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Jul 7, 2009 04:57 PM

Search optimization: Why do Chowhound threads get such fantastic placement in Google results?

I am amazed at - if I post to Chowhound or read a thread, and then Google some word from one of the posts - how high up that thread tends to appear in Google results... and how quickly after things are posted.

It is wonderful for finding threads when I'm on my mobile and need to know the name of that restaurant or ingredient brand.

I know there can be different strategies for search engine optimization... but in general I'm really curious as to what Chowhound did to get such great (nonsponsored) results. I'd have to find and reread Google's pages on its search to recall what factors can apply. One of the things I was wondering is if there's some effect from the online largesse of Chow parent CBS.

However they are doing it, really nice work.

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  1. Chowhound threads have always indexed high, and usually fast, on google, going back the ~10 years I've been a Chowhound user - and prior to 2006, there was no corporate ownership (as Jim Leff, the co-founder, used to say, it was held together with rubber bands and paper clips). I don't know what the indexing protocols are, but I don't think they reflect CBS's might.

    1 Reply
    1. re: Caitlin McGrath

      Thanks for the historical perspective. Hmmmm.

    2. Good question! In fact, it's a multimillion dollar question how Google indexes search results. I suspect that these factors come into play:

      Frequent references from other sites and within the site
      Frequent updating
      The number of users on Chowhound / times that the website is hit / period of time

      1 Reply
      1. re: cimui

        Hmm... also the possibility of Silicon Valley foodies. Maybe they've got an AI bot that keeps ordering out.

        I noticed the title of this thread shows up not only as its own link in Google search results, but also in a few other Chowhound pages pointing to that link (on account, I think, of various thread titles being mentioned in the 'latest board posts' feature that you should see at the bottom right of your screen).


        There is no secret to high rankings, just skilled website techs.

        23 Replies
        1. re: HillJ

          It's funny how cynical we all get.

          The aim of Google is to float honest, genuine, authentic, helpful good info to the top. That's the sort of content Chowhound's always tried to provide....and so Google has always floated us to the top. This is how it's SUPPOSED to work! :)

          For our first nine years, I paid zero attention to search engine optimization. CNET, when they redid the software, paid lots of attention. I'm not sure how much diff it made.

          1. re: Jim Leff

            From a quality standpoint I'd like to believe it makes no difference; that like minded hounds will sniff eachother out with ease and consistency but from a business frame numbers crunched, data stored, "hits" - this makes the suits all giggly.

            1. re: HillJ

              and, if the "aim" is to float authentic..the advertising shouldn't be discounted either.
              Google is a one arm ad bandit and the current CH has never been more ad driven. A marriage of authentic advertising.

              1. re: HillJ

                You lost me!

                My point, again, is that Google aims to boost useful content and sink useless content. So the choice for a webmaster is either to 1. offer useful content and let nature take its course, or 2. try to "game" Google. Our perpetually high standing in Google for our twelve (yikes!) years of existence is the result of #1, not #2. So this is just the Web - and Google - working as it should... not a demonstration of superior gamesmanship.

                1. re: Jim Leff

                  You lost me. Advertising doesn't factor in. Ok.

                  Have a good day.

                  1. re: HillJ

                    I think the point Jim is making is that over a 12 year period, the rankings have not changed despite a change (increase) in advertising or google gamesmanship. Since there is no apparent difference between low advertising/google gamesmanship and high advertising/google gamesmanship, the results of the high ranking must be due to other factors.

                      1. re: HillJ

                        Why not? Per Jim's explanation the constant has been useful content and the variable has been advertising. Since the results have been the same for the site in either case; high Google ranking, the answer comes back to the constant.

                2. re: HillJ

                  >>""Google is a one arm ad bandit and the current CH has never been more ad driven. A marriage of authentic advertising."<<

                  Whuh? Yes, Google pays its bills by selling ads - on Google. Just like Chowhound pays its bills by selling ads on Chowhound. But the ads that run on Chowhound don't drive the Google page rankings.

