Reverse Engineer the Search User |

Reverse Engineer the Search User

By Tad Chef / January 12, 2011


Michael Martinez of SEO Theory published an article a few days ago that explains in depth how useless it is to chase Google’s algorithm. I won’t repeat what he wrote here, you can read his explanation in case you haven’t yet:

Martinez refers to reverse engineering the Google algorithm as futile and decries good old ranking factors as obsolete. I would probably not go as far as he does but nonetheless my approach is similar. I always tried not to obsess about what Google really counts and what not. I was always keen on knowing what is out there in the know but I followed my own “secret list” of ranking factors.

Back in 2004

When I started out in SEO in 2004 the first thing I wanted to sell my first client was a blog: I argued that a user wants to see relevant content on a site and a blog is the easiest way to provide that. By then blogging was popular for 3 years at least but corporate and business blogging was in its infancy. At that time it was still far from apparent that Google prefers blogs in search results. So how did I know?

Well, I simply tried to reverse engineer the search user.

I was a complete novice to SEO in those days unlike now where many people consider me a must read blogger both on SEOptimise and on my own blog. So sometimes I was wrong or years ahead of time or both. For instance I expected Google to favor whole grammatically correct sentences in the title-tag. I imagined the user wanting something similar to a readable meta description up there in the title not just a stupid list of keywords. For years Google seemed to favor repetition and lists over grammar though but today it’s not that obvious anymore. Proper English ranks as well these days.

SEO: short term vs long term

So in way I failed in the short term then. On the other hand reverse engineering the search user allowed me to provide future proof optimization years in advance. I don’t tell you to abandon well known ranking factors even in case they are not so bullet-proof as we might hope. Combine your knowledge of ranking factors with common sense reverse engineering of the search user though. Start with yourself. Try to sit back and look how you really search. Then combine this with user testing and finally with A/B testing. Chances are that what’s best for the user will also be honored by Google sooner or later.

The explanation is quite simple: Google engineers are tweaking their algo constantly to provide users with what they want, when they want and how they want it. So chances are that they discover the same user preferences you do.

Attempt to anticipate Google’s next step by looking not at Google but at Google’s source, the actual search user.

* Image: Engine by Ack Ook

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