|Part of the
You Can Learn Web Success Techniques series.
By Jill Whalen
Updated: June 28, 2005
You may have already heard or read about Google™'s latest patent application
regarding "information retrieval based on historical data" (see:
http://tinyurl.com/4o9vj), but if you're like me, you probably didn't
bother to read it all. Patents are not easy to read, that's for sure! I had
skimmed it and glanced at a few forum posts and articles that discussed it, but
until today, I hadn't actually read it completely.
I wasn't surprised about the stuff in the patent that corresponded with
Google™'s aging delay and its "sandbox" as I had already seen a lot of
discussion on this. For those who aren't familiar with the aging delay and the
sandbox, you'll want to note that there is a lot of disagreement over what
causes a site to be thrown in the sandbox. However, based on my own
observations and the experiences of some trusted SEO friends, it's my belief
that the sandbox is basically a purgatory database where Google™ places certain
URLs based on a variety of predetermined criteria. (Much of this is spelled out
in the first part of the patent application.)
*One* Reason Why a URL Might Get Placed in the Sandbox.
The aging delay, on the other hand, is actually a subset of the sandbox. In
other words, the aging delay is just *one* reason why a URL might get placed in
Basically, if you have a brand new domain/website, it will automatically land
in the sandbox regardless of anything that you do with it. Your new website
will be stuck there for an unspecified period of time (averaging around 9
months these days) and it will not rank highly in Google™ for any keyword
phrases that might bring it any decent traffic. Yes, it can sometimes rank
highly for the company name, or the names of the people who run the company. It
may also show up in Google™ for a few additional phrases that other sites are
not focusing on within their content. But new domains will not show up in
Google™'s natural results for even slightly competitive keyword phrases until
they are removed from the sandbox.
Other reasons why a site might be placed in the sandbox go beyond the aging
delay. Google™'s major algorithm upheavals such as the recent one dubbed
"Bourbon" by the folks at WebmasterWorld, show all too clearly that old domains
can also be placed in the sandbox, under the right (or in this case wrong)
circumstances. Nobody can really say for sure what the criteria is, but
Google™'s patent does give us some insight into what some of them might be.
The Patent Application Specifically States
For instance, did you know that Google™ might use traffic data from sites when
determining how to rank them? The patent application specifically states in
part "...information relating to traffic associated with a document over time
may be used to generate (or alter) a score associated with the document." Since
the application was filed in 2003, it would be a pretty safe bet to say that
they are in fact using that information in today's ranking algorithm.
You might be wondering how they get information about your site's traffic since
you're not providing them with your log files or traffic reports. Well, Google™
has some nifty big brother spyware installed on tons and tons of people's
browsers in the form of the "Google™ Toolbar." In order to use certain
functions of the toolbar, users have to agree to allow data to be transferred
back to Google™, which includes which sites they've visited, and how long they
were there. Now, this isn't any cause for alarm if you're a Google™ toolbar
user, as they're not actually identifying you personally (as far as I know).
They are simply taking the aggregate data that they receive and then using it
for whatever purposes they see fit. It actually makes perfect sense that they'd
use this data to perfect their ranking algorithm. Highly trafficked sites are
popular sites, and Google™ would want to ensure that their searchers easily
find popular sites.
Another factor used in Google™'s ranking algorithm is clickthroughs from the
search results pages. In Google™'s patent they say, "[Google™] may monitor the
number of times that a document is selected from a set of search results and/or
the amount of time one or more users spend accessing the document. [Google™]
may then score the document based, at least in part, on this information."
Google™ has had tracking URLs on most of the links appearing in their search
results for quite some time. With these in place, they can study which pages
are getting clicked for which queries. They can also figure out whether people
are satisfied with the page they clicked on by making note of whether the user
came back to the results page and clicked on additional results.
There's lots more in the patent regarding links and anchor text, including the
length of time it takes for links to show up, and whether they fit the profile
for being artificial or natural. Suffice it to say that as long as you're not
attempting to artificially inflate your link popularity, then you have nothing
to worry about.
Spam Fighting Measures
I cannot stress enough that the ideas in this patent have been put forth as
spam fighting measures. Unfortunately, as soon as the search engines start
giving things like links any kind of prominence in their ranking algorithm,
they get abused by those whose only goal is to "game" the engines. There will
always be people who set out to obtain high rankings through exploiting
weaknesses in the algorithms. They create numerous websites based on the
algorithm of the day, and make as much money as they can until their sites are
caught. Then they simply figure out the next loophole and start the process all
over again. It's an interesting and exciting business model, but certainly not
one that a company in business for the long haul should be interested in.
If you have a real company that is looking to establish a real brand and a
long-term customer base, then you'll want to stick with the basic SEO
techniques which have been proven to work time and again. In other words, the
stuff I've been teaching and doing for years. Yes, it can be time consuming and
a huge amount of hard work and/or money to do things the right way, but the
reward is long-term search engine success.
Where's my site?!
It is true that even for those who do practice what I preach, there have been
occasions when some search engines mistakenly throw the baby out with the
bathwater. That is, you may do everything by the book, but something somewhere
trips a spam filter and your site may mistakenly get sandboxed, penalized or
banned. This is certainly rare, but not as rare as it used to be. Each new
search engine update brings new cries of "Where's my site?!" from people who
didn't do anything to deceive the engines. One can only hope that the engines
work quickly to allow these sites to get back into the rankings as quickly as
At any rate, you should never count on your natural search results as your sole
method of bringing you business. Be sure to use traditional advertising, word
of mouth, public relations and whatever forms of marketing suit your business
Here's hoping that the search engines keep getting better, and they finally
figure out a way to separate the wheat from the chaff once and for all!
of High Rankings is an internationally recognized
search engine optimization consultant and host of the free weekly High
Rankings Advisor search engine
She specializes in search engine optimization, SEO consultations and seminars.
Jill's handbook, "The
Nitty-gritty of Writing for the Search Engines" teaches business owners
how and where to place relevant keyword phrases on their Web sites so that they
make sense to users and gain high rankings in the major search engines.
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