                  It would be suicidal for Google to rank a page based on the ads found on the ranked page. Advertisers could then just advertise on the ranked page instead of on Google, whereupon Google's revenue stream would dry up. Not a good business model.

                  The reason people use Google is that, more than any other search engine, it points you at good websites that have the information you're looking for. Chowhound shows up high in the Google page rankings because it's a good site. It has nothing to do with who's buying advertising here.

                  What drives a Google ranking is the perceived quality of a webpage. Quality is measured using an algorithm that takes into account the number of other websites that direct traffic to the ranked site, the number of visits the site receives, the frequency with which the information changes, and zillions of other things.

                  I'm in the process of updating my business website right now. There are companies that you can pay for search engine optimization, but my tech guy says that the only sure way to score high in the search results is to put high-quality information on the site and update it regularly. Which means that at the moment I'm supposed to be writing an informative article instead of posting on Chowhound.

                  1. re: alanbarnes

                    a.b., do you have a Google AdWords account?

                      1. re: alanbarnes

                        I own three accounts.

                        Then you may be familiar with the range an advertiser has in his account to cross promote & sell, etc. I would never argue the value of this site, its content, vision or impact. But I do have a diff perspective about advertising, search engines, not just Google, and the cross promotion/marketing that occurs business to business.

                        Again, my perspective and my experience frame is the only one I'm speaking from. I respectively read what everyone has to say and appreciate your perspective.

                        1. re: HillJ

                          When it comes to explaining Chowhound's Google success, both pre and post sale I think the best explanation falls into an Occam's Razor type aphorism: "When you hear hoofbeats, think horses, not zebras"

                          1. re: Servorg

                            now here I was thinking the whole zoo-logical :)

                            1. re: Servorg

                              Uh oh. A lot of people cut themselves to shreds with that razor, taking an inappropriately reductionist view.

                              I favor this explanation: "The simplest hypothesis is to be accepted only if it explains the relevant circumstances as well as the other hypotheses. If two hypotheses differ in their explanatory power, it is not proper to apply Occam's Razor to choose between them. It would be foolish to adopt a
                              methodological principle that commits us to accept an incorrect explanation merely because it is simpler than a more correct one."

                              When you hear hoofbeats, think "hey, I think I heard hoofbeats," not horses.

                              1. re: Cinnamon

                                I might buy into that approach if the fact of the old Jim and Bob CH wasn't so clearly and utterly about the content driving the sites high Google ranking. I mean they had only enough money to keep the engine limping along on one cylinder (with bad rings and smoke pouring out of the rear tailpipe). Zero advertising. That would be a zero with a capital Z. So what other possible convoluted hypothesis are you going to gin up to explain the Google phenomena? Alien intervention? Black mail photos of the Google boys worshiping a backyard statue of Bill Gates? In this case the simplest explanation is the right one. Content is King.

                                1. re: Servorg

                                  I'd love to hear from a CBS person about cross promotion;
                                  then I'll drink the Kool Aid. Regardless, its not the years of member or CHOW staff content I question.

                                  1. re: HillJ

                                    I guess I'm still not clear about what it is you're questioning? Content drove the old CH Google ranking. There was nothing else available to drive it. Are you saying that now it's something else? The ad dollars? Why would today be different than yesterday?

                                    1. re: Servorg

                                      Servorg, I'm asking, naturally curious. You see the ads, the sponsors, the cross promotion of this site & its content everywhere on the Net. In many forms. Different than "yesterday" yes it is. Do I need to have an answer to why does CH rec' such fantastic placement-no. But, since the OP raised it...

                                    2. re: HillJ

                                      I think you're confusing AdWords and natural language results. AFAIK cross-promotion applies with the former, not the latter. The natural language results have a pretty good reputation, and a high standard to maintain. If you have any information that suggests they're tainted, feel free to share. But I think one of the reasons Google is so well regarded is because the natural language results are driven by quality alone.

