We've been out of private beta for only two days, and stackoverflow.com is already ranking high in Google Search.

Are there any specific techniques applied in the site? I've been researching the subject for some time and haven't found it to be so easy.

Searching 'stackoverflow' even returns site-links.

(Another example search)

  • Your second search does not provide any results for me with Stackoverflow. Perhaps your search was personalised or localised for you by Google.
    – Liam
    Commented Nov 4, 2008 at 16:57

20 Answers 20


Disclaimer: I find this a very interesting topic, so I've scanned through every single answer, and now I want to summarize here what I've just learned and group all good links in one place.

And make no mistake, Search Engine Optimization today is all about Google, even while people want to avoid saying it (just count words for "Yahoo" or anything else there).

Content is King

"The Golden Rule of SEO: Content is King" is the first thing to consider. It's quite simple: have good content. That's the primary reason Stack Overflow has a chance to rank at Google, simply because of how page ranking works.

Websites that have no optimization or guidelines concerns whatsoever but got nice stuff have a great chance of ranking high, because there will be people linking to good content. And most sites trying to do SEO without content won't rank well because nobody will link to them.

With that been said, Stack Overflow does a lot of work from a long time ago to keep clean HTML code...

Clean code has its value

One good example is how rel='canonical' is applied in here to keep search engines away from linking to duplicate content. For instance, let's get this page source:

<link rel="canonical" href="https://meta.stackexchange.com/questions/14056/seo-in-stackoverflow"> 

That is an optimization that will not help to directly rank in the search engine, but it will make the results the engine can find much more relevant and through that it might generate more links (from people who found what they were looking for) to the good content it already have, thus actually indirectly improving its rank.

So clean and optimized HTML does work in conjunction with good content...

But content comes first.


SEO people say "Content is King" - SO is all about the content, which grows and changes by the minute. This is also something that ranks high with Google, and as Daok points out, having lots of high profile sites linking to it, Google rates it highly.

  • 11
    Google has indexed 500,000 pages of stackoverflow.com in under 6 weeks! That's a lot of content! It would have slowed down if it did not find that the content was useful to Google's users, e.g. they search for something in Google, click on an SO result, and don't go back to Google for some time.
    – Liam
    Commented Nov 4, 2008 at 17:09

The single most important factor in a site's ranking on Google is how many sites link to it. Stack Overflow is being discussed relatively heavily in the tech-press and blogs, quickly giving it a high ranking.

  • Let's not forget the beta-period as well.
    – tovare
    Commented Sep 17, 2008 at 18:51
  • 2
    the site was cloaked to google in the beta period
    – juan
    Commented Sep 17, 2008 at 18:53
  • It might be so, but not really so much anymore. Google takes measures to remove sites that artificially grew that number up, so it's really irrelevant to say this is an important factor. Although it might be important to realize good content in itself won't spread out without some attempt to broadcast it...
    – cregox
    Commented Nov 12, 2014 at 13:56

Content is King

See: The Golden Rule of SEO: Content is King

Stack Overflow already has a lot of great content. Also, incredible niche topics. See Long tail (Wikpedia).


I don't think Jeff is doing anything magical here to make this happen. It's just good site design and popularity:

  1. Tons of (original) text content.
  2. Lots of internal linking + sitemaps make it easy to crawl.
  3. Prominently placed header tags with question titles.
  4. Tagging for extra keyword-relevance goodness.
  5. Question titles in url string.
  6. Lots of external links (from other sites to stackoverflow)

Overall, the site is just well designed for SEO.

  • I see this very page has no meta tags for specifying html keywords?! Commented Feb 15, 2010 at 16:55
  • 2
    @Junior - search engines pretty much ignore the meta keywords tag. It is so frequently abused that it doesn't even make sense for search engines to look at it any more. Pretty much the same for the description tag as well. Commented Feb 18, 2010 at 17:58

Having an XML sitemap (which this site does) helps immensely, because it helps the Googlebot find dynamically generated content much more quickly than it would otherwise. You can see stackoverflow's sitemap here: https://stackoverflow.com/sitemap.xml but be prepared as it is a huge file.

RSS feeds also help a bit, as Google pulls them as part of the blog search engine. I recommend all sites with content that updates regularly have RSS feeds, even if you are not even close to being a blog.


One thing I noticed right away that's supposed to be good SEO is putting the question name in the URL. You can get to the question using just the question number (for example, this post can be accessed at https://stackoverflow.com/questions/86268/) but the default URL has the post name in it.


Google TechTalks recently hosted a presentation by Joel Spolsky where he talks about stuff like this. Worth watching: Learning from StackOverflow.com

[Edit - Watch the whole thing but the question is addressed in the video starting at 23:45.]


