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Google Patent Bares a Bit of Its Soul

Article by LinksManager.com Staff - 2006, Reproduction without permission prohibited.

Ever since Google burst into cyberspace and rewrote the definition of "dominant search engine," website entrepreneurs have agonized over their domains' Google rankings.  Hundreds of seminars on the subject have been held, scores of how-to books written, and dozens of Google-submission software packages - ranging from somewhat useful to utterly useless -- have been created. 

Though reciprocal linking with relevant and like minded sites is a unique and dynamic way to meaningfully enhance site traffic entirely apart from search-engine returns, links are given a certain amount of weight in determining search-engine ranking - particularly by Google.  How Google defines "good links" which can help you climb their ladder and "bad ones" which may drop your site off the rungs, has long been the subject of much speculation and little concrete data.

A recently published patent application for what Google calls "search engine 125," sheds at least some light on this crucial subject.  In the interest of helping you understand what constitutes ethical linking for the end user, and for maximum search-engine compatibility, we present this article drawn from the patent application.


Just like a crack team from the hit television show CSI, Search Engine 125 will forensically probe your site ...

Search Engine 125 - What does it mean?

What on earth does it all mean, the recently published 14,000-word Google patent application for a search-engine system designed to generate a "ranking score that attempts to quantify the quality of documents" (i.e. websites) based "at least in part" on "one or more types of history (sic) data?" 

More particularly, what does it all mean to you as a user of  LinksManager.com?

One thing it means is that Google's "search engine 125" (as the document-ranking program is referred to in the patent application) can -- and probably does -- take into account a vast number of factors in determining how high or low to list your website in response to queries relating to your business or service.

Just like a crack team from the hit television show CSI, search engine 125 will forensically probe your site for names, dates, visitor patterns, the number of years you registered your domain for, the legitimacy of your domain host's other clients, previous search-engine rankings, how often your individual pages are accessed, how long visitors linger on each page, and signs of unusual activity -- or unusual inactivity. 

It will scrutinize your links and anchor text mercilessly.  Not just for their content, but for information on how they got to your site, how relevant they are to the other links and content on your site, how fresh or stale they seem to be, how compatible they are with the layout and design of your site and when -- and at what rate -- they were added to your pages.

Most of all, search engine 125 will be looking for evidence of what could be called "jury tampering," attempts by website operators to use deceit and chicanery to artificially inflate their Google ranking.  And -- the commentary integrated into the patent application implies -- identifying cheating via "link farming" or other bogus linking strategies is going to be one of the search engine's top priorities.  One which, when uncovered, will be very severely punished.

How do we know this?  Because Google, in the patent application, repeatedly refers to bogus links as "spam" and improper linking strategies as "spamming."

Search engine 125 will be looking for evidence of what could be called "jury tampering," attempts by website operators to use deceit and chicanery to artificially inflate their Google ranking.

And in the Internet Age, spamming, like horse thieving in the Old West, is not a misdemeanor, it is a hanging offense.  So the search engine 125 patent application tells us a lot.  But there is also a lot it doesn't tell us.  Despite what you may read elsewhere, the patent application is not a blueprint on how to create a Google-friendly site.

It is a description, for the purpose of obtaining a patent, of what search engine 125 can do -- not what it does do.  Despite the fact that this document is now in the public domain, only Google -- probably only an extremely small number of top-security-cleared specialists at Google -- know how search engine 125 has been programmed to actually rank a website.

To understand this, you simply have to read the application.  In it, Google uses the word "may" -- as in "search engine 125 may monitor the date at which one or more links to a document disappears" -- 323 times.  They use the word "will" exactly ten times.  And even then, the "will" is invariably tempered by a "may."  As in, "history data, as will be described in more detail below, may be associated with each of the documents."

The patent application also notes that certain things "may" cause the program to add or subtract rating points.  But it doesn't say how many points.

Be careful what you read about the Google Patent

Not to beat this to death, but we don't even know whether Google is using search engine 125.  We only know that they applied for a patent on it.  GM and IBM, to name just two, patent thousands of things that never get into production.  Based upon what is known about Google's ranking system, however, it is reasonably safe to assume that most, if not all, of 125's elements are in place.  It is also very safe to assume that the philosophies expressed in the 125 patent are the driving force behind whatever application - search engine 125 or otherwise -- Google is using to power its web bots.

A lot is going to be written on this subject and some of it is going to say: Do this, don't do that, change this, change that. Don't panic.

There is a point to all this detail about what the patent means and what it doesn't.  A lot is going to be written on this subject and some of it is going to say: Do this, don't do that, change this, change that, shake up your website right now or you're going to be vaporized on Google.

