What prompted me to write this is the result of a simple Google search for the word “Jihad”. Allow me to summarize the functionality of a Google search; how it is understood and intended to work.
While my knowledge comes from a variety of sources, it is in line with well-known public authority on the subject of Search Engine Optimization (SEO), Matt Cutts. He is an employee and (until recently) a spokesperson for both Google and its search engine, and now works for the Pentagon.
Google published an “overview” of how SEO works, but in a nutshell, Google searches for the freshest, most authoritative, easiest-to-display (desktop/laptop and mobile) content to serve its search engine users. It crawls, caches (grabs) content, calculates the speed of download, looks at textual content, counts words to find relevance, and compares how it looks on different sized devices. It not only analyzes what other sites link to it, but counts the number of these links and then determines their quality, meaning the degree to which the links in those sites are considered authoritative.
Further, there are algorithms in place that block the listing of “spammy” sites, although, spam would not be relevant here. And recently, they have claimed to boost sites using HTTPS to promote security and privacy (fox henhouse?).
There are a few exceptions with which I don’t think anyone would take issue: A search for a single word might bring up a dictionary or encyclopedia, but more often, they add Wikipedia to the list of results, especially if it is a particularly busy Wiki page that sees near-constant updates.
There is a way to beat these results and get to the top; by paying for it. The Google Adwords service, places these ads at the top, but very clearly identifies them with a little “Ad” icon.
This is not, however, what is happening with the search I mentioned earlier. From within the United States, when you search for the word “Jihad” in the Google search engine, the result is a list of 32 million results, the top four of which (in order) are as follows:
- A dictionary definition
- A link to “Islamic Supreme Council”
- A link to “Jihad Watch”
Understanding the previously explained exceptions, let’s ignore the definition and Wikipedia link and skip directly to results three and four.
As I do the server and site management, I know first hand why JihadWatch.org would be among the top results. Based on SEO best practices, the major and most pertinent reasons why this website would be given such a high ranking in such a competitive (32 million results) search are as follows:
- Robert Spencer (an accomplished author and prolific blogger) adds a minimum of 10 posts of Jihad-related news stories, daily.
- The search word “Jihad” is in the domain name, which always gives a massive boost.
- An analysis (jihad site:jihadwatch.org) of how many times the word “Jihad” occurs on JihadWatch.org shows that it is mentioned in excess of 35,000 times. This provides a solid enough validation that the main focus of discussion is “Jihad” and, therefore, increases its ranking.
- A search for just “jihadwatch.org” shows that it is mentioned on 631,000 other sites pages. This is the linking that I mentioned earlier used to determine the degree to which a site is consider authoritative and the number of references to JihadWatch.org are such that this further increases its ranking.
- JihadWatch.org is currently the 10,488th most popular website in the US. This fluctuates, but not by much.
- The site uses HTTPS and a responsive (mobile friendly) theme, so it looks great on any device.
So, JihadWatch.org, objectively and without bias meets the criteria for top ranking sites resulting from a search on the word “Jihad”.
But what about the site that outranked them and sits essentially at number one of sites that are neither the stock definition or Wikipedia link? This IslamicSupremeCouncil.org. I had actually never heard of them. So I made a few queries of people I know who have studied Islam. They had never heard of this group either. How, then, did they warrant such a high ranking that is (supposedly) based on unbiased criteria and algorithms?