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Weblog Entry

Search Engine Placement

July 22, 2003

The introduction to this piece has been lost thanks to a Safari caching error. The rest of it should make sense with a little guesswork. Sorry for the inconvenience.

When we start to look at more generic terms like ‘css’, there are obviously far more sites that qualify for high placement. The full first page of results for ‘css’ on Google are relevant and deserve to be there, except for possibly the current result #10 — Doctor Dobb’s Journal is running Eric Meyer’s CSS Reference Guide as a feature right now, but it’s the only item on their home page pertaining to CSS.

At the time of writing, the Zen Garden sits in spot #9 on Yahoo’s search results page for ‘css’. It’s in spot #11 in Google’s search results for ‘css’. When DDJ’s feature is moved off the front page, I expect to see it in spot #10 shortly thereafter.

I have no qualms about this. In fact, I’m quite pleased that we’re so high up in the results for CSS. It’s when we become number one for a generic term that doesn’t relate to CSS that we start to have a problem.

Right now, the css Zen Garden is the number one result for ‘zen garden’, trumping even’s Zen cards. It’s on the first page of results for the even more generic ‘zen’. I’ve even made a dent in the listings for ‘garden’, showing up on the second page.

This highlights a fundamental assumption that Google makes: the title of a page determines what the content pertains to. In this case, any mention of ‘gardens’ or ‘zen’ does no such thing, so the assumption falls apart.

Is this my problem? I don’t think so, as it would indicate that I’m incorrect for choosing a title for my project. In an indirect way, the Zen Garden theme was rather appropriate even though the true focus was on a technology that couldn’t be more different. Is this Google’s problem? Signs point towards yes.

One more thought, somewhat unrelated — remember when once upon a time it actually mattered to have a Yahoo directory listing? Those days are over.

Reader Comments

July 22, 03h

Well it’s seriously weird IE bug-of-the-day time: try selecting the first line of text in the left bar of the first new Zen Garden design.

Boom: “Internet Explorer has encountered a problem and needs to close”. Such a flaky browser.

Nice designs by the way :)

Dave S. says:
July 22, 03h

Confirmed. How odd. Surprising though? Not really. IE has pretty terrible text-selection when getting into CSS-positioned layouts - try selecting body text on this absolutely-positioned older version of this site.

July 22, 04h

That gets my vote as most rediculous browser regression in history. Worked fine in IE5.*, totally broken in IE6.

Actually, watch this space and I might have a little hack around it…

Seamus says:
July 22, 05h

…actually mattered to have a Yahoo directory listing?

Being in Yahoo’s listing–no. But it might be worth have it placed in DMOZ’s listing because Google Directory and many more use DMOZ’s listings.

July 22, 06h

Actually, I imagine that a lot of the ranking related to "zen" and "garden" have to do with the way people link to the zen garden.

from my understanding of the way google works, ranking is link based. You’re ranked higher if you have more links coming to your site, and based on those links, you appear for certain words. Everyone links to the zen garden using the words zen and garden and hence it ranking higher. If all the same people linked to the garden using the words css playground you would not be as highly listen for zen and garden, but significantly higher for playground, even though the site was named the zen garden.

In saying that the listing is title based, it’s because that’s what the readers refer to it as, and we use the name that you have used, and thus google picks up on this. Indirectly, your statement becomes true…

Sherif Tariq says:
July 22, 07h

Visting the CSS Zen Garden after a long long break, and I just noticed ” Zunflower” by Radu Darvas. Stunningly beautiful. Lovely combination of color and layout. Someone get this man a job. Pronto!

July 22, 08h

Are you supposed to “count” those indented results in a Google search? I never thought so, since they are just another page within the site above. If so, then Zen Garden is already at #9 for CSS. Erm… Does this make sense?

Sophie says:
July 23, 04h

Another IE regression :
I worked on my garden subscription at home on a Mac, preparing for a long IE/Win debug afterwards.
I then tested the design on IE 5.0 at home and got it right almost at once, just minor glitches. I was very pleasantly surprised.
I came to work the day after and tested the design on IE 5.5 and 6.0 : browser crash.
I had to spend a very long time debugging : erasing all the css and then adding the rules one by one was the only way I found.
I narrowed it down to my use of margins around p:first-letter elements, but using only that rule in a document doesn’t break the browser, you have to include it in a more complex layout. Erk.

July 23, 05h

“Little authority” sites, as you call them, won´t *hinder* your site´s ranking, on the contrary, they will improve it; maybe just a little bit, but every link counts.

Imagine that you get you site linked in 5 “little authority” sites, that won´t make a big difference. But let´s say that, for example, 150 “little authority” sites link to your site, now google will see that and move your site up in the ranking because it assumes that your site is popular/important/relevant in those 150 sites (even if the contents relate to some very obscure subject).

Of course, if you get your site linked in Wired, Slashdot or some other similar site, your site will rocket up the ranking faster than you can say “My God, it´s full of strars” :-) .

Masad says:
July 23, 06h

For sure its the link text and not just the title that’s getting you the great Google exposure. Google depends largely on links, and is even happier if the link anchor text complies somewhat with the title tag and then content etc.

Even more, some recently launched sites of ours are turning up the exact same results in Google recently for the ‘allintext:’ search as for searching on Google. The ‘allintitle’ search returns different results, which makes me think that right now (as the big G is undergoing some tweaks) the title tag may not have the same weight as it normally carries (all based on observations, nothing solid here).

Arikawa says:
July 23, 08h

Masad, ColetasSoft, I used to work for a company that hired a search-engine optimization analyst, and I based my “little authority” comment on conversations I had with him. Perhaps he was the one of “little authority.” ;-)

Arikawa says:
July 23, 08h

I’m sure the page’s good structure is playing well to Google’s relevancy algorithm. When you have page title, h1, links and content that all repeat the same words, and use proper alt, title attributes, you scream “authority.”

And as everyone has stated, it really helps that other well-linked authorities in turn link to the Garden. I guess that the sites with “little authority” actually hinder your score, but not much to be done about that.

Vaguely reminds me of Cory Doctorow’s Whuffie concept.

Masad says:
July 23, 09h

“I guess that the sites with “little authority” actually hinder your score, but not much to be done about that.”

Fwiw - Thankfully this isn’t true; imagine how easy it could then become to ruin your competition!

And you are right about good structure. For google it seems that what’s good for the user is also good for google. As we know, standards are good for everyone :-]

Dave S. says:
July 23, 10h

Are you supposed to “count” those indented results in a Google search?

Yeah - multiple sites off the same domain could have equal relevance to the topic. And of course, they still push me off the first page of results.

Thanks all for the points on link text — I may have known that at one point, but I certainly didn’t remember as I was considering this piece. Interesting notes on proper structure, too. Good markup continues to pay off.

Sunny says:
July 24, 01h

I think Vinay has a point. It must be the numebr of links from various blogs. Over that past few months, 90% of the blogs I visit, mention CSS Zen Garden and/or link to it.

Jai says:
July 24, 06h

They hired a “Search Engine Optimization Analyst”? Wow… where can I get that job. Sounds like a ton of fun.

DAB says:
July 24, 10h

Hmmm…Next to food and movie critic, my dream job:

Search Engine Optimization Analyst Job listings