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High Rankings' Advisor: Using Layers as an SEO Technique - Issue No. 020

July 24, 2002


*Introductory Comments:
---->   And the Winner Is...

*Search Engine Marketing:
---->   Using Layers as an SEO Technique

*This Week's Sponsor:
---->   Unclaimed-Keywords Reports

*Other SEO News:
---->   Do Searchers Know When Results Are Paid Ads?
---->   FAST Follows FTC Recommendations

*Stuff You Might Like
---->   Review of Past Stuff

*Advisor Wrap-Up:
---->   See You in Amsterdam

~~~Introductory Comments~~~

Congratulations to Jim Boykin, who won the Advisor's free Search
Engine Strategies conference pass.  I contacted Jim with the good news
last week, and he's on cloud nine!  He's a true SEO enthusiast who
can't wait to meet all the people he hears about so often.  For the
rest of you, I did read all the requests and wish I could have given a
pass to each and every one of you!  Thank you for all your kind words,
and I hope you will attend anyway.  More information can be found
here: <>.  Make
sure to seek me out and introduce yourself!

On another note, the number of Advisor subscribers has surpassed
12,000 this week!  Thanks go out to everyone for the phenomenal growth
of this list.  I can hardly believe I'm up to the 20th issue already.
When I changed from Rank Write to the Advisor back in March, I had
9,157 subscribers.  I'm really proud to have reached 12,000 so
quickly!  So, once again, thanks to all of you for continuing to send
me the great feedback that keeps me going each week.  I view the
newsletter as a team effort between us.  You guys keep stroking my ego
(and sending me the occasional chocolate!), and I'll keep giving you
the in-depth SEO info that you won't get anywhere else.

So, let's get to it! - Jill

~~~Search Engine Marketing Issues~~~

++Using Layers as an SEO Technique++

From: Eugene Barnes []

Hi Jill,

Wanted you to know I enjoy your newsletter. I employ your advice on
all my websites and it seems to work very well. Sometimes the
difference between following your basic advice and doing nothing is
downright astounding. Thanks for all your guidance!

I have a question regarding layers and how search engines deal with
them. As you probably know, a layer can be visually placed anywhere on
a page without regard to where the code is located in the HTML. So it
is possible to put the main text of a page in a layer and push the
code for that layer near the top of the HTML, yet visually position
the text lower on the page.

Do search engines read the visual positioning of the layer and take
that into account? Or do they just read the text in the order that it
appears in the HTML and rank it higher if it is near the top of the
code? If someone did something so severe as to put a layer way down on
a page visually, but put the code for the layer near the top of the
HTML, would search engines interpret that as a form of spamming or


Eugene Barnes
Small Business Web Site Services

++Jill's Response++

Hi Eugene,

Glad you enjoy the newsletter!

You can do all sorts of things with layers that will fool the search
engines, as they simply aren't sophisticated enough to understand it
all -- yet.  It's possible (and highly probable) that they will get
more sophisticated somewhere down the line and eventually be able to
interpret the information provided in the layers.

It doesn't sound like what you're talking about doing would be any big
deal to the engines, as everything is still visible to real people
viewing the page.  That said, for the average Web site, the
information in the top of the code isn't necessarily weighted a whole
lot more than info closer to the bottom.  Personally, I like to make
sure that the entire page consists of content that uses relevant
keywords, not just the top part of the page.  The search engines do
find and index the whole page (unless it's really, really huge).
Therefore, I'm not sure it's worth going to the trouble to change the
positioning of the text through layers.  If you've got great content
on the page, the search engines will definitely find it, even if
there's lots of useless code above it.

The problem with using layers as part of your SEO is that it can be
highly abused by those who wish to trick the search engines and their
users.  I've read about layering tricks that can even position words
off the visible page entirely!  I'll say it again -- these tricks do
work for now.  Unfortunately, if the spammy pages start to take over
the search results, the engines will be forced to find solutions to
stop the madness altogether.  We've seen this happen over and over
again with a number of SEO techniques, including the poor abused Meta
keyword tag.  Unfortunately, the abusers make it harder for those
working legitimately to get their pages indexed.  This is why I would
personally avoid any technique that has the potential for abuse, if at
all possible.  Why tempt fate?

My feeling is that getting found in the search engines is a long-term
proposition.  When you make a squeaky-clean site using SEO techniques
that enhance the quality of your site for both your users and the
search engines, you don't have to worry about ever getting penalized
or banned.  You also don't have to worry about algorithm changes, and
that sort of thing; you can simply go about your business as usual.

On a related subject, I recently read an article by Robin Nobles
that discussed using a technique called "Z Order" for helping Flash
sites to get indexed by positioning text *under* the Flash movie.  In
other words, the user sees the Flash movie, and the search engine sees
the copy.  At first glance, this sounds like a great way to get those
pesky Flash sites optimized, and it probably is -- for now.  Robin
even has a quote from Stephen Baker, the Director of Business
Development and Marketing at FAST, where he appears to state that this
method is okay with FAST as long as the text is relevant.