                                      1. re: alanbarnes

                                        AFAIK, the answers lie w/the people running this site. Wouldn't it be prudent and far more specific to hear from those who can actually answer this specific question as it relates to the original OP rather than risk a locked thread over a sidebar tangent?

                                        However, if sidebar is allowed I have one ?, does cross promotion aid this site?

                                    3. re: Servorg

                                      Servorg, I was only commenting on essential aspects of Occam's Razor! Nothing at all as regards the assertions that Chowhound rose in search results due to good content. That's fine with me.

                    1. re: Jim Leff

                      Well, nice going no matter what! (And very convenient, for those of us trying to remember where that promising restaurant might be, tapping out relevant search words on our mobile phone Web browsers while our stomachs are growling and we're about to give in and drive through Del Taco.)

                  2. I know that googling for info that I posted about, and didn't get from Chowhound (yes,rare),usually just takes me to my post first. Been that way for years.

                    4 Replies
                    1. re: Bobfrmia

                      It's a new age, isn't it? In, say, 1986, the stuff you said vanished into the ether. Now it's all major media. How weird.

                      I often told friends that I wrote my various guidebooks with the selfish intent of being able to go into any bookstore in the America to grab the address/phone of my favorite restaurants. But that's nothing compared to the Internet......

                      1. re: Jim Leff

                        Digression but I do wonder about the deluge of new information... how easy will it be in 20 years to find something you posted in 2009? It's tidal wave after tidal wave of new info and either a need for a greater capacity to store it, or eventual deletion.

                        1. re: Cinnamon

                          Store it. Internet users must develop searching skills in any case to drink meaningfully from the torrent, and currency is just another parameter for them to factor in.

                          Content providers ought to be diligent about tagging their content with dates, and web sites (especially this one) ought to make searching as ergonomic and flexible as possible, but in the end, the idea of removing data from view to improve user experience is an old media holdover that's completely mindless in this age of cheap hard drives and infinite cyberspace. The beautiful thing about the Internet is that it allows people to make use of content in ways the provider hadn't anticipated. So the owners of a site like Chowhound oughtn't arbitrarily decide it's in users' best interest to purge, say, all Florida discussion prior to 2003. Let the users selectively ignore, as they do throughout their surfing experiences in a jillion other ways.

                        2. re: Jim Leff

                          A new age indeed.
                          My first grandson lives 700 miles away, but I watched his first taste of real food on youtube 2 minutes after he tried it. Never seen quite that reaction to avocado before. Early indications are that guacamole is not in his future.

                        Interview on today's front page; mention of CH via Nora's interview. Very nice example of unexpected cross promotion.

                        10 Replies
                        1. re: HillJ

                          Maybe I am having a problem with the term "cross promotion." Especially when it's used in a context like this, where someone mentions in an interview that they read and use the site to select restaurants. Obviously Nora Ephron is not "promoting" the site in any business sense. And is your posting of a link to the interview more "cross promotion?" Because again it is obvious that I, and many other hounds, will take a look at it. Thus driving up CH's recognition on Google to an even higher level.

                          1. re: Servorg

                            Fans of Matt's blog/site will or won't contribute to cross promoting sites mentioned in the interview/article. But, yes-cross promotion works a number of ways. Not the least of which is viral "word of mouth" :)

                            CH's mention includes a link directing readers to this site. I thought the "nod" from Matt was worth sharing here.

                            I enjoy cross promotion and believe it has greatly enhanced this site.

                            1. re: HillJ

                              So are you saying that Nora Ephron's mention of CH in this interview is a case of "word of mouth" viral marketing? If that's the case who paid Nora off? Is Nora just another CH shill out there helping Chowhound to take over the world ala Dr. Evil? I always thought it was the phone companies that were going to take over.

