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Are The Search Engines Censoring The Internet?

cc023Every single day I surf through about a dozen sites, looking for interesting articles and message board posts. I do this for many reasons: for my job, which requires that I stay up-to-date on current technologies, and for my hobby, which allows me to write articles about the internet and the web. A big portion of my daily routine involves visiting forums related to all facets of the internet. These forums often have some incredible information not readily available anywhere else; the best of these (WebMasterWorld, JavaScript City, Spider Foods, WebDev Forums, Lisa Says it all and the Web Site Abstraction Forum) are tightly monitored and are heavily trafficked by knowledgeable people.

I find them very useful not just for ideas, but to occasionally post something of interest to others. You know, that's something that I truly enjoy. stumbling across a post which asks a question, responding and finding out that I really did help someone solve an issue. There are few better feelings than that. Anyway, today I was looking through some posts on these boards and I noticed a very common concern and theme. Virtually every webmaster on the boards are concerned above all else with one thing: getting traffic to their site. And to get traffic virtually all of those same webmasters was convinced they have to get high rankings in the search engines.

I'd seen this before, of course, but today I noticed something that actually made me angry. I realized that the search engines, especially the larger ones, are causing people to self-censor their own sites.

One lady stated she had a painfully built set of links for quilt sites. She believed it was the most complete set of quilt links on the internet, and seemed quite proud. However, she was disturbed and even was considering removing the links because it might hurt her rankings in Google.

I continued looking over the posts on that and other forums and found similar posts scattered throughout. One person was afraid because he included pages of content not related to the theme of his site. Would Google drop his ranking and thus cut his income? Yet he really wanted to include those pages ... but felt he had to remove them because of this search engine.

You see, what's happening is Google and other search engines have to work very hard to create very intelligent robots to scan the web for sites. Until recently, these robots considered each and every page as a separate entity. Now, however, a change is occurring. Google is attempting to group pages together into sites, and then judge all of the pages as a group. The implication of this is apparently sites which are "tightly themed" will be positioned higher in the results pages than those that are not.

I guess the theory is that a tightly themed site is somehow better than a site which has lots of information about many different subject.

Google also ranks pages (and now perhaps entire sites) based upon the number and quality of sites that link back. The thought behind this is that if a site is linked to by other quality sites (sites related to the theme), then that site is somehow better than other sites and deserves to rank higher.

So what's seems to be happening is many webmasters are very, very concerned about every move they make. Every change to their site is measured against the question, "what will Google or Altavista or whatever think of this change?" Will making that change drop their rankings? Will it get them removed from the engine? Will the Earth come to an end simply because a link to a site with different content is included?

Other questions I have seen include: will using Flash drop me out of the engines? Should I use tables or will that hurt my page ranking? If "low quality" sites link to mine, will Google get annoyed and kick me to the second page?

This is, in my opinion, utterly and completely ridiculous. The purpose of the web and the internet is communication. People write articles, create graphics and multimedia and place them on the internet because they have a story to tell or some information to impart.

Of course it is important to promote your site, because part of communication is finding someone to communicate with. However, there are many, many ways to promote a web site. There are as many ways and places to promote as their are stars in the sky or electrons on a wire. Just use your creativity and your brain, and you will figure out how to get people to visit your creation, without selling your soul to a search engine.

One of my objections is the idea of "theming" a web site. That is not the way that the web is intended to work and it is not in the interest of surfers. When I search on a keyword, I want to find the best pages that I can find. If someone wrote a page about their cat but placed it on their site about quilts, then I still might want to see it. In fact, it's possible that this one page has better information than a site devoted entirely to cats.

I have a great example of a site which is one of the best on the internet by a good man named James Huggins. I'd bet that Google wouldn't appreciate this site very much because it would have a very difficult time figuring out the theme. Yet it is by far one of the most entertaining and informative sites on the entire web (in my opinion, of course). .....

A major problem with the idea of basing the ranking of a site on it's popularity is that new or smaller sites tend to drop way down the list, even though they are often much better than sites higher on the list. It simply is not true that a site which has lots of incoming "quality" links is any better than those sites which do not have as many of them.

Websites are very personal creations, and they should reflect the unique viewpoints, opinions and background of the authors, artists and creative talent. There is no need to make every site on the web look or feel the same; There is certainly no need to force every site to fit a set of rules in order to be found by other people.

My advice is to create a web site in which you can be proud. Use all of the tools and skills that you have, and use whatever techniques you enjoy. At the same time, explore ALL of the methods of site promotion, including search engines. But don't place too much weight on the engines - they change constantly and they are very fickle. You might sell your soul to get a high ranking one day only to find out the next morning that you are gone entirely.


by Richard Lowe ...







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