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When Google went online in late 1997, it entered a market that was already filled by several other competitors. To mention a few, Altavista, HotBot, Excite, Infoseek and Lycos had all managed to claim their own share of the searching industry. Despite being late in the game, in four years Google has managed to secure a place for itself in the search engine world.

While many of the search engines that used to dominate the field have now fallen or become shadows of their former selves, nothing seems to be able to stop the success of Google. After gaining the position of providing secondary results to Yahoo from Inktomi in 2000, Google broke into the big league. Claiming to serve over 70 million searches each day through its own site and its affiliates, Google can arguably be called the most important and powerful search engine of today.

What has made Google grow so fast? Will they be able to continue their outstanding performance? Is it possible that they will be able to reach profitability without having to stuff the pages with advertisements like other search engines have done? Those are interesting questions and I could offer a theory or two to answer them, but I won't.

What you and I are really interested in is how to grab our own small share of the enormous amount of traffic Google sends out to sites that are listed in its index. That is why the only thing I'll try to do in this article is to give you some insight on the ranking algorithm used by Google. Such knowledge is vital, because without it you will be unable to rank highly on the index and shall never receive the amount of traffic you had wished to.

Random thoughts before we begin
The most cautious (or paranoid) of you might have already started to wonder why I'm willing to share my views on the algorithm. After all, detailed information on the ranking methods used by different search engines can rarely be found on the web. Most search engines attempt to protect their secrets as well as they can, but occasionally someone spots a pattern and is able to "crack" the algorithm at least partially and is able to send his sites rocketing to the top.

However, these persons don't usually share their secrets with others. Why should they? In these days, the Internet is not the hippie land of flowers and love anymore. If you know how to secure good positions in the search engines, your site will get hits. If you are able to get hits, you will be able to make a nice amount of money. You'd have to be a fool to tell anyone about your experiences with the algorithms of search engines, because if you did, you'd suddenly find out that someone used your own weapons against you and dropped your pages out of the top ten.

So why the heck am I willing to give you some guidelines without charging you for it, like some of the other sites do? Well, general search engine optimization info is commonly available on several sites for free, but like I said, it is very difficult to find up-to-date information on the algorithms of specific engines. I'm kind of flattered with the thought of doing something fairly unique, offering information that very few others are willing to share.

If my ideas about Google's algorithm are even remotely correct, I have achieved this goal, even while it probably means that I'll have to fight a more difficult battle to rank my pages highly at Google in the future as this information keeps spreading. On the other hand, if I'm wrong, I can always say that you got exactly what you paid for.

In addition to the above, I have other reasons as well. Frankly, I'm sick and tired watching people spend tens or hundreds of dollars to buy books or subscriptions to web sites that promise to reveal all the ranking secrets you could imagine. Don't get me wrong, if the information is accurate, paying for it is a honest deal, but too often you notice that you paid for something you could have (or should have) been able to get for free. And what about those of us who just aren't able to pay? Throughout the history of the web, the search engine optimization game has become more and more difficult for the small guys as the Internet has grown and advanced. This article is my attempt to level the playing field a little.

What makes me the expert on this subject? Who am I to stand up and paint myself as an authority? To tell you the truth, not much. I don't work for the search engines and I don't have any secret contacts at Google that would be willing to give me the details of the algo. But I have achieved Top 10 rankings on competitive 2-word keyphrases with around 500,000 returns, which isn't a bad achievement in my book, especially while some of these words are often targeted by those who do posess fairly strong knowledge about search engine optimization. In any case, I'm not attempting to say that I have the best or most detailed information about this subject. All I can offer is to share what I know and hope that it will be of use to you.

OK, you've probably heard enough talk without any hard facts. Let us begin.

Ranking high at Google - key number one
While there are numerous things measured by the Google algorithm, one thing seems to outweigh every other aspect. I'm talking about listings in the Open Directory Project. Google seems to heavily favor sites and pages that are listed in there. At the very least, you will have to be able to get your root/index page into the ODP. Attempt to include your most important keywords in the title and in the description you submit to the ODP. Having these words in the name of the category you're submitting to or in the URL you submit are also things that might have a positive effect, but I am unsure whether they produce a significant benefit or not.

