Hi Kahala ~
You ask an interesting question; and at risk of appearing flippant,
the *easy* answer to your question is that those two sites
consistantly appear in first and second place in the "organic" search
results because Google considers them to be the most relevant sites
available in answer to the query for the term "hawaiian shirts".
That's too easy, though, and I assume you are wondering why they are
considered the most relevant; afterall, neither has more links than
others ranking lower in search engine results pages (SERPs); and
frankly, some of the design principles utilized may be less than
That is a reasonable question to ask, especially when others are out
there scrambling to get links to their sites and rewriting copy like
mad to position key words and phrases in "this" or "that" spot to try
to gain a higher ranking in SERPs.
In order to help you understand what is happening, it helps to first
understand that Google - and any of the other search engines - owes
its responsibility to the searcher, not the webmasters. After all, if
they return rubbish in answer to a search query, they're not going to
stay in business for long.
Google takes this seriously, so seriously, in fact, that they've
reduced their promise or "mission" to writing in its "GOOGLE TODAY",
While it may be argued they don't always appear to practice what they
preach, there is no argument that Google are always striving to
improve and deliver on that promise. And while it may seem like - or
may even have at one time actually been - sites with hundreds of links
to them rank better, regardless of the site's actual content; this
simply isn't so.
For every grousing about a site losing its SERPs ranking, there is
solid evidence that *relevant* content will and can keep you ranking
well no matter what Google does with its algorithms.
Consider, if you will, why people use a search engine. They are:
1. Looking for the URL a particular or known site;
2. Looking for information about a particular subject; or
3. Looking for prices and/or to purchase something.
Now consider these first two sites:
I don't think anyone can argue that www.vintagehawaiianshirt.net/ is
probably *** the *** definitive source of information, especially
visual information on Hawaiian shirts. The site isn't designed all
that well, but it is navigable, and wow, the visuals are outstanding.
The wealth of information, no matter what I might be looking for, is
just stunning. Where else could you put such a site? And he's not
selling a thing. Even someone looking to buy a shirt would find this a
good place to look, if for no other reason than to get a good look at
what the vintage Hawaiian shirts are.
As for "Paradise On A Hanger", www.hotshirts.com/, this site, too has
a wealth of information on Hawaiian shirts, is easy to navigate, and
also gives the visitor the opportunity to purchase the shirts. While
it's true there are some peripherals involved, such as dresses,
flowers, accessories, the site is nonetheless obviously devoted mostly
to Hawaiian shirts and buying Hawaiian shirts. Again, there is a
wealth of relevant information and if I were going to hand rank sites,
I would these two as standouts.
After these two sites, the rest are hard-pressed to compete in terms
of quality and content. Looking at other sites at random within the
first five pages of SERPs, the information is either scant or
certainly not the real focus of the site.
While it may have been true for a while that if you didn't have enough
content you could 'game' your way into a higher ranking by gathering
an unreal amount of incoming links, the minute the quality of the
SERPs started falling, it was really only a matter of time before
they'd find a way to make irrelevant links worthless and go back to
weighting things in favor of relevancy.
If you do a search on either of those domains you will get a page that
not only gives you the ability to see the links, but pages which
contain the term of those pages:
For "Vintage Shirts",
Links: About 29
Contain the term: About 286
For "Paradise On A Hanger"
Links: About 70
Contain the term: About 1280
And if you look, you can tell that these are not all "directory" or
pages of links, there are some terrific links from sites which are
authoritative in themselves. These sites don't try to play the system,
their content is good enough others will naturally link to them
because they want to.
For years the real experts in search engine optimization, web design,
web development and marketing have put an emphasis on content.
Sometimes it looked like they were preaching to an empty house,
especially if some found a way to game the system. The archives from
some of the longest newsletters and digests are filled with "content
is king". The archives are also filled with those who listened
attesting to the fact that any major changes in algorithms didn't
affect their sites ranking in SERPs much at all.
If you care to, you can search the archives of such publications, such
as the long-running Link Exchange Digest,
Or Danny Sullivan's Search Engine Watch,
Or the old I-Sales and/or I-Search Digests, now owned and archived by
Andy Bourland's Marketing VOX,
If, as you say, these sites haven't fluctuated much from their rank in
the last couple of years, they attest to that, too.
While the term "Hawaiian shirts" isn't as competitive as other search
terms may be, the same holds true across the board - it is merely more
noticeable with a term like "Hawaiian shirts".
Even Google emphasizes the importance of content in its Webmaster Guidelines,
"Create a useful, information-rich site and write pages
that clearly and accurately describe your content.
Think about the words users would type to find your
pages, and make sure that your site actually includes
those words within it."
In the case here, the content is good enough, and there is a
considerable amount of it, that it keeps those sites where they really
should be, among the first listed in the SERPs for that term.
Search terms ~
Google + relevancy
Google + relevant content
I trust this answers your question. Looking at this from the
searcher's point of view, Google got it right.
Google Answers Researcher