Researchers at the University of California, Berkeley have been pitting the wits of Google against human volunteers. Their study looked at the PageRank of words searched for on Google and compared them with a list of words produced by volunteers. The research, published in Psychological Science, confirms my view that Google is actually preventing your web site from succeeding; not because of Google, but because of the way we react to it.

The human volunteers were asked to produce the first word that came to mind when shown a letter of the alphabet that had rare frequency – such as Q, K and Z. These words were then searched for on Google and the average PageRank of the pages calculated. PageRank is a proprietary Google device for working out the relative “value” of a web page. If the computer based, mathematical calculations of Google’s algorithm approach human capabilities then you would expect to see higher page ranks for the more common “first response” words from the human volunteers.

The study showed that indeed there was a relationship, suggesting that Google’s computer modelling is similar to the way the human mind works. In other words, it seems that Google matches our complex brains pretty well. But PageRank requires human input for it to work. PageRank is based on citation indexing – in other words, the calculation of a web page’s rank depends upon human beings choosing to add links referencing that page. So, without human intervention, PageRank would flounder.

And this human intervention is essential in the success of your web site. Make your pages interesting and useful – rather than just full of puffery – and humans that read it and like it will recommend it in various links. Because Google’s PageRank appears to match human analysis so closely this means that the more your pages appeal to people – the more it will be liked by Google and your PageRank will rise.

It’s just more evidence, as if we needed it, that concentrating on Google is facing in the wrong direction. Focus your attention on your human readers and Google will follow.

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