And reading things like that can be unsettling, even frightening.  Don't panic.  For those authors to have any idea how search engine 125 is really being used, they would have to be current or past Google employees.  In either case, they would be so tightly bound with non-disclosure contracts that you would hear of them being hauled into court within five minutes of reading their postings.

Use an editor-based link management software

There's one more highly reassuring aspect to all this.  Reading everything -- the actual lines and between the lines -- that the application has to say about linking clearly affirms that if you are using an editor-based link management software such as LinksManager correctly, your website and your links pages will be viewed as a valuable resource that links for the end user and not for search engine rankings.

Consider this:  The search engine 125 patent application cites "gaining links from documents without editorial discretion on making links" as a primary indication of "attempts to spam a search engine."

With LinksManager, it's impossible to enable a link without editorial discretion. With LinksManager, the fact that you have editorially approved each and every link, one at a time, is clearly discernable to all search engines, including Google. 

Do not link to unrelated and irrelevant sites (independent peers)

Let's look at another "no-no."

You might think that having links from and to "independent peers" on your site would be a good thing.  Doesn't everyone want to be known and respected by their peers?  Not if they want to favorably impress search engine 125, they don't.

According to its legal filing, Google defines "independent peers" as "unrelated documents which may be used to generate (or alter) a score associated with a document." 

A sudden growth in the number of apparently independent peers, incoming and/or outgoing, with a large number of links to individual documents may indicate a potentially synthetic web graph, which is an indicator of an attempt to spam.

Here's a bit of what the patent application says about "independent-peer" links: A sudden growth in the number of apparently independent peers, incoming and/or outgoing, with a large number of links to individual documents may indicate a potentially synthetic web graph, which is an indicator of an attempt to spam ... this information can be used to demote the impact of such links.

The emphasis is ours, but the meaning is clear even without it.  If you sell Christmas ornaments online and load your site with links to payday loan companies, Google (and other search engines) can -- and probably will -- hold it against you.

LinksManager, which facilitates the ability for you to quickly and effortlessly evaluate prospective links on the basis of how well they complement and enhance your site, offers powerful protection against your site's being "demoted" by inappropriate "independent-peer" links. 

For purposes of analysis, search engine 125 divides links into two categories: Forward and backward. "Forward links" are identified as links that lead to another document. "Backward links" are, logically enough, links from another document.

Google can use search engine 125 to evaluate all your links using entirely different criteria for forward links than it does for backward ones. 

Assuming that Google has implemented search engine 125 as described in the patent application, it is clear that your back links -- particularly if you have added them promiscuously -- are more likely to get you in trouble than a few irregularities in your front links.

Watch the rate at which you obtain links

Here's what the patent application has to say on the subject: While a spiky rate of growth in the number of back links may be a factor used by search engine 125 to score documents, it may also signal an attempt to spam search engine 125. Accordingly, in this situation, search engine 125 may actually lower the score of a document(s) to reduce the effect of spamming.

While there is no practical (or, according to the Supreme Court, legal) way to keep anyone from putting a link to your site on their site, LinksManager, by making it impossible for unscrupulous back linkers to implement a reciprocal link without your approval, makes your site a significantly less attractive target than others which allow automated full duplex linking.

While on this particular subject, it is interesting to note that the search engine 125 spec also tries to rectify some of the inequities in the way other ranking systems rate links.

LinksManager makes it impossible for unscrupulous back linkers to implement a reciprocal link without your approval.

A typical, 'legitimate' document attracts back links slowly.

For example, the patent application notes that "existing link-based scoring techniques" may score new documents with few links lower than older documents with a larger number of links.

Search engine 125, however, assumes "that a document with a fairly recent inception date will not have a significant number of links from other documents (i.e., back links)" and uses the inception (creation) date of the document to calculate the rate at which links were added.

"Consider," the patent application notes, "the example of a document with an inception date of yesterday that is referenced by 10 back links. This document may be scored higher by search engine 125 than a document with an inception date of 10 years ago that is referenced by 100 back links because the rate of link growth for the former is relatively higher than the latter."

Now that sounds simple, doesn't it?  Unfortunately, simplicity can be deceiving. 

Listen to this: "The dates that links appear can also be used to detect 'spam,' where owners of documents or their colleagues create links to their own document for the purpose of boosting the score assigned by a search engine. A typical, 'legitimate' document attracts back links slowly."

In other words, a rapid increase in back links may result in a higher Google ranking, a lower Google ranking, or no change in your Google ranking at all.

It depends, in large part, on the rate of "rapid increase."  At some point, if this ranking method is being used, some programmer - human or silicon - established a back-link acquisition speed limit.  Acquire links below that speed limit and you may get punished, get them at that speed limit and you may get rewarded.  Achieve them at above the speed limit and you may get slapped.

