Answers To 10 SEO Questions

How knowledgeable are you about search engine optimization? Rand wants to know.

Since he’s often disappointed with the level of knowledge of practicing SEOs, Rand decided to post 10 questions you should know before offering paid seo services. You should definitely know nearly all of these if you plan to charge for optimization, though these 10 questions are certainly not the end all and be all of seo. Rand promised to post his answers sometime in the next day or two, but here are mine.

The Questions

  1. What four search engines comprise 90%+ of all general (non site-specific) web search traffic?
  2. Explain the concept – “the long tail of search.”
  3. Name the three most important elements in the head section of an HTML document that are employed by search engines.
  4. How do search engines treat content inside an IFrame?
  5. What resource and query can you use to determine which pages link to any page on SEOmoz.org and contain the words “monkey” and “turnip”?
  6. What action does Google threaten against websites that sell links without the use of “nofollow”?
  7. What is the difference between local link popularity and global link popularity?
  8. Why is Alexa an inaccurate way to estimate the traffic to a given website?
  9. Name four types of queries for which Google provides “instant answers” or “onebox results” ahead of the standard web results.
  10. Describe why a flat site architecture is typically more advantageous for search engine rankings than a deep site architecture.

My Answers

Nothing like putting myself to the test. Hopefully my answers will measure up to Rand’s answers, but we’ll have to wait a day or two to know.

1. What four search engines comprise 90%+ of all general (non site-specific) web search traffic?

Cool, a simple question to start

  • Google
  • Yahoo!
  • MSN (Live Search)
  • Ask

2. Explain the concept – “the long tail of search.”

The long tail of search refers to the idea that most queries are either unique or searched infrequently. Restated the most common searches make up a small percentage of the overall queries typed each month. The long tail impacts search marketing in that long tail phrases will have less competition and are thus comparatively easier to rank for and that long tail phrases tend to be more targeted in nature.

Since I wrote a post about the long tail of search way back when I’ll direct you there for more information and a nifty image.

3. Name the three most important elements in the head section of an HTML document that are employed by search engines.

How about four things. I hope I’m not overlooking something obvious here.

  • Title tag – easily the most important words you’ll add to a page
  • Meta description – perhaps some minor ranking benefit, but mainly important for improving click through when it appears as the snippet below your link in search results
  • Meta robots – for those times when you don’t want a page to be indexed or the links on that page to be followed
  • The absence of css and javascript – These should be moved to external files

4. How do search engines treat content inside an IFrame?

Content in an iframe will get indexed, but on the URL where that content sits. It’s not seen as part of the page that contains the iframe. This is one of the reasons frames in general may not be a good idea.

5. What resource and query can you use to determine which pages link to any page on SEOmoz.org and contain the words “monkey” and “turnip”?

Yahoo! and the search would be:

monkey turnip linkdomain:www.seomoz.org

At google you can’t combine the link: operator with other advanced operators. This should theoretically work at MSN, but doesn’t. It works at Ask, but there are not as many results as at Yahoo!

6. What action does Google threaten against websites that sell links without the use of “nofollow”?

At best the links will simply be ignored, but more likely the site will lose trust and the ability to pass or flow PageRank and anchor text. Adding nofollow would mean only that link would lose the ability to pass PageRank. So if Google decides you are selling links without the nofollow they may decide to assume that all your links are doing the same. Losing that ability would likely affect both internal and external links. I suppose in some cases Google could decide to penalize a site, but I think there would need to be something else going on.

The issue over paid links and Google’s reaction isn’t popular with many SEOs. I’ve had mixed opinions on the matter, though I suspect it would bother me more if I were more involved with link buying and selling.

7. What is the difference between local link popularity and global link popularity?

Local link popularity is link popularity from topical communities (sites/pages that are topically related to yours). Global link popularity is the total link popularity including links from both topically related and non-related sites/pages.

8. Why is Alexa an inaccurate way to estimate the traffic to a given website?

Alexa sampling is not random. It skews heavily toward webmaster and seo related sites since those sites will attract traffic from from the types of people more likely to have the Alexa toolbar installed. Because the sampling is far from random the traffic estimates are usually inaccurate. Accuracy probably improves for more popular sites, but I wouldn’t trust any of the numbers.

You can make use of Alexa data by discovering trends in the reported traffic for a given site or by comparing sites in the same industry. Still the numbers should not be trusted and even the comparisons may not be accurate.

9. Name four types of queries for which Google provides “instant answers” or “onebox results” ahead of the standard web results.