After you have been able to squeeze your index page into the directory, try to do the same to as many of your subpages as you can. ODP's rules state that in most cases, they will only list one page per site, but I've seen plenty of sites that have at least five subpages listed. Be careful while doing this, because excessive submitting can in extreme cases result in all of your pages being dropped from ODP and your site banned for life.

The minimum requirement is to make sure that each page has plenty of useful, unique content that is relevant to the category you are submitting to. It might also pay off to keep a brief "cooling off" period in between submissions. Never, ever even attempt to get all of the pages on your 200-page site into ODP.

Again, include your most important keywords both in the title and the description you submit to the ODP. For example, if you sell cars in your online store called "Auto Shop", have a subpage about Ferrari Testarossa and you want it to rank highly for those words, the title and description you submit to ODP should be something like:

Title: "Auto Shop's Ferrari Testarossa page"

Description: "Read about the history of Ferrari Testarossa, learn about its driving characteristics, visit a gallery of pictures or buy the thing!"

Got it? For each page, select one unique keyphrase, get it into the title and the description and submit. Choose the keyphrase carefully, because once you've submitted, it can be difficult to change the information you have entered. Repeat this process as many times as you dare, selecting content-rich pages from your site and submitting them into different categories.

This is a case of greed versus fear - if you're too frightened to try, you'll never get anything. But if you let your greed push your brains into the background.. you'll lose everything you already had. Should you want to get further details on submitting your website to the ODP, simply read my article about the subject.

Ranking high at Google - key number two
At this point, you hopefully have at least one, but preferably a couple listings at ODP with perfect descriptions and titles. The next part is to optimize the HTML code of the pages to match Google's algorithm as well as you can. While I believe that the ODP listings are the most important factor in the ranking, a completely unoptimized page that is listed in ODP can certainly be beat by a well-optimized page that is not in it. Of course, the best combination is a page that is both optimized and listed in the directory, what is exactly you should shoot for.

OK, let's take a look at the various areas of page optimization for Google:

Title: The keyword or phrase should be included in the title of the page. However, it is probably best to include other words in addition to the keyword as well. For single keywords or two word phrases, I'd consider a title of 3-5 words in length to be the best choice.

Headings: Placing the keyphrase in a H1 or H2 heading at the very beginning of the page seems to work well. I have seen pages that rank high without headings, but it would seem to me that a good heading makes the job a bit easier. For the heading, I generally use just the keyword or keyphrase without adding any other words into it. If the page in question is a very long one, using a H3 heading with the keyword in it every now and then to retain the focus doesn't seem to hurt.

Density: Google doesn't seem to be too picky about keyword density, just as long as the keyphrase is found often on the page. I myself tend to aim at around 9-10% as measured with this tool, but a slight deviation from it either upwards or downwards shouldn't cause great problems. In many cases, Google seems to tolerate and even like very high keyword densities.
The page should be somewhat "front-heavy", meaning that you should work the first instance of the keyword somewhere very near to the beginning of the page and make it appear once or twice fairly close to this first keyword, scattering the rest across the page.

Special words: Including the keyword in link text or in bold text does seem to give a slight advantage, but is not mandatory in my opinion. If I would have to choose between the two, I'd see using the keyword in link text as more important than using it in bold.

Meta tags: Not useful with Google, but you won't get into trouble for using the standard keyword and description tags either. Include them or leave them out, your choice.

Link popularity: As said, ODP links are gold, but links from other respected sources, especially Yahoo, can be very valuable as well. Links from normal pages, if you have a large number of them pointing at the page you're optimizing, will provide a good edge against the competition.

Themes: Haven't seem them playing a part in the Google algorithm, except if you count relevant link popularity as a part of themes.

Click popularity: Not in use.
There you have it, the outlines of the Google algorithm as seen by me. Not very complicated, is it? I hope that the information you've read has been detailed enough to give you some ideas on how to improve your ranking and get more traffic to your site.

The next project I'm planning is to examine Altavista's and FAST's algorithms closer, but I'm currently a bit in the dark as to what comes to those. If I get them nailed one day and if the feedback from this article is positive, you might get to read an article about them sometime in the future. Only time will tell.


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