The different types of search results

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  • February 14, 2010
Patrick Altoft

Patrick Altoft

Director of Strategy

Until early 2009 the tactics required to compete in most marketplaces were quite similar. Certainly you needed to use some special techniques to rank highly in industries such as online gaming and real estate (until the famous Google penalty of 2007) but in most other industries the usual SEO techniques worked perfectly well with the right execution.

In 2009 Google started using a few different algorithms such as the famous “brand” algorithm which is linked to satisfaction rates (apparently) and more recently the one not many people seem to talk about which is the “not optimised” algorithm.

The “not optimised” algorithm is what makes certain sites rank much higher than they should be for certain queries for no apparent reason. They have very little in the way of on-page optimisation and certainly haven’t spent time or effort building links but Google has some kind of method of figuring out that they might be related.

Take the “car insurance” search results for example – is there a good reason why the homepage of Money Saving Expert should be ranking 8th with no on-page optimisation? It’s a great site but surely if any page deserves to rank it’s the internal page that the site has dedicated to car insurance?

One of the interesting things about Google in the last 2 years has been a steady switch from showing pages containing the exact keywords you were searching for and pages that don’t quite have the target keywords but are deemed by Google to be more relevant. This is a hugely important shift (although its gone largely unreported) because it means that the strategy for attracting long tail traffic around a keyphrase subset has switched from creating a handful of highly targeted pages each targeting a slightly different variation of the keyphrase to a more trust oriented approach of creating one high authority page and hoping that Google will still allow it to rank for the long tail keyphrases even without a matching title tag, for example.

This is why you will often see the homepage of a big brand ranking despite the fact that they have a perfectly well optimised internal page for the keyword you are searching for.

Richard Baxter talked last week about the 4 different types of rankings but I believe there are dozens of totally different algorithms at work depending on the sector you are in. Trying to deliver rankings in one sector requires totally different tactics to delivering rankings in another.

  • Terms where ranking sites have large volumes or high authority back links and heavily optimised anchor text
  • Terms where ranking sites have large volumes of back links / authority but far less optimised anchor text
  • High volume, high competition terms where anomalous / CTR / “Searches related to” adjusted rankings exist
  • Terms where competition is lower, authority clearly plays a role but there is little / no SEO competition for the term

The key to successfully delivering rankings in any industry is to know exactly what factors are being used by the current top ranking sites and to figure out how to not just replicate those factors but to take things one step further. Gone are the days when a few anchor text rich links would deliver results it’s now much more about looking at signals of trust and working out ways to develop that trust within your target website.

One of the things that has been apparent for at least a couple of years is that over optimisation of links and on-page factors can result in sites being filtered out of the results. This can normally be fixed but if you are in an industry where very few links are passed then you might just find that an over-optimised link profile is worse than having no links at all.

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