Beginners Guide About How Search Engine SEO Algorithms Work and Decides Rankings

Latest update: August 08, 2023. Page URL indicates original publication date; meanwhile, times change, and the updates continue.

For fellow webmasters (now that's an ancient term) and writers, that is indeed an interesting title. Unfortunately, it is also a true title. In fact, maybe the title of this article should be, The Search Engine Algorithm and the Future of Online Writing - It's Not Pretty.

Obviously search engines use several parameters for determining the search ranking of a website or article when displaying results. I shall not belabor those, plenty of other websites already do that. This page will only cover the main, overriding factor that search engines use when the algorithm makes its "decisions".

Writers and web designers are not going to like this and as far as I know, there is not a thing we can do about it, nor a way we can circumvent it.

And do read the updates regarding monetization.

Description of a Search Engine's Main Parameter Used by Its Algorithm

There are two websites. Both websites are identical in all parameters such as keywords, quality, quantity, HTML design, navigation design, format design, font size, average bounce rate, average duration of visits, incoming links, keeping content updated, compatibility with mobile devices, and every and all other factors that search engines use (both known and unknown). However, the two sites have one very significant and devastating difference.

Site "A" is owned by a real world, brick and mortar, physical entity with name recognition that is associated with and dedicated to a specific field or topic of endeavor and/or interest. Such sites are automatically bestowed much more credibility than sites not meeting this criteria. The credibility factor is paramount to search engines. It is the main factor enabling an article or website to be ranked on the front page of the listed search results. There's that old Q&A: "Where is the best place to hide a body? The second page of Google." Credibility makes or breaks a website, no matter how good all the other rating factors may be.

Site "B" is just an unknown website competing with the other billion unknown websites. Due to the site's anonymity, credibility is basically non-existent; not positive or negative, just non-existent. In other words, even though your Site-B, relevant article is much better than the corresponding Site-A article; the Site-B article will have the lesser ranking. There is more about website domain names and article quality ranking in the February 2020 update.

There are still plenty of exceptions to the above, but the number of exceptions will continue to dwindle over time as more and more site "A" websites come into existence and/or expand their presence.

There Are Some Silver Linings

Successful niche hobby "Site B" websites can eventually be bought and absorbed by the "Site A" websites. Along with the exorbitant purchase price, the Site "B" owner might even be offered a full-time job to maintain the site.

There are millions of successful small business websites. Needless to say, a lot more is required than just the website.

Non-business websites specializing in specific topics can have some degree of success. However when one does the math, the compensation usually is significantly below the minimum wage.

General topic websites are usually given a lesser search ranking than the others. As for this general topic site you are now reading, it is forever doomed to relative obscurity; as are most of the other general topic websites. I'm fine with that. This site still gets plenty of search engine traffic to accomplish its stated goal mentioned on the homepage. A general topic site can gain credibility over time, but it usually takes years.

Some Final Thoughts

Do only get involved with website design and article writing if you enjoy it. If your main motivation is making lots of money, you have about the same odds as when buying a lottery ticket. And if one wants to get any visitor traffic, they will have to learn about SEO and all the other factors and parameters previously mentioned.

May 2019 Update

Writing any sort of medical or medical-related article is generally a lost cause, even when the article clearly states it is from the patient's point of view. Search engines invariably put the .gov sites on the front page when it comes to anything medical. These are then followed by medical research centers and other actual brick and mortar medical facilities. Articles written by patients and other individuals are then always buried in the secondary search results where searchers seldom visit. Basically, search engines are adamant in the classifying  of medical articles by non-medical entities as having zero or very low credibility. Forgo your time and labor on writing anything medical. Search engines are intractable on this and it is not going to change.

June 2019 Update

Some search engines are beginning the process of pretty much dealing a death blow to many how-to and other explanatory text articles. Videos are now being placed above the text version of the same topic in the search results for many subjects. So if one is considering writing a how-to or explanatory article, it would be wise to see what videos you will be competing against. Depending on the topic, doing a well-written article on particular subjects may be a lost cause. Which do the searchers generally prefer, a text article or a relevant video? At minimum, the competing and above-ranking video will severely reduce the amount of visitor traffic and the resulting earnings your written article should be receiving.

In other words: what text did to cursive and what calculators/converters did to math, videos are now starting to do to text articles.

August 2019 Update

Beware the topic-over-saturation syndrome. This is happening with more and more topics. You can literally write the best article in Internet Land for a given topic; but if the search engines are already buried in articles for that topic, yours will never see the light of day. It's not fair and it's not right; but it's the way it is.

January 2020 Update

My visitor traffic basically crashed and burned these last couple of months. However, the search algorithms really can't be blamed for this. Not many people are interested in this site's general topics during the holiday season. Visitor traffic usually rebounds in January as people get back to the regular business of living. However, the future of online writing still remains uncertain as more and more topics become over saturated.

February 2020 Update

Website domain names continue to take precedence over article quality. In other words:
  1. There are two websites.
  2. One website has an inferior article of poor quality, but has an on-point keyword in its domain name.
  3. Another website has a much better, high quality, superior article; but the website doesn't have an on-point keyword in its domain name.
  4. The inferior article will usually outrank and be given a better position in the search results than the much better article.
  5. This is due to search engines giving more weight to website domain names than to article quality. Maybe this will change as search engine ranking algorithms become more sophisticated.

April 2020 Update

The first week of April: I have an article whose traffic directly reflects the general population's concerns about the COVID-19 virus pandemic. The more concerned the general public, the less traffic the article receives. Needless to say, that article's traffic has crashed and burned. Oddly, even thought the media news is the worst yet, the article's traffic has started to bounce back. Apparently the public's panic mode has started to subside, though I still saw signs of hoarding the last time I was at the store.

November 2020 Update

COVID-19 continues to affect article traffic. Depending on the topic, the effect can be either positive or negative.

Meanwhile, a separate note. Beware moving your articles from one site to another. Doing so will result in all the stolen copies of your article(s) now outranking your original.

February 2021 Update

Regarding monetizing your website, ad-networks have been reneging on payments to website owners and publishers for years. Unfortunately, this situation has gone from being the occasional incident to now being a routine practice. As an example, one famous ad-network recently reneged on a $250 payment they owed me. It's pretty grim. About the only option left these days is to find individual retailers who have affiliate programs.

February 2022 Update

Here are two reputable SEO learning websites:
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