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Common-sense Search Engine Optimization

Jill Whalen
Expert Author
Published: 2004-08-04

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For years, when people thought about search engine optimization, in all likelihood, gateway pages, doorway pages or informational pages probably came to mind. If you're a search engine optimization specialist, you've probably had clients requesting that you create these types of pages for them.

They may believe the following statements to be true:

  • Every search engine has a different algorithm (formula) to determine the ranking of a Web page, and therefore none of their "regular" pages will rank highly in all of the engines.

  • Keyword-rich copy that the search engines will like is not text they can visibly put on their site where people can see it, especially not on their front page!

  • Business sites need to be on the cutting edge and use Flash animation and/or lots of graphics, and they shouldn't have to change this just to please the search engines.

  • Although there is a grain of truth to each of the above, let's examine each point in more detail so you'll have some ammunition the next time you get this type of request.

    Dealing with Differing Algorithms

    Yes, it's true, search engine algorithms are varied and do change. There will always be SEOs who spend many hours poring over search engine results and statistics, trying to figure out each search engine's current formula for high rankings. There have been many software programs written over the years to help crack the algorithms and automatically generate high-ranking pages for each engine.

    One of the problems with using this method is that as soon as a new algorithm is in place, these carefully crafted gateway pages will often drop out of sight in the rankings. The new algorithm must be cracked again, and new gateway pages must be created. It's truly a never-ending, time-consuming and expensive process that is very much against the best-practice guidelines put forth by the search engines.

    The truth is that even though search engines do have slightly different algorithms (and they do change them at times), basically all engines appreciate the same things that real people look for in a Web site:

  • A simple, cleanly coded design o Well-thought-out, intuitive navigation o Well-written, descriptive copy o Titles and Meta tags that help identify relevant keyword phrases o Links that accurately describe what can be found at the site.

  • It's really just common sense. Web sites with the above features don't need to crack algorithms. These sites have the potential to achieve high rankings for many keyword phrases in all major search engines for many years, regardless of ever-changing algorithms. And more importantly, they will likely be a hit with their site visitors.

    Writing Keyword-rich Copy

    Clients (and even some SEOs) often justify the use of doorways and gateways by claiming that there's a difference between good copy for search engines and good copy for their site visitors. That is simply not true. Good marketing copy can be written that sounds great, stresses the benefits to the user and also utilizes keyword phrases. There's definitely an art to it, and you have to be a good copywriter to begin with, but it most definitely can be done. The key is to use a professional copywriter, not an SEO, for that aspect of the job.

    Use of Flash Animation and Graphics at the Expense of Content

    Over and over again we hear from companies that want high rankings and lots of traffic and sales, yet refuse to forfeit their LUGs (large useless graphics) and Flash animation in favor of good content. Unfortunately, these pages don't give the search engines much to go by when trying to determine what the site is all about. This forces the engines to figure things out solely based on the Title tags and the links. That may be enough in some cases, but the best indicator of what a site is about is through the content on its pages. Now, it's true that some search engines have started reading the content of Flash files, but there's generally not much "meat" contained in the ones I've seen!

    Never forget that the ultimate goal of most business Web sites is to sell a product or a service. When you see a Flash presentation on a site, does that make you want to purchase their products or use their services? Sure, it might appear cool the first time you view it, but thereafter it only serves as an annoying distraction and/or waste of time. And if you're on a dial-up modem (yes there are still some left!), you probably don't want to wait around to view it. Besides, you can have your cake and eat it too by simply using small amounts of Flash in appropriate places, along with your great content.

    When all is said and done, most people would rather be presented with information on the types of products or services offered in clear, concise language, right on the main page of the site they're visiting. Luckily for us, that's exactly what the search engines want to see as well!

    Optimize Your Actual Site

    You don't need a second (or third or fourth) site for SEO purposes. Those companies that are willing to create useful content within the pages of their Web site can very often own long-term high rankings. Plus, they won't have to rely on link popularity as much as the low/no-content sites have to.

    In years past, convincing companies of this fact was one of the most difficult jobs we had to do. Thankfully, as the Web matures, more and more site owners are discovering that their fancy, cutting-edge sites don't convert as well as the competitor's informational site that gets right down to business. It's usually at that point that they become more receptive to doing what it takes to make their site the best it can be for their visitors as well as the search engines.

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    About the Author:
    Jill Whalen of High Rankings is an internationally recognized search engine optimization consultant and host of the free weekly High Rankings Advisor search engine marketing newsletter. She specializes in search engine optimization, SEO consultations and seminars. Jill's handbook, "The Nitty-gritty of Writing for the Search Engines" teaches business owners how and where to place relevant keyword phrases on their Web sites so that they make sense to users and gain high rankings in the major search engines

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