Over the past three days my website has been the focus of a lion hunt!
A week ago I wrote a single paragraph about a newspaper story I saw in my local paper where a lion was hugging a woman. Four days later a steady stream of people started coming to my site looking for that paragraph.
The stream of visitors turned into a flood within hours and people were thrashing about on my site hunting for that page. The search tool on this site is one of the things that is still under construction so people were not finding what they were looking for.
I decided to write an entry that would tell this flood of visitors where the page they were looking for was and give them details of the newspaper where I found the story in the first place. I also emailed the newspaper asking them to put the item online but my email was returned undeliverable.
The more people who came looking for the story the more desperate I was to be able to send them to what they wanted so I kept searching for a link to the story or a picture of it.
As near as I can make out the online media broke the news about six hours after I posted the information about where I had seen the story. I linked to their news articles and, satisfied that my visitors would now find what they wanted, I went to bed. I assumed the flood of visitors would dry up once they had the real article to go to.
Not so. All day my old article, and the one I wrote that morning, were the only things turning up in the search results for those terms so people were finding the real news articles from the links on my site.
My pages went from about result number five or six to result number one on the search engine result pages!
As I write this the news hunting frenzy appears to be almost over. Newspapers and other blogs and sites have taken over the top spots. It took over 24 hours to push me out of first place, however, and I continue to appear on the first page.
My website designer, aka my brother, was a bit shocked. He wanted to know how come my few sentences ABOUT the news outranked the major newspapers and their full story, complete with pictures, OF the news for almost 24 hours.
He seems to think I have, somehow, achieved a high trust rank with google along with my page rank of five for the site.
As I understand these terms, page rank is the degree of authority or credibility google attaches to a site. It is a number google allocates, and reviews, roughly every three months. Trust rank is, I gather, an unknown rank google gives to sites that, together with page rank, influences how likely a site is to appear in search engine results.
I went looking for information about trust rank and discovered nobody really knows all that much about it. They say it is connected to age and links. The older the site the more authority and trust rank it will have. Links from trusted sites add trust rank to a website too.
Everyone talked about a team from google hand picking about 200 sites who were given high trust rank. Anyone those sites link to gains trust rank from the link. Trust rank, they say, will flow out in an increasingly diluted form along the links.
Nobody seems to know for certain who the 200 trusted “hub” sites are but there is an assumption that universities, government sites, newspaper sites and major business sites will have high trust rank.
I have only a couple of links and all of them are very recent. None are from major sites yet I have been given a page rank of 5 less than 6 months after I appeared on the internet.
It took almost 24 hours for the newspaper sites, with their full story and pictures, to push my few sentences out of first place in the search engine result pages! In some cases (AOL search for example) I am still number one and I am the only relevant result on the page!
According to what I have read this should not have happened. The instant the search engines indexed a newspaper item about the story that page should have taken first place from me in the search results.
My brother, aka my website designer, said google seems to be treating me as if it thinks I am an authority and worthy of trust rank.
If he is correct it is impossible for google to be giving me trust rank based on age or links because I have neither of those things. I have no ads on my site so google has nothing to gain by sending me traffic either.
That left us both wondering exactly what it is that is causing google to take me so seriously and accord me such privileges. One theory is that there is something about the way I write that has met some unknown criteria.
I have a double major in journalism so perhaps that is getting me some points with google somehow. This does not, however, explain why I was out-performing all the online newspaper sites with their professionally written reports on the story.
Or does it? My training in journalistic writing is old school training – very old school! The man who trained me, Mr Scott, was a 60 year old Englishman who once wrote for the top newspapers in England. His teachings appear to have been lost because I am not seeing them in the work of any of the newspapers on offer today!
I write the way Mr Scott taught me to for the most part.
I don’t take shortcuts or assume people will know what I am talking about. I would not, for example, write: “I am appearing in the serp’s”. I would write: “I am appearing in the serp’s (search engine result’s pages)” or “I am appearing in the search engine results pages (serp’s)”. This lets anyone, including search engines, know that I know what I am talking about and so will anyone who reads me.
I make every effort to spell correctly and to use correct punctuation and grammar. This tells the search engines I am educated AND fussy about my work. There are many educated people who fall down in these skills but uneducated people generally tend to perform even worse.
These skills are, in fact, becoming rarer and rarer. Schools no longer place as much emphasis on them. SMS and internet shorthand have become so common that a lot of people, young ones in particular, think these skills are a thing of the past. A lot of people actually laugh, and sneer, at anyone who thinks they do still matter.
Standards have dropped a lot. Society writes “thx” so, when the newspaper writes “thanks”, it seems correct. When society wrote “thanks” the newspapers wrote “thank you” and that was considered correct.
Most uneducated and young people, many well educated people and even some of those who write for a living can’t, or don’t bother to, spell or use punctuation and grammar correctly.
The person who consistently uses these skills is, therefore, likely to come across to google as rare. The rarer something is, as we all know, the greater the value. Google may be using the current rarity of literary skills to measure how trustworthy a writer is.
Or, perhaps, it is simply easier for google to index someone who writes the word “psychologist” than someone who writes “shrink”, “psych”, or spells psychologist wrongly.
If google has the same standards I learned from Mr Scott it makes sense that I would be able to outrank newspapers, who no longer abide by those standards, for a whole day.
Google’s continuing success depends on being able to give customers what they want. What they want is information that matches what they type in. People don’t tend to type in “shrink” or “psych” or “sykologist” when they are searching for one even if that is how they would normally spell it.
They know google is a machine and it will not be able to find a sykologist for them so they look up the correct spelling for the word and type it in. Google can help if they type psycologist by offering them the option of searching for psychologist but this just means google knows how the word is supposed to be spelt!
Why would the machine trust a site that knows LESS than a machine?
Google has more information than anyone could ever want so whose information do they offer their customers?
If it was me I would be offering them information from the people who seem to know what they are talking about. Someone who can’t even spell their topic is not likely to know as much about it as someone who can.
Google may be trusting me because I am offering something that will be acceptable even to foreign speaking customers.
Mr Scott taught me to use short, common, words and always write for the person with the least ability to read. I try to remember not everyone is Australian so I explain who, or what, I am talking about if there may be doubts too.
The better the literary skills of the writer the easier it is to read, or translate, what they write. That means everyone, even people from other countries, can access what I write. It also means computers can understand, translate, and possibly even index what I write more easily too.
Is above average spelling, grammar and punctuation outweighing my lack of age and links in google’s trust rank calculations?