Google Gives Web Page History More Importance

The Google patent application submitted in March, 2005 has generated a good deal of debate among search engine optimization experts. The patent document contains many general suggestions about the direction Google wants to move their search criteria and ranking techniques in the near future.

The document points out two areas in particular in which "there remains a need to improve the quality of results generated by search engines." (0009) These two areas are

(a) artificially inflated rank due to spamming techniques, and

(b) stale documents that rank higher than fresh ones, and therefore "degrade the search results".

Google's ingenious proposal is to deal with both of these problems by focusing on the history of web documents and web links. Assuming they have the technology to record such a massive amount of information, their objective seems to be to keep a detailed record of the pattern of changes within web pages.

This should address the spam issue by revealing unnatural patterns of change. Too many links too quickly suggests "unnatural" linking activity has been taking place. Significant links that come and go might suggest that expensive links are being purchased on a temporary basis and are not "natural".

And it should address the "staleness" issue by looking at the way specific pages have been updated. If a page that has ranked high in specific searches has not been updated for a period of time, this will be seen as a reason to downgrade the importance of that page. Other pages with more activity, more up to date information, and more linking activity, all other things being equal, will rank higher.

History is more important than ever

This means Google either already gives, or intends to give the "history" of documents more significance. And not just the date when the document is created, or most recently changed. They also propose tracking the pattern of the changes in content, changes in anchor text of links, changes in numbers and quality of inbound links, changes in quality and number of outbound links, changes in other pages within the same associated group of documents, and even changes within the pages linking to a document.

On top of that, they propose tracking user habits and patterns over time. How users got to the page in question, how long they stayed there, how many times the particular page was clicked on when it was presented in a search...a very impressive (bewildering?) array of factors.

In fact this is an ingenious attempt to solve the "spam" and "staleness" problems at the same time. The major assumption is that up-to-date "relevant" content -- the kind the search engines are supposed to be giving us -- will be regularly updated, will be inter-connected by an ever-increasing (and regularly changing) group of inbound links. In other words, links will come and go, changes will happen gradually, and "spikes" in either traffic or increased link activity will be sure signs of spamming activity.


Whether all of these measures will ever be fully implemented or not is beside the point. These suggestions make sense, and will be adopted to some extent by all search engines. The future has been defined, and it is up to creators of websites and online marketers to make the most of it.

The most important conclusions we can take from the patent application is that the history of our pages matters. In practical terms, this means:

-- Rapid and wholesale changes in content will be looked upon with suspicion

-- Rapid increases in numbers of inbound and outbound links will trigger red flags

-- Changes in anchor text that alter or remove its relationship to on-page content will be suspect

-- Lack of regular and steady (but not radical) changes will get your pages labelled "stale"

-- Links that were valuable last year (or month?) will not be as valuable this year (or month) because they are becoming "stale".

In other words, webmasters and internet marketers must keep adding content, keep upgrading their pages, keep improving and adding new ones, continue to get new links, and freshen up their old ones if they can.

But they should not do any of it too quickly.

Think of this "history" component as a method of measuring change. It may seem ridiculously vague, but this is the reality we have to deal with.

In the new world order, change has three speeds: Too Slow, Too Fast, and Just Right.

Rick Hendershot publishes the Linknet Advertising Network, a group of more than 35 websites and blogs offering web owners advertising and link promotion opportunities.

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