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

« Part 1: Introduction

Part 2: Myths & Facts

Part 3: Submission & Spidering

Top 16 SEO Myths

Things you "know" which aren't so

1. I have to submit my site to a search engine for it to get listed.

FACT: Submission is unnecessary. A search engine will always find your site as long as some other site links to it. I never submit my sites to the search engines.

2. I have to periodically re-submit my site to the search engines.

FACT: Resubmission is unnecessary. Once a site is in a search engine, it's in for good (unless it resorts to trickery and gets banned). There is zero reason to keep submitting a site to a search engine. Resubmission is a waste of time. Anyone selling a resubmission service is a con artist.

3. Having Meta tags will help my rankings.

FACT: META tags don't affect your rankings. The search engines ignore META keyword and description tags for ranking purposes, for an obvious reason: Taking the webmasters' word for what their site should rank well for would be a pretty stupid way for the engines to rank pages.

4. I should focus on getting great rankings rather than making sure my visitors become customers. After all, it's not how many sales I make, it's how many people walk through the door -- or maybe even just how many people just see the door without walking in.

FACT: Ranking isn't everything. Many webmasters are so focused on ranking that they forget the obvious: A good ranking doesn't always mean more visitors, and more visitors doesn't always mean more sales.

The reason a good ranking doesn't always equal more visitors is that people won't click onto your website just because they see it listed in the SERPs. A person who typed a query is looking for something. When they get the ten results they don't just click them blindly, but rather they read the titles and snippets to see whether they think the site will provide what they're looking for. If they think it doesn't then they won't click, even if you're ranked #1. So it's especially important to make sure your <TITLE> reads like a good ad, by succinctly telling potential visitors what you offer. For the snippet, I recommend Jill Whalen's article on getting a good snippet.

Conversion rate -- The ratio of visitors who take the action you want, to the total number of visitors.

Even when you get visitors to your site, it's not a given that they'll buy your product, sign up for your newsletter, or take whatever action you wanted them to take. To make your conversion rate as high as possible your page must load quickly, look professional, be extremely clear about what it is you offer and what the visitor's next step should be, and provide some important information (such as sample products and pricing) right on the landing page, with no clicking required. Most webmasters' time would be better spent focusing on their conversion rate rather than their rankings. After all, a 2% increase in conversion is twice as good as a 1% increase in traffic.

Finally, a top ranking on a highly-trafficked search term may be no better than decent rankings on a wide array of less popular terms. Success is not always measured by how high you get for one particular term.

5. Instead of focusing on building a quality site with good, useful information, I should try to find some "trick" to make my site rank well.

SERPS -- Search engine results pages

FACT: Focusing on tricks is a waste of time. Build a quality site and they will come. There is no magic bullet which will rocket you to the top of the SERPs. There is no way Google could rank eight billion web pages by using only one criterion. There are reportedly hundreds of different factors in Google's ranking algorithm. Thus your chances of dominating the SERPs by making one specific change are slim.

A search engine's algorithm is the formula it uses to match websites with a search term. Naturally, the engines keep the details of their algorithm a secret. The algorithm isn't a simple formula, it's likely more complicated than most of us would expect -- or could even understand. Google's algorithm reportedly contains hundreds of factors, and Google has dozens of Ph.D's on staff who constantly tinker with it. They have to, in order to be able to return relevant, high quality sites when there are so many junk sites trying to trick their way to the top of the SERPs. Changes to the algorithm don't just involve adding or deleting criteria, but also weighting the criteria -- figuring out how much each factor should count in the ultimate ranking. It likely goes further than that: Rather than deciding how much weight, say, they <TITLE> tag should carry, the algorithm likely says that when certain criteria are met then the <TITLE> tag should be evaluated a certain way, and when other criteria are met the <TITLE> tag should be evaluated in a different way. The engines could also easily add a randomizing element to the mix to make decoding their formulas virtually impossible.

It's pointless to try to figure out the details of an algorithm because:

  1. You probably can't. The algorithim is too complicated, and it's extremely difficult to test your assumptions because it's nearly impossible to correlate cause and effect.
  2. Even if you figured out some of it, it's going to change soon anyway.
  3. Even if you figured out some of it, there's no guarantee that your strategies would work well for the other engines. Each engine uses its own proprietary algorithm.
  4. It's easier -- and more rewarding -- to focus on building a good site rather than worrying about what the algorithm du jour is.

Nevertheless, many webmasters try to figure out the details of the algorithms and tailor their sites to what they think they've discovered. Such webmasters are known as algorithm-chasers.

There have been certain tricks that people have discovered over the years, but as soon as they exploited them the engines closed the loopholes. The engines aren't stupid, and they're not going to stand by while a bunch of webmasters try to game the system. Any trick you might be lucky enough to discover will have a short shelf life. It's not a long-term strategy.

6. It's a good idea to make my keywords invisible, such as by having white letters on a white background.

FACT: The engines are not stupid. But stupid tricks like invisible text can get your site penalized by some engines. Focusing on tricks is a waste of time.

7. Trading links with any site which will link to mine is a good idea.

FACT: Trading links with anyone is silly. If you have standards in real life (and you should), then you should have standards on the web, too. Don't associate with useless websites. Choose your friends carefully.

8. Search engines can't deal with framed sites, or they penalize framed sites.

FACT: Search engines can index framed sites just fine. They're not stupid. There are a whole host of other reasons why you shouldn't use frames, such as that users can't bookmark or link to any page other than your home page, and when a search engine lists an inside page the visitor will arrive at that page without the surrounding frames. (Yes, you can force the frames with JavaScript, but that's an extremely clumsy and awkward solution.)

