Friday, 4 July 2008

Google PageRank for bloggers...

Note: this article has now moved to google-pagerank-for-bloggers on Cipher Mysteries

Over the past few months, I've been tracking where this Voynich News blog appears in Google's search results for "Voynich": it has been as high as #1 and as low as #13, which is quite a variation. It seems to lurch up to #5 (behind Wikipedia and, with two links each), before slowly sinking down to about #12 over the following fortnight, before cycling back up to #5 (or occasionally #1) again.

The other sites in the top 12 typically date from 2004 or before (equivalent to about 30 Internet years) and refer to each other a fair bit: and their age, interconnectedness, and accumulated inward links all work together to give them a Google PageRank of 5 or more when viewed as a network.

By way of comparison, Voynich News is part of a small new network of Voynich-related sites with few inbound links, and so has a PageRank of only 3. Furthermore, because the older sites are rarely (if ever) updated, their PageRank won't "flow" to Voynich News, whereas whenever Voynich News links to one of them, part of its PageRank flows out to supports theirs.

So why does Voynich News cycle around the first 12 places? I strongly suspect that to keep the PageRank values "fresh", every once in a while Google completely discards its PageRank cache and incrementally rebuilds it as it crawls around the Net. And so, without the impact of PageRank on its position, Voynich News would consistently be at #1-#5 (i.e. based solely on its content relevance). But as the PageRank cache gets progressively rebuilt, down it slides. :-(

To get a higher PageRank, I'd need people to mention it on their blogs and sites: but this rarely happens (Google also tries to filter out backlinks in comments, for example, as this was how an earlier generation of trolls tried to artificially inflate their PageRank). However, there's a big wave of Voynich interest coming later this year and forwards, so my only real crime is to be ahead of the game. Shame on me for being too early! ;-)

I've been updating this blog with (I hope) relevant and interesting Voynich-related stuff pretty much every day for ages now: but I've pretty much hit the limit of what I can do with Google and Blogger alone. For example, Blogger sites get penalised by Google because Blogger does not place different keywords or descriptions in the META tags in the header: but Google owns Blogger, for goodness' sake!

If Blogger simply added a set of META "keywords" based on the tags in a post, and had a configurable META "description" that only got put on the root page of the blog, I think that would be a huge improvement as far as SEO ("Search Engine Optimisation") goes. But Blogger seems more interesting in adding in useless sidebar Gadgets that nobody really benefits from, which is a shame.

I'd love to go in and turn Blogger round, as I think right now it's a wasted opportunity for Google: but it seems easier from where I'm sitting just to start my blog all over with a different blogging host, one which gets the SEO basics right. Which would be a shame, but there you go.

There's one little-known curiosity about META tags: if you don't have them on a web page (like most of the older sites in the Voynich network I mentioned above), then Google may well use the description given for the site in the Open Directory Project (though you can disable this with "NOODP" in a META tag). Seeing all the descriptions from the ODP I had recently edited suddenly popping up in the search listings for Voynich was quite a surreal experience for me (even though they have since disappeared again!)

My top blogger tips for high Google search results are therefore:-
  • Find out the PageRank of sites that rank highly on searches for your keyword - this is the value your blog will have to match in order to appear near the top most of the time (for comparable content, that is). You can find this out with the PageRank searcher from SEO Chat, or the SEOQuake plugin (for IE and Firefox).
  • PageRank is based on unique contentful inbound links to your blog (a repeated link in a site template, such as someone's sidebar list of blogs, makes little or no difference). How do you get these? Be nice to other bloggers lots of times, and hope some link back to you!
  • Getting from PR3 to PR4 (and then to PR5) will take time and effort. Even high quality inbound links from directories (such as the Open Directory Project, which people always used to think was helpful) may also not help because these often get duplicated around the Web - and when Google notices duplicates, it can reject all of them (pretty much).
  • Don't use Blogger, find a blog host who gives you proper control over META tags (sorry, Google/Blogger, but that's the way it is right now).

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