Articles, tips, and resources for webmasters

a project by Michael Bluejay | email

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

aka "SEO 101: Getting High Google Placement"

2004-11 Michael Bluejay

Everyone who has a website wants it to rank high in the search engines like Google and Yahoo.

A higher rank means more visitors, and more visitors mean more sales, or more advertising revenue.

If the phrase(s) you're trying to rank well for aren't competitive (that is, few other sites are using the same phrase) then getting good placement is pretty easy: Just put the phrase(s) you want to rank well for in the <title></title> tag and in at least one other area on the page. For some reason this isn't obvious to everyone: I can't remember how many times someone has sought my advice about how to rank well for some phrase, and I check out their page and that phrase is nowhere to be found! A while back a friend asked me how to get her homepage to rank well for her name, which was unusual enough that she should have been at the top of Google with no problems. After I checked out her page I felt like asking her, "And it didn't occur to you to put your name somewhere on that page?!" Actually, her name was on her page, but in a graphic. Google can't read that, they have no idea what words are contained in an image. And her <title> tag just said "Home". How is Google supposed to know that her page was about Sally Thunderpizza? (Not her real name.)

So anyway, for non-competitive phrases, just put the phrases you want to rank for in the <title> and in the body copy of your page. For example, you should be able to get to #1 in Google within a month for the phrase martian pudding headache. Go ahead, try it.

Okay, but what if your phrase is competitive? Then you're going to need to make your site worthy of ranking well.  Think about it:  When you search Google, don't the best sites for your search phrase usually come up first?  Do you think that's an accident, or coincidence?  Hell no.  Google wants to list the best sites first, because if Google returns bad sites then people will start using Yahoo or Bing instead.

Getting to the top of the SERPs (search engine results pages) means earning it.  Getting to the top is not about trying to trick the search engines.  The engines are constantly tweaking their formulas, so today's trick won't work tomorrow anyway.  And trying to stay on top of the tricks takes more time than simply making your site worthy of a good ranking well in the first place.

Most sites are either "stores" (selling something) or "magazines" (offering free articles, and making their money from ads).  Let's take these one at a time.  If you're running a store, think about what would make your store outstanding:

  • Low prices, or super-high-quality products (depending on the audience you're targeting)
  • Large selection
  • Friendly, responsive customer service
  • Easy ordering process
  • Tons of information about the products you sell (answering every question a would-be shopper could have about the products)
  • Customer reviews of the products
  • Doing something better than your competitors.  After all, if you don't do anything better than your competitors, then why should you rank higher than them?
For "magazine" sites that offer articles:
  • Try to create two new articles every week. If you can't do that, try to do one page each week. At a bare minimum, create a new article each month.
  • As much as possible, your new articles should be unique, interesting, authoritative, and compelling. If you want to rank well for the phrase electric widgets, then make your site the best resource about electric widgets available.
And for both flavors of sites:
  • Write a <TITLE></TITLE> tag for each page that accurately describes that page (no more than about 64 characters).
  • Make sure all of your pages are accessible through normal <A HREF> links (i.e., don't use JavaScript or Flash links exclusively).
  • Link to quality relevant sites. After you do so, ask those sites to link to you, but don't make your link to them contingent on whether they link back.
  • Follow standard website design tips and avoid the problems listed on Problem Websites. Your site should be not only attractive, but super-easy to use, and completely free of annoyances.
  • Most importantly, purge your mind of trying to think of ways you can "trick" your way to the top of the results. Do NOT think about the specific nuts and bolts of how a search engine will rank your pages. Instead, build good, quality pages for your visitors, and trust that the rankings will follow.

But many webmasters don't get this. They write to me asking such things as:

  • How many times should my keywords appear on my pages?
  • What's the optimum ratio of keywords to non-keywords?
  • Should I seek links from several PR4 sites or one PR6 site?
  • Will doing [insert some trick here] cause me to rank higher?

Such webmasters are missing the point. You get good rankings by building a quality site, not by trying to figure out exactly how the search engines rank pages. It's counter-intuitive, but you get good rankings by ignoring rankings and focusing on quality. Focus on quality and the rankings will follow. It works the same way in business: If you focus on the money you'll probably make less money. But if you focus on creating a great customer experience then the money will follow.

The #1 result gets twice as many clicks as the #2 result. See this article which details how many clicks each position gets.

But many of you came here hoping to find tricks, so before you dismiss that, consider this: Your site doesn't rank as well as mine, otherwise you wouldn't be here. You want your site to rank better, which is why you went looking for this article. And my site does rank well, which is why you found it. In other words, I know what I'm talking about. My sites are all over Google and Yahoo for a variety of popular terms. When I tell you the best way to get good rankings is to ignore rankings and focus on building your site, it's not just theoretical, and it's not a cop-out: It works, and it works well.

But maybe you figure that you don't have time to build a quality site, so that's why you want some easy tricks. In that case, your site doesn't deserve to rank well. And don't be surprised when it doesn't. If you want better rankings, you must make your site worthy of those rankings. Look at the sites that are beating you. Assuming you already have good <title> tags, is your site truly better than the ones which are beating you? If yes, then you'll probably outrank them eventually. If not, then why are you even trying to get the search engines to give preferential treatment to an inferior site? Make your site better than the rest, and the rankings will follow.

Algorithm -- The long, complicated, secret set of formulas that a search engine uses to figure out where sites should rank.

