If you have a Harry Potter, Star Trek, Star Wars, Fringe, Battlestar Galactica, or other science fiction fan site, you may have found yourself asking a couple of questions over the past few months:
1) Where have all the good fan sites gone?
2) Why doesn’t my site show up for “harry potter”, “star trek”, etc. when I search on Google?
There was a time when you could search on a small expression and find some really good fan sites for all sorts of movie, television, and book franchises. Google has now made that pretty much impossible. You almost have to know exactly which sites to search for before you can find them.
Why is that? Because Google has cluttered search results with low-quality commercial and semi-commercial sites like IMDB, Wikipedia, various magazine Web sites, and other non-fan oriented content. Google’s algorithm takes over 200 factors into consideration when ranking Web pages but in January they cranked up the importance for what they call “trust”. Google CEO Eric Schmidt last year started telling people that the Web really needs to be dominated by so-called “brand” Web sites (mostly commercial Web sites).
Naturally, Google’s algorithm has screwed over the science fiction and fantasy community by promoting ad-laden commercial Web sites, low-quality Wiki sites, and other “brands” to the top of many science fiction and fantasy queries. There are certainly some sites (like my own network) which, having been around for years, have accrued enough trust that we can compete with the big guns for a lot of queries.
But I already know where to find my own sites. I’m always trying to find new SF fan sites and Google has made that task more difficult. Even if you search for “star trek fan sites” you’ll find sites like Wikipedia, Wired, and Startrek.com dominating the front page of Google’s search results. It’s a sad day for everyone when a search engine deliberately promotes commercial or irrelevant content over the most relevant content.
Where to find science fiction fan sites
You actually get better results from Ask, Microsoft Live, and Yahoo!. The problem is, a lot of people use Google to find Web sites so Google is cheating the science fiction fandom community by burying Web sites which have not earned enough trust to soar through the rankings.
How to improve your Google search results for scifi fan sites
Now, if you’re a Webmaster who has lost search engine traffic, you may be wondering what you can do about this. Frankly, as a professional search engine optimizer who has been doing this for almost 11 years, I can only say there is very little you can do. You cannot compete with these sites on the basis of links because they have hundreds of thousands, sometimes millions of links pointing at them. Good luck accruing that kind of link profile. But the good news is that my sites only have thousands of links pointing at them and the fact they are able to appear in now-competitive queries means you don’t have to match the big guns link-for-link.
One thing you can do is use the expression “fan site” in your page titles and 2-3 times in your page copy. Use H1 headers or large font elements to give your page titles emphasis. Don’t repeat the terms endlessly — that makes you look cheap. But if you have a Harry Potter fan site mention “Harry Potter” several times on every relevant page.
You can also change the way you link to other fan sites. Let’s say you have a fan sites page where you link to 15 or 20 sites you like. If you link to MuggleNet, TheOneRing.net. TrekWeb, TheForce.Net, NarniaFans, SF-Fandom, Xenite.Org, etc., don’t worry about what anchor text you use. Those sites all have thousands of links pointing at them. They rank well for their major expressions and many other expressions.
If you link to small fan sites you really like or that your friends ask you to help promote, use link anchor text like Harry Potter fan site by Michael Martinez. If the site has a special name, include it at the end of the anchor text. Just be sure to name the genre or franchise, include the words “fan site”, and then give some attribution.
If you link to 15-20 fan sites this way your own fan site will become more relevant to the major expression — so it helps a little (but the odds of your fan sites page outranking IMDB are pretty slim).
You should also link to searches on Ask, Live, and Yahoo! to help people find other fan sites:
What this does is remind fans that they don’t have to rely on Google to find good quality sites (especially since Google is determined to NOT show good quality sites). Don’t assume those links will help any of the sites, though, as the major search engines tend to ignore links in search engine results pages. Do this for your visitors.
If you write a blog on WordPress.com or another service that uses communal tagging, use tags that are relevant when you tell people about fan sites. Use “Harry Potter fan sites” as a tag for any post about a cool new Harry Potter fan site. Use “Star Trek fan sites” as a tag for any post about a cool new Star Trek fan site. People visit those tag pages and look at the blog posts. This post uses “fan sites” as a tag.
Blogger does not use communal tagging at this time. The tags you create on Blogger are only relevant to your own blog. Sorry.
How to find science fiction fan sites in spite of Google
If you are just searching for fan sites, try different queries. If you’re emotionally committed to using only Google, you can use queries to exclude sites from your search results. Here is an example:
star wars fan site -site:starwars.com -site:imdb.com -site:wikipedia.org -site:wikia.com
It’s a pain to have filter out the less relevant “trusted” sites in Google’s search results, so you really should try to use other search engines and longer queries.
Another thing you can do is click through to deep search results, starting around page 10. Google eventually has to show you some real content and not just the commercial sites, so if you dig deep you’ll find Web sites. I recently compiled a list of 36 real Harry Potter fan sites (beyond the usual top 4-5 we all know about) by clicking deep into Google’s search results.
If you see WordPress bloggers tagging their posts with “harry potter fan sites”, etc. click on the tags and see who else is writing about fan sites.
You don’t have to take Google’s nonsense lying down. If you want to find good science fiction fan sites, ignore the low-quality commercial crap Google throws in your face. Use other search engines, change your queries, and dig deep into the results. You should also bookmark and promote niche science fiction Web directories like Brad Enslen’s SciFi Web Directory, SciFi Source’s SciFi Web Directory, and others.
It’s not easy to find good fan sites any more but you can still do this. Help your fellow fans by promoting their sites through your links, your blog posts, and your social media tags.
SF-Fandom is a fan-run moderated Web discussion community devoted to science fiction, fantasy, history, and mythology. Founded in 2001, SF-Fandom is part of the Xenite.Org Network of science fiction and fantasy Web sites.