  • News
  • Weather
  • Local
  • Movies

Here’s a nice list I found for what triggers OneBox results if you want to see more.

10. Describe why a flat site architecture is typically more advantageous for search engine rankings than a deep site architecture.

A flat site architecture is more easily crawled enabling more pages of a site to be indexed sooner. A flat architecture also reduces click distance (the number of clicks it takes to get to a page from the home page) and the lower the click distance the more importance is given to a page.

11. BONUS (Answer this one and I’ll be very impressed): Name twelve unique metrics search engines are suspected to consider when weighting links and how each affects rankings positively or negatively.

  1. Authority of the linking site – The greater the authority of the linking site the better the link.
  2. Topical relationship between the sites – The more topically related the sites the better the link.
  3. Topical relationship between the pages – The more topically related the pages the better the link.
  4. Anchor text of the link – Pages will rank better for the anchor text used to link to them unless the same anchor text is used in too large a percentage of links to the page.
  5. One way link or reciprocal – Reciprocal links call into question the reason for the links. One way links are generally preferred, but it’s ok to trade links within reason.
  6. Text surrounding the link – similar as anchor text, but probably less important than the actual anchor text.
  7. Age of the link – The longer the link has been in place the more weight it gets.
  8. Age of the linking page – The older the linking page the better, though this may have more to do with the age of the link itself.
  9. Rate of links acquired – Too many links to a page or site too fast could set off warning flags.
  10. Number links on the linking page – The less external links on the page the better.
  11. Location of link on the page – In context links are best.
  12. PageRank of the link page – Let’s face it, it’s in there. PR does seem to affect how deeply and frequently a site gets crawled. It also seems to go into the determination of a page being in the main index or the supplemental index. PR is of course a Google only metric, but the other engines have their own version.

I’m not entirely certain if all of the above come into play and some are given much more weight than others. The situation is also different at different search engines. Google for example places the most emphasis on trust and authority than any of the engines. Search engines will likely look at more when determining what is and isn’t a quality link.

You can find more search engine ranking factors at SEOmoz. There are a few more about links that I didn’t mention above, but I didn’t want to look until I had my list.

Those are my answers and hopefully they pass the Rand test. Rand’s answers should be available in a day or two and I’ll update this post with a link to them and a comparison to see how well my answers stand up.

How do you think I did? Did I miss anything or do you have more to add?

Update: Rand posted his answers and it looks like I did quite well with mine. I guess I’m ok to charge for seo services after all. Danny Sullivan sent Rand a few more questions, which Rand lists at the bottom of the post. They look a little more challenging and if I get a moment I’ll give it a go at answering them.

Apparently the questions were well received, though Lisa Barone wondered are we setting the bar too low for SEOs? Lisa may be right as these 10 questions aren’t all that hard.

If you want more challenging questions Mozzer Scott is now working on advanced test that will be available in a few weeks. I think it will be an interesting way to gauge your seo knowledge and I wonder if this may be the beginning of an SEOmoz seo certificate in the wings. How about it Rand, any thoughts on SEOmoz certification?

Download a free sample from my book, Design Fundamentals.

3 comments

  1. Hi Steve,

    This was very informative. I try to keep up with SEO as much as possible but this really goes to show that you have to hire an expert if you need any real seo work done. I did not know that hierarchical structure of site would do worse compared to flat structure.

    On the subject of long tail, did every use hittail?

    Khalid

  2. Steve,

    Great answers and detail. OK, this is not a test. What do you think is the most accurate traffic estimator available for public use? That is, what is the best Alexa alternative?

  3. Thanks Khalid. SEO principles are simple to understand and even the details aren’t all that complicated. Still there are a lot of details and they tend to change frequently. I think Yahoo actually recommends going no more than 3 levels deep, but please don’t hold me to that. I think 4 levels of hierarchy is still fine.

    I’ve never used hittail. Are you using it? If so what do you think?

    Thanks Chris. You know I don’t think there is any accurate traffic estimator for general use. They all have to make some assumptions and they all are looking at limited sets of data. I think they can all be somewhat useful in tracking relative numbers and changes over time and I think when you get one confirming what you see at another the numbers might become a little more trustworthy.

    Still I’d never trust any of the numbers absolutely. The good news is you don’t really need to. It’s not all that important to know with absolute certain that site A gets more traffic than site B. The large differences between two sites will be acceptable most of the time though. Google certainly gets a lot more traffic than I do and that will be reflected in any of the estimators.

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