One problem with using tricks is that the effects are temporary. Put yourself in Google's shoes: Do you want to list the very best sites or do you want to list the ones that are most adept at employing tricks? Obviously you hate tricksters because when you return a list of crappy sites instead of the very best ones then that reflects poorly on you. So you do everything in your power to weed out the tricksters. As soon as webmasters start using some trick, you change your calculations to ignore that trick. The algorthims are secret, and they're always changing to boot. (About six changes a week, according to the NY Times.) As a webmaster, obviously your time is better spent making your site better than screwing around playing cat-and-mouse games with the search engines.

Many webmasters also can't see the forest for the trees. Google wants them to create quality pages which have certain attributes. Many webmasters mistakenly focus on those attributes rather than the quality of the page. Here's a good analogy: Years ago scientists found that people who ate more fruits and vegetables and less meat and dairy were much healthier and lived longer, and noted that fruits and vegetables are low in fat. The proper response then would be to eat more fruits and vegetables. But instead Americans started eating processed low-fat junk food instead, which didn't do them any good. Google doesn't want you to fill your pages with crap in hopes of impressing them, nor do they want you to get links from any and everybody. Google wants you to build a high quality website. Why would they want anything else?

Jill Whalen has a good article about the "stages of understanding" that webmasters go through as they try to learn about search rankings -- which usually means that they progressively graduate from one misconception to the next. (read article)

As Google says on its philosophy page, "Focus on the user and all else will follow." Google wants webmasters to feel the same way -- that if you build the best site possible, your good rankings will follow. This isn't the answer that most webmasters want to hear. They want a few simple "tricks" that will rocket them to the top of the SERPs. Sorry, but it doesn't work that way. Even if that were possible, twenty sites all employing the same tricks couldn't all fit on the front page of Google.

People seek out my advice about search rankings because they know my sites rank well for a whole host of search phrases. And I promise you I didn't do anything special beyond what's listed above. I certainly didn't worry about keyword density, META tags, submitting my site to the engines, reciprocal link requests, or any other nonsense. I simply tried to build quality sites. In fact, early on I didn't even consider my search rankings. I just built good sites and then noticed that they ranked well. Really well.

So what attributes does a page need to be considered "quality" by a search engine? The same things it would need to impress most of us, such as:

  • The page is relevant to the terms being searched for
  • The page is considered an authority about its topic
  • Relevancy -- How well a page matches a user's query (more...)

    The page has good, useful content
  • The page has been around for a while
  • The page is part of a site with lots of information
  • Keywords -- Search terms that a webmaster wants to rank well for. A "keyword" is usually actually a short 2- to 4-word phrase.

    The page loads quickly
  • The page doesn't have a bunch of broken links
  • The page isn't filled with a cheap list of keywords

So ranking well generally means:

  • Creating many fast-loading, content-rich pages, with the words you want to rank for on the page and in the <TITLE> tag, and
  • Getting links to your pages from other sites, especially from pages similar in content

Truth be told, that is 90% of it right there. Of course there are more details, and that's why there's thirteen pages of explanation that follow, but the summary above is SEO in a nutshell. Honest.

Here's more about what the engines consider high quality vs. low quality, according to what they recommend in their guidelines.

High Quality


  • Original and unique content of genuine value
  • Pages designed primarily for humans, with search engine considerations secondary
  • Hyperlinks intended to help people find interesting, related content, when applicable
  • Metadata (including title and description) that accurately describes the contents of a web page
  • Good web design in general


  • Make pages for users, not for search engines. Don't deceive your users, or present different content to search engines than you display to users.
  • Avoid tricks intended to improve search engine rankings. A good rule of thumb is whether you'd feel comfortable explaining what you've done to a website that competes with you. Another useful test is to ask, "Does this help my users? Would I do this if search engines didn't exist?"
  • Don't participate in link schemes designed to increase your site's ranking or PageRank. In particular, avoid links to web spammers or "bad neighborhoods" on the web as your own ranking may be affected adversely by those links.
  • Don't use unauthorized computer programs to submit pages, check rankings, etc. Such programs consume computing resources and violate our terms of service. Google does not recommend the use of products such as WebPosition Gold™ that send automatic or programmatic queries to Google.
Low Quality


  • Pages that harm accuracy, diversity or relevance of search results
  • Pages dedicated to directing the user to another page
  • Pages that have substantially the same content as other pages
  • Sites with numerous, unnecessary virtual hostnames
  • Pages in great quantity, automatically generated or of little value
  • Pages using methods to artificially inflate search engine ranking
  • The use of text that is hidden from the user
  • Pages that give the search engine different content than what the end-user sees
  • Excessively cross-linking sites to inflate a site's apparent popularity
  • Pages built primarily for the search engines
  • Misuse of competitor names
  • Multiple sites offering the same content
  • Pages that use excessive pop-ups, interfering with user navigation
  • Pages that seem deceptive, fraudulent or provide a poor user experience


  • Avoid hidden text or hidden links.
  • Don't employ cloaking or sneaky redirects.
  • Don't send automated queries to Google.
  • Don't load pages with irrelevant words.
  • Don't create multiple pages, subdomains, or domains with substantially duplicate content.
  • Avoid "doorway" pages created just for search engines, or other "cookie cutter" approaches such as affiliate programs with little or no original content.

 Notice what they do NOT say:

  • Make sure to "submit" your site, even though the search engines will almost certainly find it anyway.
  • Waste your time META tags for every page.
  • Obssess over keyword density.
  • Annoy other webmasters with requests for reciprocal links

Now proceed to Part 2 for more.

Part 1: Introduction
Part 2: Myths & Facts


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.


We'll cry if you don't link to us.