Internet Journalism Technology

The Mysteries Of Google Search Engine Optimisation

A few weeks ago I had a brief reminder of why Google remains the king of internet search engines, eclipsing its would-be rivals like Bing. And why small websites can prosper or wither depending on the whims of the tech giant’s inscrutable algorithms. Noticing an overnight surge in the number of visitors to An Sionnach Fionn, I assumed that a link had been posted somewhere on Facebook or Twitter directing extra traffic to my website. However when I drilled down into the statistics it became apparent that the vast majority of the new visits were coming from Google Search and were directed towards the site generally rather than towards any specific articles or posts.

Puzzled by this I did a quick look-up on Google Search using the terms “An Sionnach Fionn” and “ansionnachfionn” (minus the quotes*) and was surprised to see over 100,000 results. Up to that date Google had been returning less than 40,000 hits for these words. Actually this was only true since early 2015. In the spring of that year the internet firm introduced some changes to its search software, prioritising mobile-friendly sites over static ones but actually favouring larger corporate media sites, which slashed my referrals by over half. So the 100,000 results was something of a return to the old status.

Noticeably the spike in hits pulled in all of ASF’s related social media profiles as well as a wealth of published items on the website. A quick search for keywords like “Irish republican” and so on placed An Sionnach Fionn on the first page of Google results. This is a crucial position for any website since most internet users rarely move beyond this initial list of hits, the number of users decreasing rapidly as people click through to subsequent pages, hardly anyone going beyond the fourth page.

Inevitably the massive spike in visitors to the site didn’t last. Within twenty-four hours the numbers plummeted back to the current low average and, as I expected, another search for “An Sionnach Fionn” on Google returned just 35,000 results (including a lot of extraneous “chaff”, though “ansionnachfionn” is returning a rather better 70,000). Down through the years I’ve seen many website owners commenting on various professional forums about the travails of search engine optimisation (SEO) and how minor – and usually unacknowledged – tweaks in Google’s management of internet queries can kill a site’s potential to grow; or even survive.

If I was reliant on advertising to run An Sionnach Fionn, to pay for its upkeep or even my own, such vagaries would make it impossible to have any surety of income. This is why the internet will continue to be the domain of major businesses. However, the inbuilt biases of Google Search, well-intended no doubt, also limit the exposure of general internet users to a plurality of opinions. To seek out a diversity of thought people must carry out searches within the major search engines results, going beyond the initial result pages. And as we have seen on the ideological right this can lead unwary users down a rabbit hole into a warren of extremist sites that glory in their supposed “censorship” by Google and its clones. A sentiment that Donald Trump has intuitively latched onto for his own political advantage.

*The quotes, of course, limit the search to those specific words.

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3 comments on “The Mysteries Of Google Search Engine Optimisation

  1. It’s been interesting watch SEO evolve into the arbitrary, expensive, and capricious nightmare it is today, By the end of the madness of the dotcom boom EYEBALLS had become the new currency, once you had eyeballs you had profit (famously mocked in South Park Elvish underpants thieves sketch). Despite the crash the zombie idea of more eyeballs leading to more profit lived on, SEO rapidly evolved, what started as minor tweaks to optimize algorithms, address blind spots and bugs, developed into a predator-prey co-evolution cycle which only the deep pocketed can afford to constantly play. A game where ultimately you are utterly at the mercy of the company’s algorithm(s).

    Donald Trump is a huckster who honed his grift to the public on The Apprentice. Compare what the candidate said to the news media and his actions as president. From the bloated military budget and numbers of overseas bases, to infrastructure crumbing and a need for investment, bad trade deals that favour corporations over people, and so on. All of which the people know are true but rarely ever appear on the news, almost always by error. Trump is tapping into the 60% of the US that has slipped out of the middle-class, has struggled in barely making ends meet or lived in poverty their whole lives, all of whom now see their children doing worse than they did. His racism, authoritarianism and personality alienate a significant number but the next one will be more urbane. How Ronald Reagan did it – Iran-Contra, “T-Bones & Cadillacs”.

    • I don’t bother over much with SEO, beyond fairly factual/explanatory names on posts, for those very reasons. Firms selling SEO services are hucksters. Invest your money in the tech and the content and forget about chasing nebulous SEO advantages.

      On a slightly unrelated note, I just seen that Trump seems set on killing US funding to Palestine. The perfect storm is brewing up for the Palestinians.

      I would guess that Israel will make some dramatic land annexations before he leaves office. They know they won’t get this opportunity again with a White House so dramatically uncaring of their actions.

  2. The inundation of unsolicited technical advice, aid and solutions upon purchasing a new domain name these days is quite the carnival, far beyond mere SEO hucksterism.

    After the balkanized carve-up of Palestine offered by Clinton, there was never going to be a decent 2-state solution. A 1-state would have a Jewish minority. That leaves the end of the state of Israel as it is currently constituted or all Palestinians relocate to Jordan, elsewhere, or perish, emphasized by the last few years’ events in Gaza. Check out Abby Martin/Empire Files videos in Israel earlier this year, calmly advocating murder and genocide against the Palestinians. If the world stands idly by in the face of Yemen, will they do much better when it is the Palestinians turn? There appear to be signals that the US is getting ready to go to war with Iran, media over here is tying Iran into Russiagate, insinuating stories that Iran is meddling in the US elections, fake news, etc. The irony of Trump benefiting in the primary of telling Bush that his brother lied the US into Iraq and then lying the US into war with Iran will rapidly decay into tragedy.

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