>From my own talks with Baker in the past, it is my understanding that
this sort of thing may be okay with FAST *if* your site is among those
paying for inclusion, i.e., they can keep their eye on you to be
absolutely sure that your hidden content is relevant.  Baker told me
before that sites that aren't paying for inclusion won't get the same
kind of consideration, however.  Many of the other search engine reps
have stated the same thing.

Keep in mind, however, that Google would definitely consider this
particular technique to be spam.  Google reps have always gone on
record as saying that what the end user (the person doing the search)
sees sure as heck better be what the search engine robot sees.  If
there's a discrepancy between these (and if you get caught), then you
risk being penalized or banned.  Apparently "intent" doesn't play a
part in Google's algorithm!

What you need to figure out with any SEO technique is the amount of
risk you are willing to take.  If you like to take high risks in hopes
of getting high rewards, then feel free to test out these techniques
for your own sites.  Experimenting with different things is how we
learn.  But if you plan to use these techniques on a client's site,
please be sure that they clearly understand the risks involved.  Many
clients are happy to take a risk if it's laid out to them honestly and
objectively.  Others may not wish to put their rankings in jeopardy
for any reason at all.  The client has the right to know the pros and
cons of the techniques you're using; it's the only way they can make
an informed decision.

I'm not a risk-taker.  Therefore, I'll just keep on following the
rules and keeping myself out of trouble!



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~~~Other SEO News~~~

++ Do Searchers Know When Results Are Paid Ads?++

Today I've got something a little bit different for you.  Remember my
friend, Chris Ridings of "PageRank Explained" fame?  (If you don't
know what I'm talking about, check out this back issue of Rank Write:
<>.)  Well, it turns
out that Chris isn't just a PageRank geek!  He recently interviewed
Gary Ruskin from Commercial Alert (the organization that was concerned
about the deceptive labeling of some search results), and was kind
enough to share it with us.

So let's give a warm Advisor welcome to Chris Ridings!

~~Guest Article~~

Do Searchers Know When Results Are Paid Ads?
By Chris Ridings

When we look at search engine results it is assumed that the search
engine has used some criteria to determine which sites are most
relevant to our queries. Those who know about search engines and
search engine optimization generally understand that this isn't the
case, but does the public at large?

It has become increasingly common for search engines to allow
Webmasters to buy their way into (and up in) the results. This is
known as pay-per-placement. There's nothing wrong with this in itself,
but there is often something wrong with the way it's conveyed. Such
results are really advertisements, and the public has a right to know
this. The search engines, however, often list these paid adverts with
confusing terms such as "Featured Listings."  Are people being tricked
into clicking ads that may not really be the most appropriate for
their query?

This situation is, of course, nothing new. In February this year Jill
wrote the following in RankWrite:

"And speaking of sponsored results, if you want to be in the
'sponsored' section or 'featured sites' section at many search engines
and directories, you may want to bid on keywords at Overture (formerly
GoTo). Currently, many of the engines are not clearly labeling these
results as advertisements and as such, they are getting many
click-throughs. This allegedly deceptive practice may or may not
continue in the near future."

Jill nearly predicts what's going to happen. A quick trawl through
search engine forums and articles show that this has been going on
even longer than you may think. Indeed, when I quizzed Gary Ruskin
(Executive Director and a founding member of the consumer group
Commercial Alert) about this he reminded me that there were a number
of related stories in 2001.

We all see that it's wrong, but apparently Commercial Alert felt it
was wrong enough to take formal action against the search engines. On
July 16, 2001, they filed a formal complaint with the Federal Trade
Commission (FTC), which you can read here:

In my effort to understand why this organization felt so strongly
about this matter, I decided to go directly to the source, and
requested an interview with Ruskin.  Here are excerpts from our

Chris Ridings: Can you briefly describe what Commercial Alert is and
what it does?

Gary Ruskin: Commercial Alert is a non-profit organization that
opposes commercialism. Commercialism is the idea that everything
should be for sale, and that corporations should own and control

Commercial Alert's mission is to keep the commercial culture within
its proper sphere, and to prevent it from exploiting children and
subverting the higher values of family, community, environmental
integrity and democracy.

Chris Ridings: What made you aware of the poor labeling of ads within
some search engines, and what prompted you to take action?

Gary Ruskin: There were a number of news stories about this in 2001.
See our web page on search engines for details:

The best article, by far, was by Verne Kopytoff in the San Francisco

In general, we are defending the advertising-editorial line, and
protecting citizens' ability to gather accurate information quickly so
that they may educate themselves and discharge their civic duties.
This involves changing the way that information flows on the Internet.

Chris Ridings: The result of the complaint was that the search engines
were sent a letter dated June 27, 2002, which recommended "...make any
changes to the presentation of your paid-ranking search results that
would be necessary to clearly delineate them as such, whether they are
segregated from, or inserted into, non-paid listings."

Where there were paid-inclusion programs, the FTC recommended that if
they distort ranking or placement, the search engines should make
clear how sites are selected for inclusion.

