysis of “Backlinks”

Anytime one site links to another, that is called a “backlink.” Backlinks are a simple concept, but Page and Brin had a unique way of looking at them. Before Google, search engines only looked at backlinks as another textual element on a given page; they didn’t care where those links were pointed. The two students noticed that the way sites around the web were linking to each other could be informative. By (programmatically) examining the following, they were able to calculate which pages around the web were most important:

  1. Which groups of sites link to each other and to this page?
  2. Does this page receive more links than it gives out?
  3. How many links point to the pages that are linking to this page?
After examining the link criteria, Google was able to decide which sites were more popular than others and score them with a better “PageRank.” With that authority factored into their ranking algorithm, Page and Brin were serving better content than their competitors. By featuring sites that were receiving links, they were naturally showing better quality content at the top of their results. From their relatively simple idea, they had created the best search engine on the planet.

PageRank used to be something you could calculate for your website, but is no longer a published score. There are still websites out there that will claim they can estimate your PageRank, but they typically aren’t very accurate.

Incoming Anchor Text as a Search Factor

Within a backlink, “anchor text” is what SEOs call the word(s) that are linked. For example, one of the most common examples of anchor text is “click here.” A webmaster will place a link around those two words and point it to wherever they choose. “Click here” doesn’t help Google understand much about the destination page, but in many cases links get placed on words or phrases that describe their destination. Google analyzes that type of anchor text and uses it to better contextualize the recipient of that link.

Example search for “fix my golf swing:” A really good article about proper swing technique my never use the words “fix” or “my.” That article might be titled “top 10 tips for a perfect swing” and rarely even use the word “golf.” Primitive search engines might disregard that page and instead include articles about fixing a Volkswagen. However, if a few golf-related sites linked to the “top 10” article, perhaps on terms like “this article fixed my swing problems!,” Google would know it was a good place to send bad golfers.

Using SEO Ideas from the 90s, Today.

Even after almost 25 years, the information in Google’s original design is still valuable to us. Their algorithm has grown to be much more complex and their website is infinitely more dynamic, but the value of a good link still remains a factor. Let’s analyze what separates good links from bad…

Good links

If your business sells products from a national manufacturer, their site ought to link to yours. If you’re a member of local organizations or certified by known entities, their sites should also have links to yours. Links like those will show Google that your website represents a higher quality business than competitors who may not have as many relevant connections.

Another place to get valuable links is from anywhere you are already mentioned online. We see customers who are mentioned in news articles and press releases, but were never given a hyperlink. Simply reaching out to the publisher and asking for a link can make a huge impact in your site’s perceived authority. If that link occurs on relevant anchor text (or just within an article that references your products, services, or industry), it can be a big help to your relevance in the eyes of Google.

A third option is what we call “guest blogging.” If you can build connections with established industry blogs or sites, offering to create content for them can be mutually beneficial. This can be “how to,” an interview, a textual transcription of a podcast, or anything else that isn’t spammy in nature. Once published on their site, your expertise will add value for their users and backlink or two within that post will help you build authority.

Irrelevant & less valuable links

Links on social media profiles do not count the same way as they do on a standalone site. The traffic coming from a link on social media may help your rankings, but the links (and anchor text) themselves are not factored into your Google rankings.

Another type of links that do not count is “reciprocal links.” If you and a friend both link to each other’s sites, Google can see that and will not give either of you more authority. The same holds true for links that you point to your manufacturer or any other external websites.

“Internal links” are links within one site. Your main navigation menu is an example of internal linking. These links certainly help Google understand what topics are covered by each of your webpages, but they do not generate new authority. Use them frequently and wherever makes sense for users, but don’t overdo it for the sake of SEO.

Bad links

Building pages that contain nothing but links, hiding white links on a white background, or paying for 1000s of links from another country all will do nothing to help your rankings and may in fact hurt you…

Word of Caution: Link Penalties. On the topic of building links to help site rankings, this isn’t the first article and it certainly won’t be the last. After Google’s affinity for backlinks became well-known, people around the web started spamming their sites with as many links as possible in order to improve their rankings. As Google saw their system get manipulated, they fought back with an ever-changing “link penalty” system. They now have both automatic and manual ways of assigning a penalty to sites who clearly try to manipulate the ranking system. For example, The Washington Post was once penalized for selling links. The Home Depot also received a temporary Google penalty for requiring partners to link to them on specific text and even recommending that the links be hidden from users.

Looking for more guidance?
If you are curious about how well-linked your site is, feel free to send us a contact form. We have advanced tools that can sum up your current backlink scenario and help you identify opportunities for more links.
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