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All roads lead to Luton, Bedfordshire

All Roads Lead To Luton

I spent yesterday morning drinking coffee, eating chocolate biscuits and discussing SEO with a couple of Customers. To my delight, I found myself employing a roadmap of the British Isles in their office to help explain SEO and Google's hub & spoke model for measuring website energy. Follow me on this roadtrip analogy and never, ever, get lost or confused about Google again.

Driving in my '80s

The moment I passed my driving test, many years ago, back in the days when cars had manual chokes and satnav didn't exist, I joined the AA at their shop in George Street, Luton. A component of the bundle of stuff I was given as a new member was a map entitled Throughroutes to and from Luton [above] - a map I still carry with me in my car today.

There was (and still is) something very special about this particular map in that it makes me feel as though Luton is the hub of everything, with motorways, trunk roads, bypasses and A roads emanating from the hub (Luton) like spokes on a wheel. The Throughroutes themselves were roads that were printed in red ink which stood-out from the rest. In the days before satnav this kind of hub and spoke map helped drivers quickly identify the best, the most direct and the quickest route of getting from A-B.

The hub and spoke

My favourite map, the one that told the teenage me that all roads lead to (and from) Luton doesn't really look all that different to a roadmap of today. Sure, there'd be a few new motorways and toll roads but you see, it's not the roads that are the important things on a roadmap because what's important are the nodal points along the roads; the towns and cities themselves. The roads themselves are merely links between places of importance.

If you were to pin the Throughroutes to and from Luton roadmap to a wall and stand-back from it, to defocus your eyes, then you'd clearly see the red-lined hub and spoke model jump-out of the map. From this you'd be able to deduce that, on this particular map, the most important thing is a thing called Luton.

So how can a roadmap tell you about SEO?

Yesterday, whilst discussing SEO in a Customer's office, I stood up to engage the help of their very own roadmap of the UK, hanging framed upon their office wall. My argument went a little like this:

Imagine you're an alien robot

Imagine that you were an alien robot that had just been beamed down here to Earth and were stood in this office facing that roadmap of the UK. After a brief scan of the roads you would be able to very quickly deduce that the most important thing on the map was a thing called London; because the thing called London was the hub to which all roads appear to lead to. You'd be even more certain, on your subsequent travel to the thing, that this thing is called London because the road you set out on is called London Road and, as you approach the thing, you begin to see signposts pointing and counting down the mileage to the thing.

Now imagine you're a Google search engine robot

Your job is not to scan roads but explore web connectivity. Nodal points change from towns to websites and the roads become hyperlinks. Google is able to calculate which websites are very important by sending-out software robots on crawls across the Web to analyse the hyperlinks (the roads) connecting websites.

Your robot logic tells you that the more inbound links a website has then the more important a website must be. Why else would one website place a hyperlink as an implied invitation to leave and go elsewhere unless, of course, the link took you to a website of value and significance? You'd count the number of inbound links and use this number in your algorithmic calculation of the 'worth' of the website that, just for the duration of your calculation, is your focus and the hub of the Web.

Your robot logic would tell you to take note of the words which form the hyperlinks because these words will, almost certainly, offer further clues as to why this link exists and what you may find when you follow it.

Make the connection

Google will happily tell you that there are at least 200 factors (of which one will be the count of inbound links) which it takes into consideration when calculating a search engine rank. It's safe to assume that there's likely to be way more than the quoted figure of 200 factors that Google uses to hide behind to protect sensitive details of its algorithms. Securing backlinks to your website from the websites of others is a very important component of SEO - hyperlinks are, after all, the fundamental connections which turn individual, isolated web pages of HTML into the interconnected Web we know and love. But don't slip into the misguided belief that getting your website to the top of the search engine rankings can be achieved through just one tactic. Building inbound links affects, at the very best, just 1/200th of Google's opinion of your website. By working upon the basis of a balanced scorecard Google isn't that fallible and doesn't believe for one moment that all roads lead to Luton.

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