A Tactical Guide To Becoming An SEO Ubergeek

So you’re sitting there thinking: how can I take my SEO chops to the next level? Well, I am sure hoping you are, or have at some time along the path. But where to start? To me an SEO that doesn’t understand information retrieval (IR) is like the web developer that doesn’t know HTML. You really should know how a search engine works. No, I am serious… it is 2/3rd of the initialism for cryin’ out loud.

You should be proud to say: Hi there. My name is Dave and I am an algoholic.

For my first post here on Search Engine Land I want to bring you into my world. A glimpse into what types of articles I will be writing for you here. For those not familiar with me I am afflicted with the IR bug in the most geeky of ways and today, I’ll give you a crash course on how you can be too.

Become Patently Obvious

The first thing we are going to look at are patents. Or at least we’ll get some perspective. You see, all too often the SEO world freaks out when a patent is awarded and starts hailing it as if someone discovered Atlantis. This is truly bad form. Right away one needs to consider the concept of patent pending. If the patent was filed in say, 2004, then it has already been implemented, certainly adapted, and even possibly discarded since then. Nothing from a patent is new nor telling beyond gleaning the mindset of a search engineer. One must avoid the SEO Magic Bullet approach.

People also tend to look at patents in isolation. This is also short sighted. Google has been awarded more than 10 patents on local search in the last three years alone. As such we must look at the totality of them and consider whichever current award we’re looking at in that context.

Now let’s take the “avoid SEO magic bullet” perspective and look at some ways to stay on top of things. Some tips to keeping up (rationally) with patents include;

  • Set up some alerts via RSS with Latest Patents.
  • Create email alerts at Free Patents Online.
  • Remember to research the authors. This often gives insight into what they’ve worked on in the past and offers relevant content.
  • Always bear in mind we never know the exact uses nor weighting of a given signal in search engine algorithms.
  • Seek out related patents that can offer context and perspective.
  • Always check the associated images with the patents; they simplify things.
  • Read other uber patent geeks such as Bill Slawski.

It will take you some time to get used to reading patents, but with time and practice it does get easier. The end goal is not as much about figuring out how the search engine in question is incorporating the patent into its algorithms. It is always about getting into the mind-set of a search engineer so that you develop a common sense approach to your own strategies and testing practices.

SEO Ain’t Rocket Science, It’s Computer Science

The next area we want to get into is the world of information retrieval. This is part of the computer science world. If patents are the past, IR world watching is the future. This is an important part of becoming a super uber search geek. While there is much you can glean from what’s already out there in the search world, in many ways it is about seeing what lies ahead. When doing SEO you want to always ensure your tactics are “future proofed.” As such, IR watching is paramount to delivering a strategy that stands the test of time.

To get you rolling with that here is some essential viewing:

And some essential reading:

And of course you can search places such as Stanford for even more. There is a ton of information out there but the above resources should give you a starting point for doing some research and reading of your own.

Free Courses And Learning On The Web

Introduction to Information Retrieval. This is an online version of the book from Cambridge University. This book is the result of a series of courses taught at Stanford University and at the University of Stuttgart, in a range of durations including a single quarter, one semester and two quarters. These courses were aimed at early-stage graduate students in computer science.

Information Retrieval. A book by C. J. van Rijsbergen. The major change in the second edition of this book is the addition of a new chapter on probabilistic retrieval. This chapter has been included because I think this is one of the most interesting and active areas of research in information retrieval. There are still many problems to be solved so I hope that this particular chapter will be of some help to those who want to advance the state of knowledge in this area.

Information Retrieval Interaction – P. Ingwersen. Focuses on user interaction in information retrieval. The aims of the book are to establish a unifying scientific approach to IR—a synthesis based on the concept of IR interaction and the cognitive viewpoint; to present research and developments in the field of information retrieval based on a new categorization, and to generate a consolidated framework of functional requirements for intermediary analysis and design.

Are We There Yet?

