Thursday, May 21, 2009

Referential Integrity: honesty is the best SEO policy

What does it mean to provide something that is relevant, precise, and efficient? The common factor between these terms is the truth and nothing but the truth. Google defined the rules for this game; they want to help you rank higher, but you need to play by the rules. If you do so you get rewarded by PageRank i.e. your pages will rank higher on the search terms that you want. Try to cheat the system and you will get punished. Google does not assign these search terms for you, you pick them; its up to you to pick the right terms and follow the rules. One of my posts ranks #1 on Google for the search term "liferay seo best practices":

What does it mean for one to have 'integrity'?

According to Wikipedia 'integrity' has to do with perceived consistency in a holistic fashion. Integrity is also perceived as the quality of having a sense of honesty and truthfulness in one's actions. Integrity can be tested subjectively by one's individual methods or objectively by scientific methods. Take for example your purchasing process before paying for a product or service. Every wise purchase decision includes research. Normally you would research the products or services you are interested in and see for yourself what they say about themselves. The end product of this stage results in a list of potential products that you are considering for purchase. In this stage you are testing the product for relevance, precision and efficiency. Next comes your method to test the list of potential products for honesty. Usually one would do this by getting feedback from others who have made the 
purchase. The end product of this stage is another list of potential products - hopefully a smaller list than what you started with. You now rinse and repeat this cycle until you reach a small enough set to actually make your decision and do the purchase. 

What is 'referential integrity' ?

This term comes from relational databases. Basically it is consistency between coupled tables. The following diagram from Wikipedia shows what it means to have referential integrity and what it means to have broken referential integrity.
Although the second record of the album's table claims the album 'Eat the rich' belongs to artist #4 the actual artist's table does not confirm this claim since there is no artist #4. Hence referential integrity is broken in this case. 

How can enforcing your "website's referential integrity" reward you with more traffic?

It all starts with honesty. Do not try to write content for search engines, it does not work because it is not relevant, not precise and not efficient. Hence it is not truthful. Write content that people will find useful. There are things that you can do that are under your control; for example building references between your websites pages. There is no reason why one would not be able to do this properly. You need to be objective with these links as well; "Home" is not an objective link yet it is very common to have on a website. "Products" is not an objective link yet it is also very common to have on a website. The page title is not the only important factor, the name of the page or URL is also important; "home.html" or "products.html" is not an objective name. It is very important to have objective page names and titles - for example "What is Referential Integrity? and how can it increase your PageRank" is an objective title. "/referential-integrity-increase-pagerank.html" is an objective page name. By being careful with picking page titles and names you are already well underway in improving your ranking on search engine result pages.

A database designer knows what database normalization is. The concept behind database normalization is also applicable in writing great website copy. Basically database normalization is the process of organizing your data in an efficient way. The two main objectives are eliminating redundant data and eliminating the storage of the same data in multiple locations. With regards to website copy, it is important to aim to write copy for each page to allow that page to rank high on specific search terms without cannibalizing your other pages' rankings. This is easier said than done, especially if you are writing a blog since usually you have a certain number of topics that you write about. Eventually you will get multiple pages ranking for the same search terms as the image of my blog's ranking for "liferay seo best practices"

The second component of an SEO strategy is to proof of your integrity. At this point you have written honest and complete copy for your pages. This stage is something out of your control, but this does not mean you cannot do anything to help you in this stage. By writing honest copy you increase the chances of others finding your information complete and truthful hence increase the chances they would link to you from their websites and blogs. Social networks are extremely helpful in this stage and as I have described in an earlier post "SEO without social; Cereal without Milk". You can publicize your content on social networks such as Facebook and Twitter as I am doing right now. This helps you broadcast your content to a much larger audience, increase your traffic and eventually generate some inbound links. 

How does Google prevent SEO abuse?

The main line of defense Google has against this is their PageRank algorithm. This algorithm rewards for being truthful as well as punish you for cheating. For example if one were to create 100 fake websites to link to their company website. The PageRank algorithm shares a page's credibility with every other page that it links to. So in a case of 100 fake websites, odds are they all have a very low PageRank if not zero. This also strengthens the argument on promoting your website on social networks because of most them have a high PageRank (8 or 9) which is comparable to high profile sites such as the New York Times. Obviously it is easier to get a link on Twitter than it is to get on the New York Times and the fact that a good share will by the nature of social networks get re-shared or re-tweeted you will get far more links and faster than you can get one link up on the New York Times.

Again honesty is always the best policy - even for SEO. Understand how referential integrity works and play by Google's rules and you will be rewarded.

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