How Yahoo Might Automate SEO
It’s a little unusual to see a document from a search engine discussing search engine optimization.
It’s even more rare to see one providing details on how that search engine might actually optimize web sites for search engines.
A patent application from Yahoo, published at the start of January, provides details on how the search engine could automatically optimize web pages for search engines.
The process described involves looking at queries performed by searchers in search engine log files and possibly also looking at the browsing activity of those searchers.
It would also involve looking at information that they have compiled about how words might be semantically related to each other as concepts or topics (or to use their word, as units), and the popularity or trendiness of those terms or units.
Parts of web pages, such as titles and headings and URLs for pages and alt text for images might then be automatically rewritten on web pages, in an attempt to optimize those for more popular terms.
In the background section of the patent filing, a definition of search engine optimization is given:
Search Engine Optimization (SEO) refers to actions by a web site to improve its presence and positioning for relevant search queries.
The most popular search engines, including Yahoo!.RTM., Google.RTM., and Microsoft Live.RTM., may utilize similar techniques for determining the relevancy of search results and SEO may include a site’s attempts to more accurately appear in those search results.
SEO may be performed by improving the labels, tags and information on a site. Accordingly, it is desirable to improve the SEO of pages, so that those pages appear in search results for relevant search queries related to the content of the pages.
The patent application is:
Automated System to Improve Search Engine Optimization on Web Pages
Invented by Chyr-Chong (Joseph) Ting and Adam Hyder
Assigned to Yahoo
US Patent Application 20090006311
Published January 1, 2009
Filed June 28, 2007
A system and method for automated search engine optimization (SEO) are disclosed. The automated SEO may analyze search query logs, or a search log database to determine popular concepts/units which may be automatically utilized to optimize a site or page for search engine results.
The site or page is edited based on the automated SEO. In particular, the search log database may provide a unit frequency list reflecting the popularity of various units. The more popular units that are related to the content of the page may be used in the automated SEO of the page.
The unit frequency list may be compared with the existing units of a page, so that the more popular concepts within the page may be emphasized.
The patent filing does provide a number of examples on how their automated SEO system might update page titles, URLs for pages, meta descriptions and meta keywords, alt attributes for images, and headings on pages. For example, here’s the discussion on page titles:
The title of the page is an example of a feature that may be used for SEO. Each page includes a title describing the contents of the page. The title may be the title of the page that is viewable in the title bar of a web browser. The search engine may use the title to determine the content of a page.
In one example, if you have a blog related to Chicago sports teams, then a title may be generic, such as “Chicago sports blog.” However, after comparing the unit frequency list and the existing page unit list, it may be determined that Chicago Cubs.RTM. are currently very popular.
Accordingly, the search engine optimizer may select that unit and edit the title to be “Chicago Cubs blog.” The popularity of the unit Chicago Cubs.RTM. may provide better search results than when the title was “Chicago sports blog.”
I have some concerns about this approach.
I couldn’t help but wonder if the title for the blog they describe might be changed to “Chicago Bulls Blog” during the basketball season, or “Chicago Bears Blog” on weekends during the football season. It’s likely that those would be more popular terms during those time periods.
Would sites that change focus based upon the popularity of search terms sacrifice their identities to chase after more popular search terms on a regular basis?
There are other aspects of SEO that the patent filing doesn’t address, such as purposeful decisions to target less popular terms than more popular related terms.
This could happen when the people behind a site recognize that they can’t compete with the sites presently ranking for those more popular terms, but also see that those sites aren’t being optimized for somewhat less popular query terms, and they believe that they audience their site is for will search for the less popular terms.
Or when a site owner recognizes that a business or informational niche exists that isn’t being adequately addressed on the Web.
SEO isn’t about trying to get the most traffic to a site for the most popular terms possible.
Instead, it’s about understanding the objectives of a site, and knowing enough about an audience that might be interested in what that site offers to help those searchers and those sites find each other. That can involve finding the right words to use on the pages of a site instead of the most popular words.
SEO also involves knowing enough about how search engines work so that it’s easier for a search engine to index the pages of a site, and understand what those pages are about when it indexes them.
The patent application from Yahoo does detail some of the basics of optimizing an individual page for search engines, but ignores many of the technical issues involved in making sites and pages search engine friendly.
The Yahoo patent filing also avoids discussing the issue of how difficult it can sometimes be to optimize pages for very popular and competitive terms.
A site owner might want to target less popular search terms on pages that are a few directory levels deep in their site and have those pages rank well for searches that their audience will conduct rather than target more popular terms with those pages, and rank very poorly.
Another issue that should be raised is the potential for conflict of interest in a search engine also performing search engine optimization.