Good Ranking at Google is about Balance

Ranking is a balance of several factors, the most important being title tag, (inbound) link text, and PageRank. Every page ranks based on its own measures of these factors sorted against all other pages in the index. Theoretically, every single page ranks for every single search query, but the vast majority don’t rank very well, so we never see this aspect.

The title tag is an on-page factor, and the most important of the on-page factors at all the engines, Google included. In fact, at Google I can get a blank page to rank in a competitive search so long as I use a good title tag and work hard on my text links. This would be much harder to pull off at Yahoo, where on-page text factors are more important.

The first of the off-page factors is link text. In their original technical papers the founders of Google told use that they take the link text pointing at a page and store it with the target page. This is huge. What it means is that the query engine has only to look at a page to analyze the links to the page. It also tells us that nothing other than the link text itself mattered in link between pages. There is some current argument that this is no longer true, but we’ll leave that for another day.

This accumulation of link text to a target page did not have a name in the Spring of 2002 when I was completing OptiLink, so we had to come up with a name to tell people what we were doing. We decided to name this analysis of the links Link Reputation to differentiate it from Link Popularity which names the mere counting of links.

Link Reputation, because of the way Google handles links, is not "transitive", that is, a link from page A to page B, adds to the Reputation of page B, but none of the links to page A have any influence on the Reputation of page B. For example, suppose we get a link to our hammock site from a site on gardening and the gardening site has a bazillion links to it that say "gardening". Will our hammock site rank for gardening? No. This is easy to prove for yourself by looking search results and doing some analysis with OptiLink.

But PageRank by contrast is transitive. It assigns a number to every page in the Google index using a recursive computation over the entire link graph of the index — a mathematical implementation of "what goes around, comes around". PageRank is one of "elegant" ideas that takes some thinking to understand. If you are interested, take a look at my publications archive, my Dynamic Linking eBook, or my Mastering PageRank video.

But for now let’s talk some about balance.

We’ve all seen cases where a page with few links can beat a page with many links if it has higher PageRank (from its few links). The converse is also true. So how do we get top ranking? First, we do the best we can on each of the major factors (title, link text, PageRank) and then we go look at the pages we are competing against and look for their weakest aspect. It might that we can create better link text; maybe their title is not as good as it could be; or maybe we have to build more PageRank. Whatever it is, the search results themselves tell us what works, we just have to do better.

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