Relearning How You See the Web

Analyzing how a website fits in its “web neighborhood”

Viewing websites like an SEO Assessing good site architecture and webpages from an SEO perspective Assessing website content like an SEO When people surf the Internet, they generally view each domain as its own island of information. This works perfectly well for the average surfer but is a big mistake for beginner SEOs. Websites, whether they like it or not, are interconnected.

This is a key perspective shift that is essential for understanding SEO. Take Facebook, for example. It started out as a “walled garden” with all of its content hidden behind a login. It thought it could be different and remain completely independent. This worked for a while, and Facebook gained a lot of popularity. Eventually, an ex-Googler and his friend became fed up with the locked-down communication silo of Facebook and started a wide open website called Twitter. Twitter grew even faster than Facebook and challenged it as the media darling. Twitter was smart and made its content readily available to both developers (through APIs) and search engines (through indexable content). Facebook responded with Facebook Connect (which enables people to log in to Facebook through other websites) and opened its chat protocol so its users could communicate outside of the Facebook domain. It also made a limited amount of information about users visible to search engines.

Facebook is now accepting its place in the Internet community and is benefiting from its decision to embrace other websites. The fact that it misjudged early on was that websites are best when they are interconnected. Being able to see this connection is one of the skills that separates SEO professionals from SEO fakes.

I highly recommend writing down everything you notice in a section of a notebook identified with the domain name and date of viewing.
In this chapter you learn the steps that the SEO professionals at SEOmoz go through either before meeting with a client or at the first meeting (depending on the contract). When you view a given site in the way you are about to learn in this chapter, you need to take detailed notes. You are likely going to notice a lot about the website that can use improvement, and you need to capture this information before details distract you.

Keep Your Notes Simple

The purpose of the notebook is simplicity and the ability to go back frequently and review your notes. If actual physical writing isn’t your thing, consider a lowtech text editor on your computer, such as Windows Notepad or the Mac’s TextEdit. Bare-bones solutions like a notebook or text editor help you avoid the distraction of the presentation itself and focus on the important issues—the characteristics of the web site that you’re evaluating.
If you think it will be helpful and you have Internet access readily available, I recommend bringing up a website you are familiar with while reading through this chapter. If you choose to do this, be sure to take a lot of notes in your notebook so you can review them later.

The 1,000-Foot View—Understanding the Neighborhood Before I do any work on a website I try to get an idea of where it fits into the grand scheme of things on the World Wide Web. The easiest way to do this is to run searches for some of the competitive terms in the website’s niche. If you imagine the Internet as one giant city, you can picture domains as buildings. The first step I take before working on a client’s website is figuring out in which neighborhood its building (domain) resides. This search result page is similar to seeing a map of the given Internet neighborhood. You usually can quickly identify the neighborhood anchors (due to their link popularity) and specialists in the top 10 (due to their relevancy).

During client meetings, when I look at the search engine result page for a competitive term like advertising, I am not looking for websites to visit but rather trying to get a general idea of the maturity of the Internet neighborhood. I am very vocal when I am doing this and have been known to question out loud, “How did that website get there?”

A couple times, the client momentarily thought I was talking about his website and had a quick moment of panic. In reality, I am commenting on a spam site I see rising up the results.

Also, take note that regardless of whether or not you are logged into a Google account, the search engine will automatically customize your search results based on links you click most. This can be misleading because it will make your favorite websites rank higher for you than they do for the rest of the population.

Taking Advantage of Temporal Algorithms

You can use the temporal algorithms to your advantage. I accidentally did this once with great success. Wrote about why I didn’t enjoy watching “The Arrival”, just before the Oscars 2017. As a result of temporal algorithms my post ranked in the top 10 for the query “The Arrival” for a short period following the movie’s release and during the Oscar votes. Because of this high ranking, tens of thousands of people read my article. I thought it was because I was so awesome, but after digging into my analytics I realized it was because of unplanned use of the temporal algorithms. If you are a blogger, this tactic of quickly writing about news events can be a great traffic booster.

Action Checklist

When viewing a website from the 1,000-foot level, be sure to complete the following: Search for the broadest keyword that the given site might potentially rank Identify the maturity of the search engine results page (SERP) based on the criteria listed in this chapter Identify major competitors and record them in a list for later competitive analysis This section discussed analyzing websites at their highest level.

At this point, the details don’t matter. Rather it is macro patterns that are important. The following sections dive deeper into the website and figure out how everything is related. Remember, search engines use hundreds of metrics to rank websites. This is possible because the same website can be viewed many different ways.

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About Google Relevance vs Speed Algorithm

Hypothetically, the most relevant search engine would have a team of experts on every subject in the entire world—a staff large enough to read, study, and evaluate every document published on the web so they could return the most accurate results for each query submitted by users. The fastest search engine, on the other hand, would crawl a new URL the very second it’s published and introduce it into the general index immediately,
available to appear in query results only seconds after it goes live.

The challenge for Google and all other engines is to find the balance between those two scenarios: To combine rapid crawling and indexing with a relevance algorithm that can be instantly applied to new content. In other words, they’re trying to build scalable relevance. With very few exceptions, Google is uninterested in hand-removing (or hand-promoting) specific content Instead, its model is built around identifying characteristics in web content that indicate the content is especially relevant or irrelevant, so that content all across the web with those same characteristics can be similarly promoted or demoted.

To some hardcore SEOs, Google’s “think about the user” mantra is corny; they’d much prefer to know a secret line of code or server technique that bypasses the intent of creating engaging content. While it may be corny, Google’s focus on creating relevant, user-focused content really is the key to its algorithm of scalable relevance. Google is constantly trying to find ways to reward content that truly answers users’ questions and ways to minimize or filter out content built for content’s sake. While this book discusses
techniques for making your content visible and accessible to engines, remember that means talking about content constructed with users in mind, designed to be innovative, helpful, and to serve the query intent of human users.

It might be corny, but it’s effective.

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