See Jeff Atwood's post on his blog, The Importance of Sitemaps. I also noticed that Stack Overflow questions are usually indexed by Google within an hour. Try googling for the title of a recent question.

  • Nice, I must have skipped that particular Jeff post, as it basically answer my question! Commented Feb 4, 2009 at 0:34

See The Importance of Sitemaps.

  • That question deals with what percentage of Stack Overflow's traffic comes from Google. Which I remember hearing about on the podcast, to paraphase, "a lot". Commented May 1, 2009 at 17:42

Stack Overflow has a growing community and more and more people talk and write about it. All those links and users bring importance to Google (and the PageRank of Google).

  • SO page rank is currently 6. Commented Sep 17, 2008 at 18:48
  • Since PageRank values are only calculated every 3 months, the PageRank 6 is probably from when the site was in private beta, or even pre-private beta. Commented Sep 17, 2008 at 18:51
  • But the site was cloaked to google then
    – juan
    Commented Sep 17, 2008 at 18:52
  • @juan manuel, it's not 2 days, the beta-period with lots of users was a lot longer.
    – tovare
    Commented Sep 17, 2008 at 18:52
  • The front page of the site wasn't Google cloaked then. Same with blog.stackoverflow.com. The only part that wasn't googleable was beta.stackoverflow.com. Commented Sep 17, 2008 at 18:55
  • 2 days? You can have maximum 200 reputations by day... how can a lot of person are over 1 000 if it's 2 days... I think you miss the boat of the launch of SO ;) Commented Sep 17, 2008 at 19:00
  • He's referring to the private beta. Most of the site wasn't accessible to Google until last Monday. Commented Sep 17, 2008 at 19:02

Content is king.

Most companies employ "blackhat" SEO. Gaming the system. Employ "whitehat" SEO. Make a great site, make content that people want, design it so they can access it well, and good rankings will come naturally.

See High Accessibility Is Effective Search Engine Optimization (published 2005-11-08).


In one of the blog posts, Jeff mentioned about The Importance of Sitemaps


While Jeff A. says he doesn't do 'SEO optimization', stackoverflow does follow about every search engine recommendation, and there has clearly been some effort to make the content indexable. For example, every page has a reasonable title and URL. Typical web frameworks will create urls like /question/12345. On SO, they create URLs like Digg. They also use the rel='canonical' link to keep search engines from created duplicate content.

  • Yes Always Quality Content & links matters in SEO. Commented Apr 16, 2014 at 7:24

Sitemaps helps, but the reality is that Google ranks sites both by how frequently they update as well as the value of the content (PageRank).

Sites with high pagerank that update frequently (such as CNN, and this site) get crawled more frequently, and in some cases continuously.

Site maps makes that process even faster/easier for Google, and so that content goes up that much more quickly.


This is very, very anecdotal; however, usually when I search for something programming related that is easily expressed or is very basic question, Stack Overflow is on the first page if not in the first three links.


Quite often I do not go to Google first anymore, but rather to Stack Overflow. If there's nothing or not enough relevant stuff here, then I go to Google.

If there's not much on Google, I might ask here and continue searching Google while waiting for hints. It seems to be working well for me most of the time.

  • 2
    I still go to google, to search Stackoverflow. searchterm site:stackoverflow.com, on google.. works better than SO's sql full text search.
    – mmcdole
    Commented Feb 4, 2009 at 1:10

I'm supposing that the site was submitted for indexing at the very least, but I'm sure that with the traffic SO is getting, Google incorporates that data into its algorithms.

Just thinking about how many people probably have some Google related piece of software on their system, I'm sure it gathers some sort of (hopefully!) anonymous data about sites visited to bump a popular site up on the indexing ladder.


I'm not sure that those examples demonstrate that Stack Overflow has questions actually being ranked high by Google yet. The first search is directly for Stack Overflow, which naturally ranks it high. The second is for a particular misspelling of database: "Dabtabase" which happpens to appear on a Stack Overflow page.

  • well, stackoverflow is a word that's very very old, I'd assume at least wikipedia would rank higher (because (I repeat) we've been open for 2 days only)
    – juan
    Commented Sep 17, 2008 at 18:50
  • Well, the front page, which is what comes up, has been around for longer than 2 days. My guess is it has shot up in the rankings lately though. Commented Sep 17, 2008 at 18:52

SO marks most outbound links rel=nofollow. This would inflate the sites ranking according to PageRank (assuming out links marked nofollow count as not having an out link at all), if Google made no compensating adjustment to it (say, 90% of out links are rel=nofollow, which most quality sites don't do, hence..)

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