search engines matured, they started identifying more metrics for
determining rankings. One that stood out among the rest was link
The difference between link relevancy and link popularity (discussed in
the previous section) is that link relevancy does not take into account the
power of the link. Instead, it is a natural phenomenon that works when
people link out to other content.
Let me give you an example of how it works. Say I own a blog where I
write about whiteboard markers. (Yes, I did just look around my office for
an example to use, and yes, there are actually people who blog about
whiteboard markers. I checked.) Ever inclined to learn more about my
passion for these magical writing utensils, I spend part of my day reading
online what other people have to say about whiteboard markers.
On my hypothetical online reading journey, I find an article about the
psychological effects of marker color choice. Excited, I go back to my
website to blog about the article so (both of) my friends can read about it.
Now here is the critical takeaway. When I write the blog post and link to the
article, I get to choose the anchor text. I could choose something like “click
here,” but more likely I choose something that it is relevant to the article. In
this case I choose “psychological effects of marker color choice.”
Someone else who links to the article might use the link anchor text
“marker color choice and the effect on the brain.”
People have a tendency to link to content using the anchor text of either
the domain name or the title of the page. Use this to your advantage by
including keywords you want to rank for in these two elements.
This human-powered information is essential to modern-day search
engines. These descriptions are relatively unbiased and produced by real
people. This metric, in combination with complicated natural language
processing, makes up the lion’s share of relevancy indicators online.
Other important relevancy indicators are link sources and information
hierarchy. For example, the search engines can also use the fact that I
linked to the color choice article from a blog about whiteboard markers to
supplement their understanding of relevancy. Similarly, they can use the
fact that the original article was located at the URL to determine the high-level positioning and
relevancy of the content. As you read later in this book (Chapter 2
specifically), these secrets are essential for SEOs to do their job.
Beyond specific anchor text, proximal text—the certain number of
characters preceding and following the link itself—have some value.
Something that’s logical, but annoying is when people use a verb as
anchor text, such as “Frank said . . . “ or “Jennifer wrote . . .“, using “said” or
“wrote” as the anchor text pointing back to the post. In a situation like that,
engines have figured out how to apply the context of the surrounding copy
to the link.
Tying Together Popularity and Relevancy
So far in this chapter I have discussed both popularity and relevancy.
These two concepts make up the bulk of Search Engine Optimization
theory. They have been present since the beginning of search engines and
undoubtedly will be important in the future. The way they are determined
and the relationship between them changes, but they are both fundamental
to determining search results.
Popularity and relevancy are the two concepts that make up the bulk of
Search Engine Optimization theory.
This fact is critical to SEOs. We have very little control over how the
major search engines operate, yet somehow we are supposed to keep our
jobs. Luckily, these immutable laws of popularity and relevance govern
search engines and provide us with some job security.
In this chapter, I explained the concepts of popularity and relevancy in
relation to modern search engines. This information, along with your prior
SEO experience, will make up the foundation for all of the SEO secrets
and knowledge that you learn throughout the rest of the book. You no doubt
have some questions. I’ll start answering many of your questions in the next
chapter, but you will likely form many more. Welcome to the mindset of a
Professional SEO. Prepare to be questioning and Googling things for the
rest of your life.
Chapter 2
Relearning How You See the Web
In This Chapter
Analyzing how a website fits in its “web neighborhood”
Viewing websites like an SEO
Assessing good site architecture and webpages from an SEO
Assessing website content like an SEO
When people surf the Internet, they generally view each domain as its own
island of information. This works perfectly well for the average surfer but is
a big mistake for beginner SEOs. Websites, whether they like it or not, are
interconnected. This is a key perspective shift that is essential for
understanding SEO.
Take Facebook, for example. It started out as a “walled garden” with all
of its content hidden behind a login. It thought it could be different and
remain completely independent. This worked for a while, and Facebook
gained a lot of popularity. Eventually, an ex-Googler and his friend became
fed up with the locked-down communication silo of Facebook and started
a wide open website called Twitter. Twitter grew even faster than
Facebook and challenged it as the media darling. Twitter was smart and
made its content readily available to both developers (through APIs) and
search engines (through indexable content).
Facebook responded with Facebook Connect (which enables people to
log in to Facebook through other websites) and opened its chat protocol
so its users could communicate outside of the Facebook domain. It also
made a limited amount of information about users visible to search
engines. Facebook is now accepting its place in the Internet community
and is benefiting from its decision to embrace other websites. The fact that
it misjudged early on was that websites are best when they are
interconnected. Being able to see this connection is one of the skills that
separates SEO professionals from SEO fakes.
I highly recommend writing down everything you notice in a section of a
notebook identified with the domain name and date of viewing.
In this chapter you learn the steps that the SEO professionals at
SEOmoz go through either before meeting with a client or at the first
meeting (depending on the contract). When you view a given site in the
way you are about to learn in this chapter, you need to take detailed notes.
You are likely going to notice a lot about the website that can use
improvement, and you need to capture this information before details
distract you.
Keep Your Notes Simple
The purpose of the notebook is simplicity and the ability to go back frequently
and review your notes. If actual physical writing isn’t your thing, consider a lowtech
text editor on your computer, such as Windows Notepad or the Mac’s
Bare-bones solutions like a notebook or text editor help you avoid the distraction
of the presentation itself and focus on the important issues—the characteristics
of the web site that you’re evaluating.
If you think it will be helpful and you have Internet access readily
available, I recommend bringing up a website you are familiar with while
reading through this chapter. If you choose to do this, be sure to take a lot
of notes in your notebook so you can review them later.
The 1,000-Foot View—Understanding
the Neighborhood
Before I do any work on a website I try to get an idea of where it fits into the
grand scheme of things on the World Wide Web. The easiest way to do
this is to run searches for some of the competitive terms in the website’s
niche. If you imagine the Internet as one giant city, you can picture domains
as buildings. The first step I take before working on a client’s website is
figuring out in which neighborhood its building (domain) resides.
This search result page is similar to seeing a map of the given Internet
neighborhood. You usually can quickly identify the neighborhood anchors
(due to their link popularity) and specialists in the top 10 (due to their
relevancy). You can also start to get an idea of the maturity of the result
based on the presence of spam or low-quality websites. Take a look at
Figures 2-1 and 2-2.
Figure 2-1: Google search result for “advertising”
Notice the difference in the maturity (quality) of the search results. In the
second set of results (Figure 2-2), you see some of the same big names
again (Wikipedia, for example, appears in both searches) but this time
they are mixed with some sites that appear spammier (,
During client meetings, when I look at the search engine result page for
a competitive term like advertising, I am not looking for websites to visit but
rather trying to get a general idea of the maturity of the Internet
neighborhood. I am very vocal when I am doing this and have been known
to question out loud, “How did that website get there?” A couple times, the
client momentarily thought I was talking about his website and had a quick
moment of panic. In reality, I am commenting on a spam site I see rising up
the results.
To turn this off, append “&pws=0” to the end of the Google URL.
Also, take note that regardless of whether or not you are logged into a
Google account, the