Saturday, July 17, 2004
Marketing on the internet
Want people to find your website? Your website could be the best site out there on a particular topic, yet no one will find it without marketing. Either people have to know about the site though the offline media, or they have to find it on the web itself.
You can buy advertising on other websites, but that’s expensive. The least expensive, and perhaps even the most effective way of getting people to find your website, is to show up at the top of the search engine rankings.
An understanding of how Google and the other search engines determine which sites show up at the top of the search engine rankings, and which ones show up in undesirable locations (basically anything not on the first page of the results is undesirable) is crucial in marketing your website on the internet.
The three secrets of search engine optimization
Well, if I had any real secrets I’d probably keep them to myself. Everything here is public knowledge that you could have gotten somewhere else, but I think I’ve explained things in an easy and succinct manner making this article a very valuable first read if you’re looking for information on what’s known as “search engine optimization”.
Other articles about this will confuse you with all sorts of factors of minor significance such as heading text, keyword density, the context of linking pages, etc., but in reality there are only three things you need to focus on: (1) title; (2) anchor text; and (3) PageRank.
Your page’s title is the text that appears between the HTML <title> tags. This is the text that shows up in the top bar of your web browser, and it’s also the text that appears in the search engine results from the major search engines such as Google and Yahoo.
In addition to being what’s displayed in the search engine results, the title is the single most important on-page factor that determines if your page shows up at the top of the search engine results. You can experiment by doing some Google searches, and you will discover that the majority of top ranked pages for a particular set of search words will have those words in the title.
Look at the Google search results for “Britney Spears”. All of the pages returned have the word “Britney” in the title, and eight of the top ten pages begin with “Britney Spears.” This demonstrates the fact that the title is the most important factor in the search engine rankings.
I’ve also observed that it’s better to have the search words at the beginning of the title rather than at the middle or the end. So the title “Britney Spears: my favorite singer” would show up higher on a search for “Britney Spears” than the title “My favorite singer: Britney Spears.”
It’s also better to have the words in the exact order that people are searching for them. A web page titled “Spears, Britney” wouldn’t be ranked as high on a search for “Britney Spears” because the words are in the wrong order.
2. Anchor text
Anchor text is the text that shows up in links to a web page. Let’s suppose you have a web page about Clay Aiken. Let’s look at two different links to the page:
(1) <a href="http://www.mypage.com">MyPage.com</a>
(2) <a href="http://www.mypage.com">Clay Aiken</a>
If a lot of the page’s inbound links are like the second example, then that page will show up higher in the search engine results for “Clay Aiken.” Having the search words in the anchor text tells the search engine that the page is about that particular topic. Even a single inbound link with the proper anchor text can make a noticeable difference.
To see a powerful example of the effects of anchor text, do a Google search for “miserable failure”. The top ranked page for “miserable failure” is a page about George W. Bush. Neither the words “miserable” nor “failure” show up anywhere in the page. How did it get up there?
The answer is that, as a prank, a group of webmasters intentionally linked to that page using the anchor text “miserable failure.” It also helped that there weren’t any other pages about “miserable failure”.
The lesson here is that if you want your web page to show up at the top of the search results for a particular search phrase, you have to get people to link to you using the right anchor text.
Now, you have only partial control over how other people link to you, but you have full control over your own websites. Having more than one website, and linking to your other websites using the appropriate anchor text can have a big impact on your search engine rankings. But there is a important gotcha here. If you have too many different websites too heavily cross-linked with each other, Google will ban all of them, and none will show up in the search engine results. Now don’t ask me what the threshold is here, I have no idea. My three blogs are cross-linked with each other and they all show up fine in Google. But there is some point where over-zealous webmasters will cross a threshold and get banned from Google.
PageRank is a registered trademark of Google, but I am pretty sure that the competing search engines use a similar method of ranking pages. Google assigns every page an importance between 0 and 10. This importance is a page’s PageRank.
The first step to better understanding PageRank is to install the Google Toolbar. The Google Toolbar is useful as a pop-up blocker, but for the webmaster it’s indispensable because it reveals each web page’s PageRank.
Now that you have the Toolbar installed, you can examine the effects of PageRank on the search engine results. Do a Google search for Paris Hilton, and you will see that the top ranked pages have PageRanks of 5 or 4. But go deeper into the rankings, such as page 20 or so, and you will see pages with PageRanks of 3 or 2 or even lower than that. I also found a page from the 19th page of the search results with “Paris Hilton” in the title that had a PageRank of 5, so high PageRank isn’t a guarantee of a good ranking; there was something about that page that Google didn’t like.
