What is Hatstand aardvark biscuit-barrel all about?
An Oxfordshire copywriter Chris Hogan got into the habit of using the phrase Hatstand Aardvark Biscuit-barrel as an example keyword phrase and saw that doing so was certain to make his pages rank highly on Google for that term. A contest ensued. This article discusses various Google search engine ranking factors that come into play with each contestant.
Original article 28 Jan 2012
Sometimes being at the top of Google is easy.
Google is of course complex and it takes more that 200 factors into account when deciding on the ranking of our websites. But never forget rule one. In essense the Google search engine is a word matching computer program. It takes the words that searchers type into a box and matches them against words found on web pages. That is at the root of what it does.
If you put the phrase “Hatstand Aardvark Biscuit-Barrel” onto a web page and nobody else in the world has done that before then you will be number one on Google for that phrase. But if nobody searches for that then nobody will find your web page. Keyword research is a useful starting point.
Chris Hogan, a copywriter in the Oxford region, talks about the ranking of one of his made up phrases on his website. He said:
As it happens, when presenting I use the phrase “hatstand aardvark biscuit-barrel”, just off the top of my head, and say that I could easily top Google with that phrase, but of course, what would be the point?
I delved into my little box of tricks labelled “things to trot out at opportune moments” and commented that I could guarantee getting any page to the top of Google, the problem was that the keywords might not be that relevant. The point being, of course, that keyword analysis is vital and anyone ringing up promising this is probably a charlatan.
His point was prompted by a stream of emails from cowboy SEO businesses claiming to be able to get number one rankings on Google.
Will it go like a bomb?
For fun, Chris and his chums decided a contest was in order and they should all vie for the top slot in Google’s search results. I reminded Chris about the odd activity called Google bombing that he was inadvertently brushing up against but not in the same way.
A Google bomb aims at illegitimately ranking a website highly for a search term that is not really associated with the target website. The most famous case was when there was a concerted effort by lots of jokers to link to a website using the link text “miserable failure” so that anybody who sought “miserable failure” found George W. Bush ranking at the top.
As well as Google matching words, another powerful factor is link text, the words used in links to a website. If there are plenty of links using a particular keyword as link text the influence can override rule one. I don’t think George W. used the phrase “miserable failure” in his website.
Does this contest amount to a Google bomb? No, because the keyword phrase “hatstand aardvark biscuit-barrel” is not used in mass linking to one website and the term IS the legitimate topic of the pages to which any links point. There is no attempt to subvert the goal of the search engine. It actually provides a rich source of data for me to discuss factors that contribute to a search engine ranking.
Chris’s page currently ranks first on Google because of a number of factors. But which ones? The qualities that contribute to his top ranking include his website’s Google Page rank of 4. He also has good web copy with a judicious repetition of the keyword. His copy is humourous in the way in which he lamely finds excuses to use the term and to the human reader it is spammy since the phrase is of course made up. But we can presume some repetition with skillful web copy can help a page rank highly.
So what’s new?
There is nothing new about having an SEO contest. The first SEO Contest recorded on Wikipedia was in 2002. This time around the contestants are a group of people from Banbury(shire?) plus the odd blow-in having a bit of harmless fun.
Is the contest useful?
The contest could help us understand a bit about SEO for a contest. A contest is not a real world situation but has qualities of its own. The keyword didn’t exist in Google’s database to begin with, then suddenly there are a couple dozen websites competing for it, all at the same time. Starting with that clean slate means we can judge which SEO factors are important initially and whether other factors play a part later.
Will Google Page rank be the only factor that matters? Will social media activity override that in the short time that the contest runs? It the time span too short be of any use?
I am joining in
At first I was an ally of Chris’s and I linked to his website to boost his position but only in a tiny way since this website has little Google page rank. I decided there was no point in using this website to compete because of its low Google Page Rank so I thought I would sit on the the touch lines. However, writing this page was sufficient to put it into an initial position 8 on Google’s results page. It seemed as if my on-site optimisation was enough to beat other websites which had page rank.
A commentary on the contest and progress.
Why comment at all?
This is a page about SEO factors and a test to see if I can unravel those factors that turn out to have the most influence. I don’t intend to criticise anyone for their techniques and we must bear in mind the contest is just a bit of light entertainment with some contestants having a go without too much time to spend on it.
My enthusiasm for it comes from the opportunity to look at different factors all applied at about the same time with an end date. I’m looking to learn from this. It’s a bit of an obsession.
I will discuss the factors used and try to see which Google likes most.
Here is a screen grab of the search results 29/01/2012 13:16.
The originator, oxcopy.com
|15/02/2012||2||Knocked off its top spot a few days ago by wellspotted.co.uk.|
oxcopy.com proposed the contest and holds the top position. The strongest ranking factor in his favour is a Google Page Rank of 4. That is a powerful factor which is probably derived from some good quality links, probably from clients. That makes him very difficult to beat.
