Google Blogoscoped

Friday, January 28, 2005

Cross-Engine Optimization, or How to Find the Holy Grail of Web Publishing

“You must choose, but choose wisely, for as the real grail brings eternal life, the false grail brings death.”
– Knight Templar

You know how in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, the bad guy grabbed the wrong cup to drink from? He wanted to do everything right but he lacked faith in his decision, as he was confused by too many cups; he then took what looked like an obvious choice, but his sight was blinded by appearance. What a grand metaphor for so many things in life, including search engine optimization! But let me explain.

The good thing about competition, in the browser world as well as the search engine world, is that it pushes standards. When many people use many different browsers, using specific proprietary HTML becomes too much of a hassle. I’m waiting for mobile phones to be even more widely used to access the World Wide Web, and its HTML, so higher accessibility will be a bigger commercial interest.

Now in search engine optimization, we have a similar situation. As soon as you find a need to optimize cross-engine – at the moment, that would mean for mainly Google, Yahoo and MSN, in about that order – you can’t rely on ranking quirks of just one engine. Let’s say you found a great way to trick Yahoo by abusing an element according to the rules of the book, but it would get you axed in Google; well, then you would have to forget about it. This means people need to respect the standards – a title is meant for this, a link for that, and so on.

These approaches of cross-engine HTML help the webscape in general, but they also make for reasonable white-hat SEO. So when you read about how it’s tough to optimize one feature for MSN, while keeping a top spot in Google, the answer is the same as it always had been for HTML (for questions such as “How can I force IE to print the background image” or “I want to open Netscape in full screen mode”): relax, sit back, describe your data, and don’t try to control every single effect this data has to different clients.

If you look at it his way, you realize a search engine is just another browser. When you think of cross-browser, you must also think of cross-search-engine. And that’s easier than it sounds: once you acknowledged you don’t have time to optimize for every single browser anyway, you can focus on your content and what structure makes sense for it. Let the search engines figure out what’s right for their ranking. It may change any day anyway, and you don’t want to be one of those complaining about losing a top position (because it never belonged to just you in the first place).

So how can we search engine optimize in a context like this? A mix between plain usability and valid markup often guides best in these realms. When you wonder if you should keep it to 10 or 50 or 100 links, you should simply ask yourself if you want your human visitors to see 10, 50 or 100 links. If you find the title too long to make sense, you simply stop keyword-stuffing it. If you think the URL looks better without hyphens, remove the hyphens. Most of all, keep it as simple and down-to-earth as you can.

So, in the end, of all the cups, you don’t take the shiny one. It might kill you. Like Indy, you take the simple wooden cup, and have faith good things happen to good people.


Blog  |  Forum     more >> Archive | Feed | Google's blogs | About


This site unofficially covers Google™ and more with some rights reserved. Join our forum!