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Danny Sullivan's SEL

Keyword density and page titles are nothing without PageRank.
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PageRank Wins

Two schools of thought exist in the SEO industry. The SEO copywriters and the Link Mongers. For reasons put forth here, the Link Mongers will always win in the SERPs.

Two Schools

It's a somewhat misleading title. It would have been more descriptive to post the title as, Why PageRank & Anchor Text Must Rule, but it's a tad long.

In pretty much every SEO forum you'll see posts proclaiming PageRank is dead! or Google no longer bombable. These SEO's then proceed to announce the triumph of "content" or "on-page elements". Oddly enough, the SEO's who proclaim the death of PR and the triumph of on-page elements SEO are usually the ones who lack PR themselves (sour grapes syndrome) or are SEO copywriters (self serving propaganda).

Each time somebody announces the uselessness of PR, I hurry to Google and type in Computers.

When I see the usual suspects in the top - Apple, Dell and Compaq - I breathe a sigh of relief and go back to business as usual. As you probably know, none of those three sites has the word Computers in the page titles or body copy. That search on Google, Computers, is my long time friend. Whenever somebody suggests that "SEO Copywriting" - content SEO - is useful, I run over to Google, type in Computers, and hit Search. Every time, the results are the same.

Content SEO

Content SEO, also referred to as page-elements SEO or SEO Copywriting, is one large school of SEO thought. This group tends to preach that high rankings are achieved by way of many pages of content, along with placement of keywords in H1 tags, in optimized keyword density within the body copy and in bold and or italics.

To the content SEO, PageRank is of no importance. Good content is important. Those who aggressively go after links, especially off-topic links, are considered spammers.

This first group is often found in SEO forums regurgitating the old line, Content is King or complaining of some "spammer" who is above them in the SERPs.

PR Mongers

The other school of thought is summed thus:

Hiring an SEO copywriter to get high rankings is like hiring a cleaning lady to build a house. Inbound Links & Anchor Text is where the real power lies.
- Myself

(SEO copywriting) works for search terms that are not particularly competitive. Competitive search terms are those where many people are trying very hard to gain the top rankings for their sites. Casino, sex, insurance, health and hotels sites are among the most competitive, and there are many other topics where people fight for rankings. For medium to highly competitive search terms, other, more vigorous, methods are needed.
- Phil Craven of WebWorkshop

Oddly enough, while both Phil and I speak of the ineffectiveness of SEO copywriting, he and I occupy the #1 and #2 spots on Google for that search term while the SEO copywriters are on the right side playing the pay-per-click game.

PageRank & Anchor Text: The Superior Algorithm

Now, the SEO copywriting bunch likes to complain that the Google bombing affect is a sign of an under-developed algorithm. They often imply that Google's reliance on PageRank and anchor text to determine ranking is a weakness.

I disagree.

From Google's own page on PageRank:

PageRank relies on the uniquely democratic nature of the web by using its vast link structure as an indicator of an individual page's value.

What Google doesn't say is that they also use the anchor text of those links to determine the content of that page.

If the SEO copywriting bunch would stop complaining and think about it a minute, they might actually realize the beauty of this system. It puts the power in the hands of the Internet as a whole. It epitomizes democracy.

Even in the two well known cases of Google bombing - the Microsoft "Go to Hell" bomb and the George Dubya's "Miserable Failure" - what we saw here was democracy in action. George W. Bush was deemed to be a failure by a large number of people, and Google simply acknowledged their votes.

Although I do not agree that George Bush is a failure, I appreciate the Google algorithm which takes the power away from the publisher and puts it in the hands of the population. It's uncensored. It's freedom. It's democracy.

The Alternative Algorithm

SEO copywriters, for obviously self serving reasons, would prefer that Google place more weight on on-page elements. They would prefer that anchor text be discounted. They would prefer it if PageRank didn't play such a large role in determining search engine ranking.

The argument goes likes this:

If my page contains the search terms in the page titles, in the H1 tags, and bolded and italicized in the body copy - then it is obviously more relevant than a page which doesn't contain the search term in the page titles, H1 tags and body copy.

This idea makes sense until you realize the implications.

Google's home page only mentions the word Google once in the page title, and once on the page. So if the SEO copywriters got their way, a search for Google would be dominated by any hack who loaded their page with obnoxious repetitions of the word Google.

If Google implemented an SEO copywriter's algorithm, Google wouldn't even be included in the search results for "search engine".

If Google implemented such an algorithm, the search results for Computers would not include,, or IBM's home page.

If Google implemented such an algorithm, the SERPs would be dominated by keyword spamming trash.

Real SEO

Any pimple-faced 12 year old is a potential SEO copywriter. How much intelligence does it take to repeat a search term numerous times within the body copy, H1 tags and page titles?

SEO copywriting is the would-be profession that isn't. SEO copywriting is is a cheap attempt to manipulate search engine rankings without any serious work. SEO copywriting is a fancy shmancy glorification of unemployed housewives. SEO copywriters are not search engine optimization professionals. SEO copywriting lacks the unique usefulness required to be a profession.

Even Jill Whalen, the unofficial spokesperson of content SEO, admits to her own uselessness:

I freely admit that I don't optimize for highly competitive keywords... I don't optimize for one-word keywords, and many two-word phrases that might be extremely competitive.


If a phrase seems awfully competitive, it can be "scary" to optimize for, in that the optimization might not work. I don't like to fail, and I might not shoot for a phrase because I'd be afraid to fail.

SEO itself is an industry hurting for legitimacy as it is. Adding unemployed housewives who don't optimize for keywords people actually use just exacerbates the situation.

Real search engine optimization focuses on link acquisition.

In Summary

PageRank does matter. In fact, anchor text and inbound links is 95% of effective search engine optimization. Anyone who tells you otherwise does not practice real search engine optimization.


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