Another favourable characteristic is a sensible rate of repetition of the term within a good body of text. But that is minor compared with a influence of the page rank. We can see other contestants doing quite well with little text on their pages.
Even though this is a only a two page website with rudimentary layout it is in a strong position. This suggests that although Google talks about more than 200 factors influencing your ranking there are a few which, if strong enough, can make the others pale into insignificance.
themecloud – another page rank player
In second place we have themecloud. Their web page does not have a lot of content and that proves that you don’t need acres of text. They have strength in their page rank of 4 for the website’s blog page which links to the article with the link text of “Hatstand Aardvark Biscuit-barrel – Google Game”. That link text begins with the keyword and that is good.
Whoever wins, it looks like ultimately they will have a good page rank underpinning it.
|15/02/2012||1||Finally nudging oxcopy from its perch in the number one slot. Only a couple of days to go so it looks like we could have a winner.In the beginning it looked like page rank was going to dictate the results but it is possible that another very important factor has come into play but we won’t know unless the contestant reveals what he has done.Placing a couple of links on high ranking websites, pointing to the contestant’s page with the text of the link being “Hatstand aardvark biscuit-barrel” will give that target page its own importance regardless of the page rank of 3 for the home page.The content of the page has also been updated with lots of jokes about aardvarks. I believe that to be a lesser influence.|
This website uses the open source Joomla! content management system. As with many CMSs Joomla! can sometimes be a bit of a beast to tame. I have used it a couple of times but I spent too much time configuring things and upgrading. There is no reason to suppose a Joomla! website shouldn’t rank well.
The home page has page rank of 3 so initially it looks like page rank is the main influence on the good ranking.
The text is purposefully nonsensical and that is fitting for a contest that is just for fun. What’s good about it is the volume of text which gives plenty of scope for natural repetition of not just the keyword “hatstand aardvark biscuit-barrel” but of each of those words individually.
There is an idea in SEO that it is wrong to repeat a keyword without some variation in those words. It’s a good idea and a body of text can help you do that. However, on some websites where I haven’t got around to fleshing out the text Google seems to like some of my pages which don’t say much at all. Quite surpising but that probably means other factors are much more important.
On a real world web page rather than a contest page it pays to have meaningful text. That is because bounce rate is a ranking factor and if visitors get bored too quickly they could return to the Google search page. Google will measure that and it won’t help your website.
The text on the page adapts some poems and prose and humorously slips in aardvark references. That reminds me of a quandry I have about SEOs being concerned about near duplication of text. Whilst Google can detect a passage which is a near repetition of another where does it stand on Shakespeare? Quoting Shakespeare is bound to be duplication. When we quote we something it is better to cite the original with a cite tag. But where is the original? Bill’s not around to put his stuff onto a website. I wonder how sophisticated Google’s reasoning is.
|29/01/2012:||4||They have the luxury of having two positions 4 & 5.In position 4 is their category page which probably has more page rank because it is linked from the home page. Although this category level page is really a news page covering other topics they have made the H1 title for the page “hatstand-aardvark-biscuit-barrel” which is lexically incorrect but hey, its a contest.|
|29/01/2012:||5||In position 5 is the actual article which is fun and attractive and deters me from looking at the words. We visitors are very visual creatures.The page allows visitors to post so it has user generated content and that is said to be good for SEO. But surely compared with the heavy duty factors like page rank that in itself is not going to win the day. The page states “I managed to get this Blog post to number one on google search”. It has fallen from grace. The home page has Page Rank of only 1 so the PR theory seem to be panning out.|
This is a WordPress website and with WordPress comes some gizmos for the social engagement that Google says it likes.
This shows that you don’t need to write lots of content for your web page to rank well. That is not to say you don’t need copywriters. You usually need something interesting to hold the visitors attention and take them where you want to to go.
|15/02/2012||16||This replicates content found on wellspotted.co.uk. It is hard to say that Google has recognised that and whether it thinks wellspotted’s is original content. I would expect this contest to be long finished before the replication checking process of Google drops by to assess these websites.If you use your mouse to highlight a phrase in the box at the top right of the contestant’s home page (about 8 words say) then right click and search for the phrase on Google (the Firefox browser has that feature) then you can see the phrase appearing on more than one other website like allwordswitha.com. Since wellspotted has the same definition and is number one this content duplication is not a problem at the moment.|
Google has something of an infatuation with keywords in domain names. This competitor is keen enough to spend money on a domain name which is unlikely to be of use when the contest ends. It doesn’t cost much though at is add interest to the SEO contest.
It is interesting that they used hyphens in the domain to separate the words. It has always bothered my that some people recommend you don’t do that. I quite like the idea even though it can be be a bit long winded saying your domain name over the phone. Can you believe someone has actually registered hyphen-hyphen.com. Try spelling that over the phone.
