Jorum and Google ranking

Les Carr has posted an interesting analysis of Visibility of OER Material: the Jorum Learning and Teaching Competition. He searches for six resources on Google and compares the ranking in the results page of the resource on Google with the resource elsewhere. The results are mixed: sometimes Jorum has the top place sometimes some other site (institutional or author’s site) is top, though it should be said that with one exception we’re talking about which is first and which is second. In other words both would be found quite easily.

Les concludes:

Can we draw any general patterns from this small sample? To be honest, I don’t think so! The range of institutions is too diverse. Some of the alternative locations are highly visible, so it is not surprising that Jorum is eclipsed by their ranking (e.g. Cambridge, very newsworthy Gurkhas international organisation). Some 49% of Open Jorum’s records provide links to external sources rather than holding bitstream contents directly. It would be very interesting to see the bigger picture of OER visibility by undertaking a more comprehensive survey.

Yes it would be very interesting to see the bigger picture, and also it would be interesting to see a more thorough investigation of just the Jorum’s role (I don’t think Les will mind the implication that he has no more than scraped the surface).

Some random thoughts that this raises in my mind:

  • Title searches are too easy, the quality of resource description will only be tested by searching for the keywords that are really used by people looking for these resources. Some will know the title of the resource, but not many. Just have a play with using the most important one or two words from the title rather than the whole title and see how the results change.
  • To say that Jorum enhances/doesn’t enhance visibility depending on whether it comes above or below the alternative sites is too simplistic. If it links to the other site Jorum will enhance the visibility of that site even if it ranks below it; having the same resource represented twice in the search engine results page enhances its visibility no matter what the ordering; on the other hand, having links from elsewhere pointing to two separate sites probably reduces the visibility of both.
  • Sometimes Jorum hosts a copy of the resource, sometimes it just points to a copy elsewhere; that’s got to have an effect (hasn’t it?).
  • What is the cause of the difference? When I’ve tried similar (very superficial) comparisons, I’ve noticed that Jorum gets some of the basics of SEO right (e.g. using the resource’s title in the HTML Title element; curiously it doesn’t seem to use the HTML Description element). How does this compare to other hosts? I’ve noticed some other OER sites that don’t get this right, so we could see Jorum as guaranteeing a certain basic quality of resource discovery rather than as necessarily enhancing visibility. (Question: is this really necessary?)
  • What happens over time? Do people link to the copy in the Jorum or elsewhere. This will vary a lot, but there may be a trend. I’ll note in passing that choosing six resources that had been promoted by Jorum’s learning and teaching competition may have skewed the results.
  • Which should be highest ranked anyway? Do we want Jorum to be highly ranked to reflect its role as part of the national infrastructure, a place to showcase what you’ve produced; or do institutions see releasing OERs as part of a marketing strategy, and the best Jorum can do is quietly improve the ranking of the OERs on the institution’s site by linking to them? This surely relates to the choice between having Jorum host the resource or just having it link to the resource on the institutions site (doesn’t it?).

Sorry, all questions and no answers!

3 thoughts on “Jorum and Google ranking

  1. I used the title, because in the case where the resource is not on Jorum, the title is pretty much all that Google has to go on. Often you can’t use the keywords because they’re only on Jorum and not on the original site!

  2. Really? I suppose if you mean the specific keywords that Jorum have assigned then that would be true, but I was meaning keywords more broadly. So for the “Molecular Basis of Photosynthesis” resource “chlorophyll” would be a keyword that is mentioned (lots) in the resource on the site but not on Jorum.

    I don’t think it makes much sense to measure findability against anything other than the terms people use when searching. (Not criticising your choice of title for a quick-and-dirty test, just hoping that something better will follow.)

  3. I think that the implication that he has only “scratched the surface” is a very applicable one indeed. I also would add that when trying to theorize Google ranking, the game can be very unpredictable, at least that has been my experience.

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