These resources should be enough to get you going and set you on the path to understanding more about search than your average SEO practitioner, and you should be well on the road to becoming an uber geeky search nut. And please remember, this is not something to take lightly. The more you dig into the deeper aspects of “this thing of ours,” the more prepared you will be. The next time you read some blog post or attend a seminar you will be far better equipped to distinguish the signal from the noise. You can look at the theory and ponder: does this even make sense? You will also be better prepared to conduct your own testing. How can one properly test a theory when they don’t even understand the rudiments of how a search engine works?

You don’t have to become a computer scientist to be an SEO. You don’t need to get your PhD to get pages to rank well in search results. But if you spend some time learning more about the very focus of what we do I can guarantee that you will have a far more profound understanding of the job than you had previously.

Opinions expressed in the article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land.

Related Topics: Channel: SEO | How To: SEO

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About The Author: is an avid search geek with a penchant for all things IR (information retrieval) related. He's best known for his writings along the same lines; technical aspects of SEO. He is an SEO consultant (to the stars?) that runs the SEO Training Dojo and can also be found on his personal blog, the Fire Horse Trail.

Connect with the author via: Email



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  • http://www.search-usability.com/ Shari Thurow

    Hi David-

    Great resources…but I noticed some glaring absences. I have to understand IR from a technical perspective not only as an SEO professional but also as a graduate student. (Just my way of saying I already know about these resources.)

    Where is the human part of SEO? Being a geek doesn’t only mean being knowledgeable about the technical aspects of SEO. In fact, I think that is one of the major pitfalls of our industry — that the technical SEOs lack of knowledge about searcher behavior is abysmal.

    How about a follow up article about the human side?

    My 2 cents.

  • http://searchengineland.com David Harry

    Hiya Shari, I am certainly open to ‘doing requests’ (a guitar player as well dontcha know). What did you have in mind?

    I would assume you’d understand to me they are ALL utlimately the ‘human side’ as much of it, beyond mere indexation and retrieval, is about humans in one way or the other right? Tee hee. But yes, you’re certainly correct that the ultimate geek will have go go far beyond this post. In many ways, I would hope, it leads folks deeper.

    Personally, I am all up for goodiness in coming posts on a bunch of recent user behaviour white papers (focus groups, heat maps etc..). I’d be thrilled for any leads on that end of things.

    I am also big on implicit/explicit user feedback signals which is certainly another area of the path that is truly about people IMO. As would be areas such as natural language processing, which I feel can help SEOs as well…and also very ‘human’.

    I guess when Chris said “a few thousand words” I didn’t want to go mad with it. Any ideas you’d care to throw my way, I’d be happy to entertain them. Just preaching the Gospel of the Geek here. Happy to have as many playmates as possible!

    (tnx for the comment btw! always appreciated)

  • http://www.TrapikMedia.com/internet-marketing.php trapikmedia

    thanks for this, it’s an excellent and I’d like to cite as thorough particular to the technical side of SEO and the technologies and science behind the practice. that’ a ton of resources cited, too! my trainees will be overwhelmed if they don’t immediately quit yet. cheers!

  • http://www.dragonsearchmarketing.com DragonSearch

    Perhaps, to Shari’s comment (I risk getting blasted for putting word in Shari’s mouth)- there is the world of taxonomies, ontologies, systems,etc. Human psychology and semantics.

  • http://www.search-usability.com/ Shari Thurow

    Hi DragonSearch and everyone-

    Heck, I’ve been an ubergeek since I was 3 years old. The search part came later. :-)

    Not gonna blast you DragonSearch (grin) for putting words in my mouth. Those are good ones. I won’t take credit for your good observations. I am not that type of person.

    The psychology of search is a good point. Semantics is also a good one. I also was referring to searcher behaviors that no one talks about (but should) in the SEO industry: berrypicking, sensemaking, orienting, orienteering, winnowing, and so forth.

    Taxonomies, ontologies, and systems are also things that SEOs should understand. All of this helps SEOs understand why searchers do and say the things they do.

    Again, these resources are great. I certainly do not want to distract anyone from that, as a linkworthy resource page is always appreciated. But SEOs need to step outside of their world of SEO and really understand what searchers do and why they do it. To me, being an SEO ubergeek is not limited to having technical expertise.

    My 2 cents.

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