It crossed my mind to do the same thing – register a domain name using the hatstand aardvark biscuit-barrel keyword. As well as adoring domains names made up of keywords Google has something of a dislike for new domains and sometimes it gives them a good kicking especially if you don’t get a few links sorted out promptly.
08/02/2012 It ranks top on Yahoo, so they are not as fussy as Google. If you check Yahoo remember to include the hyphen between biscuit and barrel. It makes a difference.
|29/01/2012:||8||The very page you are looking at ranked 8th to begin with. I have said above that this website is not in the contest because it has no page rank. For the contest I am using this one which sells branded USB sticks, potentially hatstand aardvark biscuit-barrel shaped USB sticks too. But I doubt it somehow.|
|15/02/2012||3||Am I going to have to eat my hat? Yesterday it ranked 7th. I originally predicted the low page rank of this website would prevent it winning. I still maintain that it won’t actually win but it is having a moment of glory as opposed to hovering around the bottom of Google’s page one. Since the beginning of the contest this page has been updated several times with additions and has become pretty comprehensive.There is ranking factor related to pages that change. I have changed many web pages in my time without seeing a ranking improvement but I wonder if in this case the regular changes plus the growth in content has been recognised and awarded brownie points.If that is the case I wouldn’t propose that as a serious technique to generally improve website ranking because of the effort required. But when you happen to make serious additions to a page repeatedly and fairly frequently it could be judged to be a page of topical importance.|
This page ranked in Google’s search results the day after writing it so that shows the power of getting your on-page SEO sorted out. It also shows how fast Google works these day. Google has a update feed mechanism instead of the old bulk roll-out which took place every few weeks.
christopherjones.biz has no page rank because (bizarrely) I don’t promote it even though search engines are a bit of an obsession. This means this web page simply won’t win the contest in the time frame because higher page rank websites will.
For this website I expect that due to its content it will hover around here and could slip down to page two if more contestants weighed in. It might even get a little page rank if you would care to link!.
wadegymnastics – The black hat technique.
|15/02/2012||9||Still on page 1. Google has not done its check yet to look for black hat techniques. I say well done for making this contest diverse and interesting.|
At number nine we see wadegymnasticsclub’s classic demonstration of the old school black hat manipulation with hidden repetition of the keyword. if you go to their website and type Control-A to Highlight All you can see the way it is done. Here is a screen grab:
The question is will Google’s spam detection process kick in before the contest closing date?
This shows that spamming still works but only for a while. What probably happens is the web page goes into a list and a separate process at Google works its way through the list such that a few weeks later the page is checked. The “policeman” process slaps a penalty on the page and its ranking plummets. It gets a fat wadge of negative brownie points. The danger is the whole website might get penalised so this contestant is playing with fire. Goodbye wadegymnasticsclub.
Between 29th Jan and 4 Feb its ranking rose for 9 to 8 which shows Google doesn’t yet care about the black hat technique.
Back in the old days when Google was barely even a college project I enjoyed the number one slot on several search engines by using this very technique. Is wasn’t long before the search engines caught on and penalised that website. However they weren’t very smart. If you changed the colour of your repeated keywords to be very similar to the background colour so the user couldn’t see them the search engines wouldn’t detect it. Then I discovered css and placed the words behind an image. Those were the days. Nowadays I am an SEO purist. I say don’t even think about being devious because you will come a cropper in the end.
tumblr.com/tagged/hatstand-aardvark-biscuit-barrel – themecloud
|15/02/2012||17||Quite a drop. Could it be that micro-blogging posts have a spontaneous importance which is not lasting? This drop does not really matter since this the purpose of this post is to assist themecloud rather than actually rank highly itself.|
This is a Tumbler micro-blogging post by themecloud who began the contest in the number 2 slot. The SEO value of these entries is limited and probably short lived unless they continue to get “likes” by others. They are useful as a way of creating a link to the main website and Google says it values the human aspect behind these links. Human beings are also spammers so Google should have an algorithm to recognise the difference between real enthusiasm and manipulation. Shouldn’t it? Does it? Will it?
If lots of individuals posted comments on their own Tumbler accounts with a link to the themecloud website that might be sufficient to make themecloud win. So that is probably the technique they have in mind. This should be interesting.
branded usb promo
|04/02/2012||7||This is my entry on one of my websites with a home page rank of 3. It began at position 11 after 29/01/2012 and has moved up to 7. Since it reached that position I have made it into a psuedo category page with links from the left nav menu to see if that can help it up a bit further.|
|15/02/2012||5||Although it looks like an improvement this entry actually ranked 3rd a few days ago. Yesterday it ranked 4th and today 5th. Late yesterday I deployed the technique of adding substantial text with variations of the words hatstand, aardvark and biscuit barrel. I am dubious about that technique but I am here to observe and learn. The movement from 4th to 5th is because of the success of this christopherjones.biz page moving into 3rd place.|