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January 21, 2010

The Zone of Acceptance

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One of the most successful ways we use search engine optimisation to improve pages here at Bruce Clay is by providing content recommendations for each keyword. We do this quite a lot, and are pleasantly surprised by how this procedure can dramatically improve rankings.


content optimization

Photo by Iain Farrell via Creative Commons

What we try do is locate the most ‘imperfect’ web pages associated with the keywords we are trying to target. We then modify the pages we are trying to optimise to make them resemble the least imperfect pages we found in the first step (in terms of keyword densities and other factors).

But what I’ve grown to wonder is ‘why does this work?’ And why does one keyword recommend a spam like density and for another barely a mention on the page.

The answer has to do with what the search engine believes to be natural, and consequently the sites that lie within their zone of acceptance.

The search engine is not an expert and has no worldly experience, but the purpose of a query is to return the best sites for a particular topic. To work out who are the best sites, it makes an approximation of who the experts are, and in turns looks at its most comprehensive resource to help with the decision. This resource is its index. Making the decision of who are the best sites is based on the population within the index.

The belief is, like much of the Internet, that trust can be placed within the wisdom of the crowds. The population knows who the experts are. If a site does not match that of the general population, then it cannot be an expert. The search engines looks for common characteristics among the index, these commonalities determine the better sites and therefore the zone of acceptance.

Google’s ‘did you mean’ option is a simple example of how this works. A misspelled search query asks Google for an answer outside the majority of the population. It sees an unnatural anomaly and looks elsewhere for what it perceives to be natural. Hence the ‘did you mean’.

A site ranking for ‘Sydney cricket tickets’ will contain vastly different information to a site ranking for ‘Sydney cricket’. The purchasing website contains a system for visitors to enter their details and buy the tickets. The research website presents a long article detailing all there is to know of Sydney cricket. So you can see how each themed site and (the keywords they ranked for) would naturally have two contrasting content specifications. The search engines know what is appropriate for each keyword.

The great advantage that our toolset offers is a quickly generated measurement of what a natural looking page is. By applying some math to the top ranking sites, a recommendation is given. So for example, one recommendation is to write the body of content with x amount of words that includes the keyword x amount of times. This is the zone of acceptance. This is what the search engine believes to be a natural fit. We know this because these figures come from the top ranking sites. By giving the content writers a natural target that the search engines are looking for, your chances of improved rankings and SEO effect are increased.





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