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Search Engine Ranking: The Real Truth

By James D. Brausch
Posted Friday, September 24, 2004

There are perhaps more myths and urban legends about how to get your website ranked well on the search engines than any other subject on the Internet. In this article, I'm going to tell you how you can tell the fact from the fiction. After reading this article, you will know how to get the current facts about how any search engine ranks sites.

It is tempting to go to the various newsgroups, mailing lists and discussion forums that are frequented by webmasters to ask questions about search engine ranking. Many of you have done this and been bewildered by the amount and diversity of advice offered. Some claim that you should use white-on-white text to stuff your page with keywords while others claim using white-on-white hidden text will get you banned. Some say to use keywords in your keywords meta-tag while others claim that search engines don't even look at the meta-tags anymore. Some claim that you must use short pages, while others claim that long pages are better.

In almost every case, you will receive massively contradictory advice if you ask other webmasters. Even worse, sometimes almost all of the webmasters will agree on some topic... and be dead wrong. Sometimes the information is exactly right for February, 1999 but is no longer accurate. Search engines change their ranking algorithms constantly.

So how can you find the correct information? First, let me say that I rarely worry about the search engines at all anymore. There really are much more effective means of driving traffic to your site than worrying about the search engines. I recommend link exchanges with sites of a similar topic to your own and submitting articles to newsletters in your category as much more effective means of marketing than worrying about search engines. You should also be aware that search engines keep a "blacklist" of sites they have manually banned, often because the owners bragged about some particular ranking attained in some particular way. So, once you use the following methods, I recommend that you keep specific results to yourself. So let's dive into how to get the search engine secrets.

Why not ask the search engines themselves? Of course, all of the search engines claim to guard their ranking secrets with great care, but that is actually quite impossible. By it's very nature, every single search engine has a publicly available database. All you have to do to access their database is to enter a search term. The search engine will happily tell you all of the information you need to know about how it ranks sites. All it takes is a little analysis of the results.

Since a course in statistical analysis would be really boring in a newsletter article (and not very useful), I'll skip all of the theory and get down to an actual example of how you can find the answer to almost any question you have about search engine ranking. Let's take an example step-by-step. Let's say you just heard a rumor that a particular search engine will rank you higher if your search term is present in the title. Here are the steps you can take to find out if that is true:

1. Pick twenty popular search terms.

2. Enter them at the selected search engine.

3. Review the first twenty results for each search and write down the answer. Write a 1 if the answer to your question is true for that listing and a 0 if it is false.

4. If the answers are all the same (either true or false), you may need to use more than twenty results for your study. If so, be consistent with all search terms.

5. If the answers for the second half of your results for all search terms is zero, you may need to include some more search terms until you have a non-zero result in the second half of your results.

6. Total the answers for all search terms for the first half of your results. Separately total the answers for all of your search terms for the second half of your results.

7. Divide the total from first half of your results by the total of the second half of your results.

8. If your answer is very close to the number 1, then you will need to expand your search to more than twenty popular search terms... or review more than the top 20 results... or possibly accept that the answer to your question is that this particular factor is not very important to this search engine either way (positive or negative).

9. If your answer is significantly more than 1, then the answer to your question is true.

10. If your answer is significantly less than 1, then the answer to your question is false.

If your question is regarding the formation of the title, description, domain name or URL, this method is all you need. If your question regards something about the underlying sites (ie: keyword density, use of header tags, hidden text, etc), then you may have to visit each site listed in order to answer your question.

I find it easier to turn each question into a true/false question, but you can also use this method with questions that have a numerical answer.

Now the real challenge is finding the questions, not the answers. Recently a popular search engine started ranking sites with dead links lower than sites that quickly removed their dead links. This became obvious when the above study was performed. The challenge was to come up with the question: Do dead links on your site hurt search engine ranking?

Feel free to drop me a note at with any interesting finds using this method. Happy hunting!

About the Author
The author, James D. Brausch, is the Vice President of Marketing for Target Blaster, Inc., an Internet Marketing firm specializing in targeted traffic. (


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