Articles, tips, and resources for webmasters

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SEO 101:
Table of Contents

  • Introduction
  • Myths & Facts
  • Submission and Spidering
    • Submission
    • The spider keeps on comin'
    • Removing barriers to spidering
  • Keywords
    • Avoid single-word terms
    • Avoid terms that are too broad
    • Avoid terms that are too specific
    • Avoid terms that are unpopular
    • Avoid highly-competitive terms
    • Mine your server reports
    • Target word variants and word order
  • Ranking Factors
    • Content is King
    • One-page factors
    • Page Weight
    • Dead Links
    • META tags
    • Unknown Factors
  • NON-Ranking Factors
    • META Keywords
    • ALT text
    • Title attribute
    • Web Standards
    • Dedicated IP address
    • Changing hosts or IP's
    • Adsense
    • Resubmitting a site
  • Penalties
    • Over-Optimization penalties
    • Non-WWW penalties
    • Black Hat SEO penalties
    • Paid Links penalty
    • Duplicate Content penalty
    • Why did my site disappear?!
  • Black Hat SEO
    • Invisible text
    • Cloaking
    • Keyword stuffing
    • Doorway Pages
    • Orphaned Pages
    • Spam
  • Links
    • Anchor Text
    • Links in the body copy
    • Internal Links
    • PageRank
    • Backlinks
    • Reciprocal Links
    • Link Farms and Directories
    • Buying and Selling Links
    • Pages not passing PR
    • Link Age
    • Relevance and Authority
    • Suspicious Activity
    • Splitting PR (removing or forcing theWWW)
    • Summary of link factors
  • Changing domains, and renaming pages
    • Move a whole site
    • Move a directory to a new domain
    • Move specific pages
    • Advanced Redirecting
  • Hiring professional help
  • Summarized recommendations
  • Further Resources

How to get good search engine rankings

« Part 10: Changing domains & renaming pages

Part 11: Hiring professional help

Part 12: Summarized recommendations, and further resources »

Buying your way to the top

SEO -- Search Engine Optimizer, a professional skilled in getting websites to rank well. Also stands for search engine optimization.

The term SEO is somewhat of a misnomer because improving ranking these days usually takes more than just optimizing the actual text on a page, it also involves getting a lot of high quality, revenant inbound links.

If you find the task of improving your search rankings daunting you can always hire professional help. Professionals who help webmasters with their search rankings are called SEO's, or search engine optimizers. (This is a little confusing since we use the exact same acronym, SEO, to refer to search engine optimization itself.)

Realize that the experts don't do anything special. Any expert you hire will basically do four things:

  • Remove any barriers on your site that could keep the engines from getting to your pages (although it's unlikely that you're in this position).
  • Help you figure out what keywords you want to target (especially if you mistakenly think a one-word keyword is a good idea).
  • Put the keywords in the <TITLE> tag and body copy of your pages.
  • Get other sites to link to yours, either by specifically asking other webmasters for those links, buying advertising from other sites, or advertising your site on their own site or network of sites.

A really good SEO will also address click-through and conversion rates. They'll write good META descriptions to encourage searchers to actually click your listing in the SERPs, and they'll show you how you can improve your site so that your visitors are more likely to become customers. After all, what's most important is not how high you rank, but how many sales you get.

You shouldn't hire a professional because you think they will perform some secret magic tricks for you, or because they have some special relationship with the search engines. SEO doesn't involve anything I haven't listed above, and nobody has a special relationship with the search engines. In fact, if an SEO promises some kind of special trickery or claims some special relationship with the engines, do business with someone else.

SEO work is expensive. Everyone wants to rank high and SEO's are in high demand. Often only large companies can afford to hire an SEO. Professional SEO is out of reach for many small mom & pop operations. With some diligence you might be able to find a quality discount SEO, though after reading this article you should know most of what they know.

Assuming you can find an SEO you can afford, there are a few things you should look for:

A cautionary tale...

I knew from recent forum posts and email that a new round of search engine spam had recently been caught and banned. Tons of unsuspecting site owners who had put their faith and trust in one particular SEO company had woken up one morning to find that their sites had completely vanished from Google, and in some cases, Yahoo. On SEO forums throughout the Internet, you could almost hear their anguished cries of "What have I done?"

What they had done was believe the sales pitches of slick-talking SEO telemarketers. Instead of listening to their gut (which was telling them that if something sounds too good to be true, then it probably is), they put their sites -- and in many cases their livelihood -- on the line for the chance of quick-fix high rankings.

It seems that most of those who were banned have the same story to tell. The code and pages that they were asked to upload to their server (or that were uploaded for them) seemed kind of fishy, but the SEO company said it was necessary. They said that this was what you *had* to do to get high rankings, and that "everyone" did it. Apparently, they even have results from clients with which to back up their sales talk.

What these site owners didn't know was that results obtained through these methods are short-lived and dangerous to the long-term success of a site. Basically, it only lasts until the next round of bannings takes place. When one technique gets banned, they simply find a new way to spam the engines on your behalf. This gives the company a constant supply of short-lived high rankings to show potential clients in order to convince them to sign up to become their next guinea pig.

