I love this quote from SEO Theory’s rant on search engine rankings.
We need to stop thinking and talking about “the ranking algorithm” and start thinking about “the ranking system”. The search engines are bringing field artillery to the gunfight and you’re standing there with a water pistol. You have to scale up your metaphorical landscape so that you’re talking about the same level of complexity they are.
I agree that it’s silly to talk about a ranking algorithm. It should really be called a ranking system. It’s so complex that no one can dissect it and come up with answers, though many SEOs have claimed to do so. What we can do is test our web pages and see if we have some understanding of what is working.
Are you testing your SEO tactics? Do you know if it works when you add a link from a particular types of website? Do you know if using one keyword phrase makes a difference over another?
Search engine rankings are some of the most complex systems known or devised by man. You can’t second guess them. You can’t predict. And you can’t really reverse engineer them. But you can observe them.