What's the speed limit?  Oh well, Google didn't tell the Patent Office that.  But it's reasonable to conclude that there are many of them. Separate speed limits for various types of websites, websites of different age groups and states of development, websites with global as well as national and regional links.

The nature of the links themselves may also be factored into the "speed limit." 

According to the application, an unusually high increase in back links to what Google calls "authoritative documents" (government websites, web directories and similar sites) may not be considered spam because "a large spike in the quantity of back links may signal a topical phenomenon (e.g., the CDC web site may develop many links quickly after an outbreak, such as SARS)." 

Suddenly add a bunch of back links from "guest books, referrer logs, and 'free for all' pages," however, and you may be in trouble.

Always make linking decisions for the end user

Now, more than ever, the developers and operators of LinksManager believe that the following information from our FAQ page should be considered as "gospel:"  Ask yourself this simple question, "Does this site I am about to link to add value to my user's experience?"  If the answer is "Yes", link to the other site regardless of link reciprocation if the answer is "No" do not link to the site.  Always make linking decisions on what is best for the end user, not the search engines, and you will have long-term sustainable success.

Always make linking decisions on what is best for the end user, not the search engines, and you will have long-term sustainable success.

In addition to relevance, search engine 125 may also add or subtract points from a site's ranking based on the "freshness" of its links and anchor text.  Here again, the sword is double-edged.  The patent-application indicates that bonus points may be given for links and anchor text that is continually updated and made more relevant.  And it is clear that "stale" links and anchor text may negatively affect a ranking.

The sword's other edge may come into play when a "fresh" link is perceived as too "dynamic."

Here's how the patent application puts it, "search engine 125 may weight documents that have a different featured link each day, despite having a very fresh link, differently (e.g., lower) than documents that are consistently updated and consistently link to a given target document." 

Regularly update your website with original and unique content

If your website doesn't change very often -- let's say you offer a service, like accountancy, where your "product" information rarely needs to be updated -- you could be at risk of running afoul of search engine 125's bias against "stale" sites.  

Fortunately, consistent and focused use of LinksManager may mitigate or eliminate the danger.  Under the search engine 125 specifications, documents "may be considered fresh" if a reasonable percentage of their links -- forward or backward -- "are considered fresh."

By regularly adding relevant links to your website, in combination with publishing regularly updated original content, you help ensure that Google and other search engines will recognize your site as a growing, thriving entity rather than a moribund relic. 

By regularly adding relevant and appropriate links to your website, in combination with publishing regularly updated original content that describes your product or service, you help ensure that Google and other search engines will recognize your site as a growing, thriving entity rather than a moribund relic still hanging around cyberspace because its domain name or hosting contract hasn't yet expired. 

That aura of "freshness," according to both the text of the Google patent application and commonsense, is crucial.  Virtually everyone would rather be pointed toward a viable site than a withered one.  And since that's what people want, that's what search-engine designers -- Google's and everyone else's -- are going to try and give them.

Like most stories, this one has a moral:  No good deed goes unrewarded and no bad one goes unpunished.  Everything in search engine 125's patent application indicates that Google's intent is to reward good, honest websites with ethical linking policies and punish scam sites out to build traffic by hook or -- more usually -- crook. 

The best way to envision search engine 125 - or any other search-engine scoring program - is to visualize it as just another visitor to your website, just another end-user who is evaluating and judging your site and its links using pretty much the same standards as any other potential customer.

Are the links relevant, ethical, intrinsic to the site's focus?  Do the links all work or do some of them lead to 404 (dead link) messages?  Is the anchor copy for each link clear, concise, and credible?  Is the look and feel of your links page compatible with all your other pages?  Are links to the latest information about your product, business, or service present?

With its unique blend of human accountability and automated tasking, LinksManager's patented, editor based design enables you to almost effortlessly create link pages that answer "yes" to all the above questions link pages that will fertilize your website and empower the sustained, steady growth cycle that is the hallmark of sites that are top-rated by both customers and search-engines.

Follow the rules and you will outlast those who don't follow ethical linking guidelines

In addition to a moral, there is a message directly from Google embedded in the patent application. The message is blunt, to the point, and aimed squarely at those who stray from the path of ethical linking: This is our game. It may be possible to beat us at it -- for a brief while -- by cheating, but the odds against it are long.

With that in mind, it's is good to remember that linking should always be conducted responsibly and always with consideration for the end user.


All company and product names in this document are the property of their respective copyright and/or trademark holders.

More information:
LinksManager Ethical Linking Guidelines
LinksManager Code of Ethics
Linking Myths Refuted
Best and Worst Linking Practices

 

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