In order to increase the PageRank of your own websites, you need links from other websites. The more links, the higher your PageRank. Google evaluates both the quality and quantity of links. Higher quality links come from pages with higher PageRank and with fewer outbound links. A link from a webpage in which your link is only one of a hundred links is far inferior to a link from a webpage where your link is the only link on that page. Assuming of course that the PageRank of the two pages are equal. I am almost certain that being one of a hundred links on a PageRank 6 page is far better than being the sole link on a PageRank 0 page.
It is my belief that PageRank is a logarithmic scale with a base of 7.5. Thus a page with a PageRank of 5 is 7.5 times more important than one with a PageRank of 4. I assume that, all other things being equal, a link from a page with PageRank 5 is worth more than 7 links from a page with PageRank 4.
It takes Google quite some time to update the PageRank displayed by the Toolbar, so don’t’ despair if you’ve gotten a bunch of links to your new website but the Toolbar still shows a 0. Eventually Google will update the PageRanks and your site will show a higher number.
Search engine optimization: this is only the beginning
Armed with knowledge of the three most important factors contributing to the search engine rankings, you now know enough to significantly increase your website’s search engine visibility. It’s especially easy to change your website’s titles in order to attract more search engine traffic. There’s no excuse for having search engine unfriendly titles!
There is a lot more to know about this subject if you are to become a master of “SEO.” Having the top ranked site for certain words can mean a lot of money for the winner. If you want to show up at the top of the results for a highly sought after search phrase, the road will be difficult.
On the other hand, if you have a business selling an uncommon product or service, you may discover that your competitors’ websites are poorly optimized, and you can easily catapult to the top of the results with just the advice in this article.
Friday, July 16, 2004
One of the myths that the media propagates is that America has an obesity epidemic. Every year we’re getting fatter, and it’s because we eat too much bad food, too many McDonald’s hamburgers and the like.
I have previously expressed my doubts about this because the whole story stinks of lousy fact checking and some kind of strange political correctness. See my two previous posts: Are Americans really fat? and Americans are NOT getting fatter.
Unlike the typical news media article, I have actually done some research, and therefore, unlike most of what I post in my blog, this post contains real news that you haven’t read anywhere else.
Based on one line of reasoning from my previous posts, I explored the question of whether the changing demographics of America are affecting our average weight. The answer is a resounding yes.
I used the National Longitudinal Survey of Youth 1997 (NLSY97) to determine the average weights of young Americans. This is a survey of nearly ten thousand young people. I used the 1999 questionnaire for this inquiry, so the ages of those in the survey were 15 to 19.
For each racial group, I computed the average body mass index (BMI). The BMI is defined as kilograms/meters^2. To help you understand better what the numbers mean, a difference of one BMI is about six pounds for women and seven pounds for men.
Note that the average BMIs shown below are slightly higher than the median BMIs. The median BMI would be a more useful number if you wanted to know what a typical person of a certain height should weigh. But the average BMI is fine for our purposes here.
The races white, black and Asian exclude Hispanics.
|Race||Avg. BMI||Standard Dev.|
|Race||Avg. BMI||Standard Dev.|
As we can see from the tables above, Hispanics and blacks are both heavier than whites, while Asians are thinner. Because one’s body weight is strongly influenced by genetics, it is probable that the racial differences are in large part due to genetic differences between the races.
Because of the different average BMIs for the different races, it is wrong for our health authorities to not take race into account when making weight recommendations. A young woman who is 5’5” tall and 137 pounds would be average if she were black (5’5” and 137 pounds is the median height and weight for black females in the NLS survey), but overweight if she were Asian.
Furthermore, BMI doesn’t tell us if the weight is fat or muscle. Nor does it distinguish the wide boned from the narrow boned. I strongly suspect that some of the extra weight that blacks have with respect to whites is extra muscle. This would help explain why blacks are a lot better at sports compared to whites. If it were all extra fat, then blacks would be worse at sports.
The following data, pulled from the special U.S Census report “Demographic Trends in the 20th Century,” shows the changing racial composition of America:
Don’t try to see if the percentages add up to 100. They don’t because I didn’t include races besides white, black and Asian, and those races include Hispanics because Hispanics are considered an ethnicity and not a race, so there are white Hispanics and black Hispanics. (It doesn’t really make much sense to me, but that’s the way they do it.)
The data clearly shows that whites are a declining percentage of the population, while Hispanics are a rapidly growing percentage of the population. Because Hispanics, on average, have a higher BMI than whites, this partially explains why Americans are, on average, getting heavier.
Asians have a lower BMI than whites, and Asians are also a rapidly growing percentage of the population, but they are not growing as fast as Hispanics. From 1980 to 2000, Asians increased by 2.23% of the population, while Hispanics increased by 6.1% of the population.
In the future I hope to analyze additional data from the NLS surveys and present more brilliant insights that have never been published before.