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August 8, 2008

What Google Wants

There are so many articles out there on SEO and so many conflicting opinions. Some of those opinions are people just spouting off without any solid evidence to back it up and others are based on tests and experiments done by the author. It can be really confusing for someone trying to understand SEO. Who is right, who is wrong? Where should you focus your attention? Let’s answer that question by breaking things down…

The truth is…with over 200 components in Google’s algorithm there is definitely more than one way to get your site ranked.

If you’ve read any of my previous articles you may have come across my Gold Star analogy. Let me quickly break it down for you…

Think of the engines like teachers handing out gold stars. Google currently has about 200 factors in their algorithms that determine how your site will rank. Imagine your teacher with a clipboard and checklist with 200 items on it and she assigns you gold stars for each of the things you do well.

The catch is that some of the items on the list are more important and you may get multiple gold stars for that one item, whereas other items are worth only one gold star.

No one (but Google) knows for sure how the algorithm works, so we study and we test and we monitor the industry to come up with a technique that works well for getting sites ranked based on earning gold stars in various different areas.

The number of gold stars you achieve will determine how well your site will rank.

Let’s say you have a ton of great content that uses your keywords really well, and you also have some other on-page optimization in place (like naming images with keywords, clean code that is free of ‘bloat’ etc.) but you don’t have many links. You could still rank well, we see it all the time. Then let’s say another site has very little content but they have an obscene amount of legitimate links, they could also rank well (and often do). And now we have the whole content versus links debate and both sides have proven their case. So what do you do?

I encourage you to continue to look at the facts and then come up with an answer that makes sense to you.

Ultimately Google’s goal is to deliver the most relevant results to the searchers using Google. So if you break it down in the simplest terms what you need to do is prove to Google that your site is relevant to the phrases you want to be ranked for.

Simple, right? The truth is the concept is simple and once you understand that, you can go about the work of achieving your goal.

Now that you understand at the simplest level what needs to be done, you can start looking at the sites that already rank well for your keywords and try to figure out how many gold stars they have (what are they doing right). This process is called reverse engineering.

Next you start on your journey to beat them out. If they have a nice amount of content, you need to get your own “nice amount” of content – and then exceed it. If they have some good links you need to start getting some good links – and then continue on to get great links etc.

Don’t get me wrong, I am not saying it’s all quick and easy and going to happen over night. But what I am saying is rather than get caught up in the all talk about this strategy and that strategy, if you simply focus on creating a great site that has a lot of relevant content that people will want to link to… then you are on the right path. You can spend your time building and improving your site, or you can spend your time chasing the latest technique that people are debating about.

And I can’t resist chiming in on the content versus links debate…

My response is: why choose only one? If we know both are important to the engines why not focus on both and build your site in both areas? That makes a whole lot more sense to me!

This has been an overly simplified way of looking at things, but I think it is important to take a step back and remind yourself what Google’s objective is and then focus your attention and spend your time on the simple things and not chasing the latest technique to “game” Google.

Jennifer Horowitz, Director of Marketing for, has written a book on SEO and has been published in many SEO & Marketing publications. Over the past 10 years Jennifer’s expertise in marketing & Search Engine Optimization has helped clients increase revenue and grow their business. Check out Jennifer’s free ebook Optimization Step by Step on