                              Really, I have to ask what it is you are driving at with your posts about all of this? Are you saying that something nefarious is going on between CBS/CH and other sites? Are you interested in business metrics of how much CBS is earning off of CH through advertising? You are pretty coy in your innuendo here. Why not cut to the chase and just say right out front what it is that bugs you about possible "cross promotion" or CH Google ranking (whatever it's based on). I feel like I'm trying to grasp smoke in attempting to get to the meat of your posts on this thread. And while smoke makes for good Q it doesn't do much for making an argument clear or convincing.

                              1. re: Servorg

                                Nora Ephron's quote is from Matt's interview. I didn't write it, I shared it as an example of how CH's website is shared easily with fellow readers. CH doesn't self promote on its own, there are dozens of examples were it receives kind and useful mention.

                                My earlier reference to CBS is an entirely different question. You, Servorg, are making assumptions from my comments. Not necessary. Your rather heated comments are off base from my curiosity.

                                BTW-I said I enjoy cross promotion. So perhaps you can read what I wrote next time.

                              2. re: HillJ

                                HillJ... you mentioned "unexpected" cross-promotion - what might help clarify for Servorg here is whether you mean that this was a promotional mention specifically as part of a business arrangement (as many definitions of cross-promotion tend toward), vs. that this was simply an honest mention not made because of business, that helped out Chowhound, and that prior, Chowhound had somehow done similar as regards that author or site or whatever.

                                I suspect there's nothing nefarious in your post, but that the use of the term "cross-promotion" doesn't adequately describe what you meant, because "cross-promotion" is so associated with business arrangements despite pioneering use of the term otherwise.

                                1. re: Cinnamon

                                  Cinn, there is nothing nefarious or negative about my post. Matt wrote the interview. Nora E. mentioned CH and I shared the lovely interview as an example of how a site like CH is shared. Cross promotion has many definitions. CH was not the focus of Matt's interview but struck me as a lovely example of how within a story the site is highlighted, leading (possibility) to new interest/members.

                                  1. re: HillJ

                                    Just trying to clarify, which of these are you implying? is this a case of:

                                    (A) CBS/Cnet/Chow made some of sort business arrangement where Nora Ephron promotes CH and in return, CBS/CNet/Chow promotes Nora and/or her films.


                                    (B) Nora happens to read CH because she liked it for some reason and when asked during the interview, she mentions it.


                                    (C) Nora thinks that she can get wider exposure for her films if she mentions CH, because it would be picked up in searches, leading to discussion of her films on CH and elsewhere.

                                    1. re: limster

                                      None of the above.
                                      What does Ephron/Matt's blog have to do with CBS?
                                      What does a question I asked about cross promotion/CBS that was not answered days ago... have to do with posting a blog interview today?

                                      Okay good CH people, was my curiosity that heavy handed to warrant some hard core reply? Sorry some of you felt it was.

                                      Moving on.

                                      CH Team feel free to delete any part of my comments above.

                                      1. re: HillJ

                                        When I questioned your use of the term "cross promotion" in reference to Nora Ephron's siting CH as a site she uses to find restaurant recommendations you said:

                                        "Fans of Matt's blog/site will or won't contribute to cross promoting sites mentioned in the interview/article. But, yes-cross promotion works a number of ways. Not the least of which is viral "word of mouth" :)"

                                        You brought up viral "word of mouth" marketing in this context, not me. You seem to be saying you suspect viral marketing is going on with Nora Ephron's mention of CH. Or are you? You seem to run up to the edge of saying something and then you back away three steps. That's quite confusing and my frustration in not being able to understand what you are driving at got the better of me in my reply. I am just trying to get what it is you believe. I'm still flailing around in the dark. No disrespect implied or intended to you or your thoughts, HillJ. Just trying to "get" it.

                                        1. re: HillJ

                                          I'm totally confused. Not trying to argue or anything, but just completely lost here, and need help to understand.

                                          How about a yes or no choice - when you say cross-promotion, do you mean that Nora mentioned CH because of a business deal with CBS/Cnet/CH?