-- Jill Whalen, High Rankings Advisor

1. Don't hire an SEO who uses Black Hat methods. In the worst case black hat methods can get your site banned by the engines. Even if you're not banned, the engines might figure out that you're trying to trick them and then your good rankings will disappear -- along with all the money you spent to get them. See the cautionary tale at right.

2. Avoid any company which promises something ridiculous, such as the following:

  • They have special tricks to get you good rankings. (Good SEO doesn't involve trickery or secret methods.)
  • They have a "special relationship" with the search engines. (They don't.)
  • They'll submit your site to "hundreds" of search engines. (Who the hell uses any engine besides Google, Yahoo, MSN, and AOL? Besides, submission is unnecessary.)

3. Desperation is a sign of desperation. Good SEO's don't have to go looking for clients. I suggest avoiding SEO's who contact you by sending you spam or cold-calling you on the phone.

4. Get contact information for a satisfied client. It's not enough for an SEO to give you a search to perform so you can see some company at the top of the SERPs, because how do you know that SEO had anything to do with it? A list of clients on an SEO's site isn't good enough either -- SEO's have been known to put false lists of clients and even testimonials on their sites. Also check the SEO's work by seeing how well the client ranks in Google for two-word search phrases.

5. Insist on a written contract that provides a money-back guarantee. Many SEO's are fond of saying that it's "impossible" to give a guarantee because they can't control the search engines. Frankly, this is stupid. While it's true that SEO's don't control the search engine, there is absolutely nothing keeping them from giving you your money back if they failed to improve your rankings. No lawyer can guarantee that you'll win your court case yet many of them work on contingency anyway, right? If an SEO won't guarantee their results then run the other way. Realize that if you make an agreement without a guarantee then you'll have to pay even if you get zero results, and you'll have zero recourse. Of course, if you're just looking for general advice from an SEO then there's nothing wrong with paying them for a few hours of their time without getting a guarantee -- but they might not be able to tell you much more than what's in this article, for free.

6. Make sure the contract spells out exactly what you're getting. The contract should define either (1) which search terms will rank how high in which engines for how long, or (2) how much extra traffic you'll get.

As for the former, make sure that the terms the SEO promises to rank well are terms that you actually want to rank well. That is, they must be 2- or 3-word terms that people are actually searching for. Some unscrupulous SEO's promise rankings for multi-word terms that will yield no traffic. Anyone can get a top ranking for "cute handmade baby bracelets", but since no one searches for that phrase it's of no value.

But don't take the opposite approach and expect something unreasonable such as good rankings on a single-word term. It's unlikely anyone can get you to rank well on a single-word term, at least not at a price you could afford. See our separate article about choosing good keywords for why a one-word term isn't usually preferable anyway.

If you get a guarantee for good rankings, make sure the timeframes are specified. How long will it take for you to rank well? What percentage of your search terms will rank well by that date? Is there a continuing guarantee, or has the SEO satisfied their end of the bargain even if you disappear from the engines completely after they got you to initially rank well? Most SEO's will offer a monthly "maintenance" fee, which is more like an insurance fee, to make sure that your rankings continue.

Some SEO's guarantee an increased amount of traffic, rather than specific rankings. This is fine. After all, traffic is what you really wanted, right? Good rankings on a few specific terms are one way to achieve that. But it's not the only way. Another way is to get good to fair rankings on dozens and dozens of less popular search terms. Any one of them alone might not produce much traffic. but all together they could bring a bunch. Yesterday the most popular way people found my personal site was by searching the engines for "austin radio stations". A total of 22 people did that. But 939 people found my site through the search engines total, on any term. The #1 search into my site still accounts for only 2.3% of my traffic from the engines.

Another way SEO's can increase traffic is by buying ads for you on other sites, or putting up ads to you on their own network of sites. Of course, if this is what they're doing, you might be able to get a better deal by buying advertising on other sites yourself.

Buying Adwords

You can always buy ads to get listed on the SERPs pages. The major engines let you buy ads that appear on the same page of search results, though not in the search results themselves. Google's program is called Adwords, and Yahoo has a similar program. You pay a few cents only when someone clicks your ad. Your ad is shown for free until someone actually clicks it. If you're unable to get your pages ranked well this is an easy way to get your website in front of potential visitors.

ROI -- Return on investment. In web terms, how much profit you make per advertising dollar spent. Obviously you want a positive ROI.

When setting up an ad campaign you should pay attention to ROI, your return on investment. Let's say you make one sale for every 500 visitors, and you make a $40 profit from that sale. That's a profit of $0.08 per visitor. You could thus expect to make a profit as long as you pay less than $0.08 a click for your Adwords ad.

Now continue this series below...

« Part 10: Changing domains & renaming pages
Part 11: Hiring professional help
Part 12: Summarized recommendations, and further resources »

I was born into a cult.

The Aesthetic Realism Foundation is a small psychological cult in New York city. My grandparents were members, so my mother was born into it, and so was I. Recently I created a website about the cult to get the word out. I hope you'll check it out.


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