What does the FTC's letter mean to Commercial Alert, the search
engines, and the general population of searchers?

Gary Ruskin: For Commercial Alert it doesn't mean too much. It's
another victory.

For the search engines, we hope that those without editorial integrity
will lose as many users as possible. For those with more editorial
integrity, we hope they will gain users.

For the general public, we hope they will get more information and
less corporate propaganda.

Chris Ridings: Your home page shouts "**VICTORY**"; from this can we
assume you are happy with the FTC's response and do not wish that they
had gone further?

Gary Ruskin: Yes, we are happy with the FTC action. It's pretty much
what we wanted. We thank the FTC for their investigation and effort to
protect citizens & our democracy from deceptive search engines.

Many analysts of this situation cite Google as doing everything right.
Does Commercial Alert consider that to be the case? If so, what
exactly is Google doing right that the other search engines should
pick up on?

Gary Ruskin: We don't endorse search engines. But Google obviously has
more editorial integrity than the rest of the majors. It doesn't do
paid-inclusion, and its paid-placement is very clearly marked.

Chris Ridings: Have you seen this page?
Do you think the search engines are dragging their heels? If so, how
do you feel about it?

Gary Ruskin: The search engines have to figure out how to comply with
the new FTC disclosure standard. But if they don't implement it soon
(say, within two months from when the FTC issued its letter) it will
be easy for us to bring complaints against the search engines that
haven't complied. It will also be easy for the FTC to initiate its own
action against noncompliant search engines.

Chris Ridings: As a final word, this is a major issue within the
search engine world. Perhaps the war is over, but many of the effects
of it have yet to be seen. The coming months should be interesting for
all involved.

I'd like to thank Gary Ruskin and Commercial Alert for their time and
input, but more importantly for their drive and dedication to doing
something positive for those of us that use the search engines.

You can find out more about Commercial Alert at

Chris Ridings
Search Engine Optimization Support Forums

++FAST Follows FTC Recommendations++

Chris's interview with Gary Ruskin makes a perfect segue into this
latest info from FAST.

A couple of days ago, they announced their public support of the FTC
advisory.  So now if you perform a search at their
site <>, at the top of the results you will
see that they label their pay-per-click (PPC) ads as "Sponsored Site
Listings" and have a link (albeit in a small font) for more
information describing where they get these listings from.

In the Web Page Results section, they also have a link that says
"what's included" (again, it's in a small font).  Clicking the link
brings you to an information page explaining where FAST obtains their
sites.  Basically, they let you know that less than 1% of the pages
have paid for inclusion, and those that have paid get no special
rankings boost.

Although they use a small font for the explanatory links, they're
certainly much more visible than Lycos's tiny (i) that they have near
their results.  Worse yet is AltaVista's teeny little non-underlined
"info" link next to their "Sponsored Matches."  (At least they're
finally admitting they are sponsored links and not simply "products
and services"!)

The funny thing about all this is that Google doesn't have to worry
about putting any little i's or hard-to-see hyperlinks next to their
results because their paid ads can't be mistaken for anything else.
Not only that, but they don't take any money for sites to be included
in their regular database.

~~~Stuff You Might Like~~~

Once again, I haven't had a chance to review any new stuff for you
this week (those pesky clients are keeping me hopping!).  So here are
a few of my recent recommendations in case you missed any of them the
first time around:

* Selling Subscriptions to Internet Content
</contentbiz> - This is the 253-page
transcript from ContentBiz's "2nd Annual Selling Subscriptions to
Internet Content Summit" which was held in May.  If you have great
free content that you want to start charging for, this report is a
must-read.  See my full review here:

* New MarketingSherpa's Buyers' Guide to SEO
</marketingsherpa> - This is the all-new
version profiling 55 US & Canadian SEO firms (including my company,
High Rankings).  If you're in the market for a full-service search
engine optimization firm, you may want to consult this guide first.
Read my full review here:

* Search Engine Optimization Report by Mike Grehan
</searchenginereport> - This is the one
that's rocking the search engine world by providing solid facts on how
search engines work.  While the rest of us have been using trial and
error to determine how to get high rankings, Mike's been interviewing
the people that invented search engines!  Read my full review here:

Please note that those are my affiliate links and I get a percentage
of any sales that may result from your purchases.  It's a nice way for
you to support the Advisor and also gain some extra SEO information!

~~~Advisor Wrap-Up~~~

Okay you guys -- I'm psyched.  I've been invited to speak at the
"Search Engine Marketing Tactics" conference in Amsterdam on Sept. 23
& 24!  Things are being finalized as I type, but it looks like I'll be
presenting a session on submitting to directories such as Yahoo! and
DMOZ.  I'll have more info for you in the upcoming weeks.  In the
meantime, you can check out the conference site here:
<>.  I hope you'll consider attending if
you live in that part of the world (or just want to visit that part of
the world!).  I was in Amsterdam about a year and a half ago, and had
the time of my life.  Hope to see you there!

That's all for now! - Jill
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