Close but no cigar

Well, thanks to the help of an amazingly generous community, I came pretty darn close to getting to the top of the results for the Nigritude Ultramarine search contest. I'm still kind of astounded at the sheer number of people who chipped in with a link, and I appreciate the help, so I thought I'd figure out what we could have done to get to the top of this contest.

First, there's a small technical issue. My filenames use date and then the "dirified" title of my post. (Dirified just means that it gets rid of any characters or symbols that couldn't appear in a directory name, and then shortens the whole thing about 15 characters.) I did that a while back on my own, but it's the default in Movable Type 3.0 and TypePad, so I wanted to be consistent. Seems like it's pretty future-proof.

But, according to the people who pay attention to such things, Google prefers using hyphens (-) between words in order to separate them in the filename. Words with underscores (_) replacing spaces in filenames don't show up as separate words to Google. Eh, I wasn't gonna try that hard to rig the game. So I just copied my individual archive page to a file named nigritude-ultramarine so Google could pick it up.

(Side note: I've had some people ask me if I think Movable Type should start using hyphens by default for filenames, but I don't think we should start changing a perfectly readable filename just to pander to one search engine. If comment spam is any indication, the engines will evolve to accommodate good content. It's easy enough to change for people who really care, but I personally think permanent, readable URLs is a more important goal than pandering to any single application or search engine.)

My own PageRank is usually around a 7, from what I know (I've been using FireFox for a while, so I can't see the ranking from the Google Toolbar. I guess I could use one of the ranking services to view it.) so I started out in a good place. My site was indexed by Google on Friday just before I put up my contest entry post. If I am right, I think I missed the Googlebot by as little as a few minutes, and so I wasn't picked up again until late last night. I suspect that if I'd have posted on Thursday, I might have won.

However, in addition to PageRank, one of the key measures of relevance is freshness. This I had in spades, by waiting until the end of the contest. All the new inbound links made a big difference in the ranking, I'm sure.

So, I could have posted a day earlier, and changed the filename, and probably made some other tweaks. But the thing that's amazing to me is that I got into somewhere around the Top 50 in a contest with thousands of entrants whose job it is to do this sort of thing. Besides Google having created another accidental market, it's a pretty impressive display of how generous bloggers are, and how we do wield an extraordinary (and disproportionate) amount of power. Well, power in areas like tech and geekery and media and the web. But that's better than being powerful at backgammon or something.

All of this, of course, leads me to my next question. Even though there's a month left before the next part of the contest takes place, can we get everyone with a nigritude ultramarine site to set up a link or redirect to The Hunger Site on their contest entry pages? I bet we could. Certainly wouldn't hurt to try.