Everything you knew about search engines is now wrong

We've known how to get pages up in the search engines for years, haven't we? Put in good meta tags, write good content and get lots of inbound links - as many as possible, and as quickly as possible. Right?

Well, no. The head of Google research recently blogged that, although Sergiy and Larry wrote their doctoral thesis on pagerank (roughly translated: the importance of a webpage is determined by the number and quality of inbound links pointing to it), it's not the be all, and end all of good search results. "Way overhyped" were his exact words. Why? Simple. Just like meta keywords (meta tags), inbound linking is too easy to game so Google quietly moved to ranking their results using other methods quite some time ago.

Now, we at MorganAlley have a reasonably good idea how this is done as most of our sites are in the first ten Google results for their reference search terms. The secret is (mostly) that there's no secret: do things correctly: have a proper doctype, use validating code (or have damn good reasons why it doesn't), don't spam by cramming in lots of "keywords" in the copy, and so forth. We have a bit of magic we use as well but the thing to remember is to never, ever take the piss out of Google with techniques such as cloaking, setting up separate sites for search bots and human beings, etc.

But just when you thought things were settling down and we had a manageable SEO environment, Google again threw the cat amongst the pigeons by factoring site loading speed into rankings. The speed at which a website loads (for Google, that is, not at the end of a sclerotically congested American DSL line) affects its position in the search rankings. Webmasters that use some of Google's tools have known about this since the end of last year and have, like us, quietly been tuning and optimising their sites to load quickly. there are many things you can do, but two come to mind immediately:

1. Get off the $10 a year shared hosting and get a proper web host! A client we just recently took on found her website was shared with 432 other sites on 1 IP address, which may have been one IP address amongst many on that same server. Her site speed will quadruple into the top quartile the next two weeks.

2. Optimise the morass of scripts that run to power your site - and I'm looking at you, B&Q! Your site is appallingly, and unnecessarily slow. Time to hire coders that are economical with processor and memory cycles

We've found the sweet spot in speed (top quartile) is about 1.8 seconds to load, and the must have, top of the bell curve, is around 3.5 seconds to load, according to Google. Presumably this is a moving target, so whilst some can compete for a time with the big boys with slow sites (see above), eventually, those with a clue, will fire round after round of money and resources into their hosting. But do get in their whilst you can and grab some market share from the big bricks and mortar businesses. Or come have a talk with us and let us keep you ahead.