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Gaining Credibility through PageRank

As important as keyword usage is for your search efforts, it is less than half of the Google algorithm. The Google algorithm takes two primary things into account: relevance, which is a function of how keywords are used on a page; and PageRank, which is a function of how your page is interwoven into the Web's vast map of links. (There are other factors as well, such as the prominence of your site in the scheme of the Web, but those are beyond your influence as a Web writer. In this book, we will focus on keyword relevance and PageRank.) You can do everything right to improve the relevance of your pages by using keywords, yet still fail to get your page listed on the first page of Google results. If a particular keyword is highly competitive, meaning that lots of other sites are doing everything in their power to rank high for it, you will also need to improve your PageRank to get listed on that first page of Google, Bing, and other search engines.

For example, the keyword Service Oriented Architecture, or SOA, is highly competitive in Google—a lot of very smart companies spend a lot of money developing optimized pages around a cloud of keywords related to SOA. The only way to get on the first page of results in Google for SOA is to get credible pages around the Web to link to your SOA page. Google counts each link to your page as a vote of confidence for the content on your page. This is how Google overcomes the problem of relevance on the Web. Because the text alone cannot determine whether users will find the content relevant to them, and there are no better contextual cues to content than links, Google uses linking as its main contextual cue. All evidence indicates that Bing also uses links, and, if anything, gives them even greater weight than does Google.

As complicated as keyword usage can get, linking is much more complex. Search engines don't count every link to your pages as equally valuable. Some links get more link juice, or value, than others, depending on how valuable and relevant Google deems the site that links to your page.

We will explain some of this complexity later in the book. For now, suffice it to say that you need to develop a plan to promote your pages to high-value sites. Many sites have value simply because they serve as link aggregators related to a given topic. One example is Wikipedia: It contains relatively little original content, but it is an excellent place to begin researching a topic, because every source is a link to further research. (If you attempt to publish original content on Wikipedia in the sense that it lacks original sources, the content gets flagged as in need of support.) However, for technical reasons to be explained later, Wikipedia is not a great site from which to get link juice. It merely illustrates the point that sites like it, which link to deeper dives into research topics, are highly valued by users. And because users value them highly, search engines do as well. For this reason, these hubs of authority typically find themselves listed near the top of search results.

Our approach is to determine the best path to becoming a hub of authority on your topic. This requires a lot of deep thinking about the state of the art of your topic and a lot of research into the existing hubs of authority on it. How does your content fit into the matrix of authority on your topic? What contribution does your content make to the interlinked conversation related to your topic? How do you engage with other subject matter experts in your field to promote this contribution to the discussion? We will explore these and other questions to help you improve your PageRank in Google. And who knows, if you develop a good relationship with the recognized authorities in your field and your content makes a unique contribution to the field, you too can become a hub of authority and thus rank highly in search engines.

There are no shortcuts to becoming a hub of authority. To do so, you must gain the trust of other authorities for your topic. That takes time. Still, there are some tactics that can help you promote your content to authority sites. We will cover them in Chapter 8.

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