9. Sites that use JavaScript get penalized.

FACT: Search engines aren't stupid. They're not going to penalize a site for using standard technology. If your links exist only in JavaScript (e.g., <a href="#" onclick="window.location='index2.html'; return false">) then the engines can't follow those links, but that's not a penalty, that's poor development on your part. Having JavaScript links is no problem as long as you also have standard links (e.g., <a href="index2.html">) somewhere on the page.

10. I should try to rank well for a single-word term instead of the 2- to 3-word phrases that searchers actually use and that I actually have a hope of ranking well for.

FACT: Trying to rank well for a single-word query is missing the point. First of all, you can't rank well for just a single word. There are too many billion other websites out there to compete with. Second, people actually search for multi-word phrases, because such phrases give them more relevant results. If you want to rank well for a single word then you need to step back and think about what people actually search for and what it is your site actually offers.

11. Most of my traffic should come from one or two search phrases, rather than hundreds, most of which haven't even occurred to me.

FACT: On an info-rich site, which is what yours should be, a huge number of search phrases will be used by just a few visitors each, rather than a huge number of visitors using just a few specific search phrases. In January 2006, the top three search queries used by visitors to find my site brought fewer than 1500 visitors each. That's out of 71,000 total queries, with 41,000 of them being unique. You don't know all the ways that visitors will find a way into your site -- but then again, you don't have to. Build a quality, information-rich site and it will naturally rank well for combinations of words you never thought of.

12. Any time my rankings go up or down, I should assume that it's the result of some change I made. Even better, if my rankings drop I should assume that someone at Google manually looked at my site and penalized it.

FACT: It's nearly impossible to discern cause and effect in the search engines. Webmasters new to search rankings are usually quick to ascribe a change in position to some recent change on their site. Maybe that's accurate, but maybe it's not -- and I'm tempted to say that it's probably not. A change in position could be the result of a completely different change you made to your site three months ago that you forgot about. Or it could be the result of changes competitors made to their sites. Or it could be that the engines changed their algorithm and the changes on your site had nothing to do with it. In the end, it's nearly impossible to correlate changes on your site with changes to your ranking. So what's the strategy here? Simple: Don't worry about it. Focus on creating the best site you can: the general things, not the specific ones.

It's tempting to think that a change in your rankings was the result of some change you made, but it's just as likely to be coincidence. It could be the result of an algorithm change or competing sites doing things that caused them to rank better. Google doesn't have the resources or the inclination to police the billions and billions of pages on the Internet. Humans at the search engine are not personally monitoring your website; your website is not that important.

13. Any time my rankings change, or even disappear from the results, I should consider that change permanent.

FACT: Rankings are fleeting. There is no such thing as ever achieving a permanent ranking in Google or any other engine. The engines constantly modify their ranking algorithms (and keep them secret to boot), and every day new pages appear on the web, some of which will by vying for your spot in the SERPs. Think of every search you do in an engine as a snapshot of that moment in time. Just because you're on the first page doesn't mean you'll stay there. And just because you drop from the first page and disappear from the top 100 doesn't mean that you're lost forever, either. Also realize that there is no real way to tell when a change happens how long that change will last. You might drop out of the top 100 for a couple of days or weeks, or it may be many months. The point is that there's no way to tell. Consider the SERPs 100% fleeting.

It's not uncommon in Google for a new site to be ranked amazingly well at first, and then to drop several hundred results down, or completely out of the database entirely, and then reappear. It's also typical for sites to bounce up and down through the rankings before stabilizing near a certain position. But even "stabilizing" is fleeting, because no ranking lasts forever, since the engines are in a constant state of flux. This is just the nature of the engines, and there's nothing that we can do about it.

The important thing to take from this is to accept that rankings change, you will rarely know why, and you shouldn't panic if your ranking drops or even if it disappears.

14. All visitors start at the front page of my site.

FACT: The search engines evaluate each page on your site individually, on its merits. That means that your inside pages could rank as well or better than your front page. This isn't a bad thing, it's a good thing. Most webmasters concentrate on getting a lot of visitors to their home page from a few "money" search terms. But you can easily get more traffic to your site overall by getting a few visits to each of your inside pages from less common searches. 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.

All this means that you must think of every page on your site as a possible entryway, and make sure it's able to stand alone. If a page makes sense only if a visitor got there from somewhere else inside the site, that page should be modified. If you're selling something, try to make it easy for a visitor to buy something from every page. If your site carries a few "flagship" products or articles, make sure those are promoted on every page.

PageRank (PR) -- Google's measurement of how important a page is.

15. The sites with the highest "PageRank" will always rank higher in the SERPs.

FACT: PageRank is just one criterion Google uses in figuring out how to rank pages. A site with a lower PageRank will show up higher in the SERPs if Google thinks it's more relevant than one with a lower PageRank.

16. I should consider another site's PageRank when deciding whether to link to them or whether to ask for a link.

FACT: And how would that serve your visitors? Link to another site if you think it's of value to your visitors. Ask for a link if you think your site is of value to the other site's visitors. Don't focus on PageRank. Focus on building a good site.


No go to Part 3: Submission and Spidering.

« Part 1: Introduction
Part 2: Myths & Facts
Part 3: Submission & Spidering »

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.


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