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PageRank Penalties - Issue No. 029

October 2, 2002
________________________________________________________

~~~IN TODAY'S ADVISOR~~~

*Introductory Comments:
---->   I'm an Idiot

*Search Engine Marketing:
---->   No Meta Keyword Tags

*This Week's Sponsor:
---->   Overture's Ambassador Program

*Notes from Search Engine Strategies Conference:
---->   Designing Search Engine Friendly Sites

*Other SEO News:
---->   PageRank Penalties

*Advisor Wrap-Up:
---->   Jill's Half-day Boston SEO Seminar
________________________________________________________

~~~Introductory Comments~~~

Okay, there's no denying it any more.  I have a cold.  I never get
colds unless I'm totally stressed out or something.  But no stresses
here lately.  It's probably from not getting enough sleep. This school
year I have to take my girls to school at 7:00 AM, which is giving me
an hour less of sleep each night.  Yes, I could go to bed an hour
earlier (midnight as opposed to 1:00), but do I?  No.  I'm an idiot.
With a sniffly nose.

On to the good stuff! - Jill


~~~Search Engine Marketing Issues~~~

++No Meta Keyword Tags++

From: Ginna Allison

Jill,

You must have written the answer to the following question somewhere,
but I can't find it, nor do I recall it from recent issues of the High
Rankings Advisor.

The question is: on your site, I see you add keywords only for your
home page. Why no keywords -- just title and description -- on
lower-level pages?

I realize you probably don't have time to answer, but thought I'd ask
just in case. In any event, thanks for being the only listserv I
actually look forward to reading and always learn from. If I didn't
have the problem of eating chocolate as soon as it reaches my hands, I
would send you some as a thank-you.

Best wishes,

Ginna Allison

~~~Jill's Response~~~

Hi Ginna,

Don't worry about the chocolate.  I've got a surplus at the moment!

The Meta keyword tag is given so little weight in the search engines
these days (and most ignore it altogether) that it simply isn't worth
my time to create them for my site.

In fact, Danny Sullivan from Search Engine Watch published an article
this week stating that he no longer recommends creating Meta keyword
tags.  (You can read the free version of the article here:
<http://www.searchenginewatch.com/sereport/02/10-meta.html>.)

For the most part, I agree that there's not much sense in creating
Meta keyword tags, and I'm sick to death of questions about whether to
use commas in them (it doesn't matter).  However, I found that in some
specialized circumstances the Meta keyword tag could help your page to
be found in Inktomi- and Teoma-based engines.  Here's a little story
for you that illustrates how sometimes we can learn more when wearing
our *searcher hat* than when we're wearing our *SEO hat*.

About a month ago, I was looking for a shower curtain similar to the
one we've had for years.  It was some funky kind of waterproof fabric
made by DuPont called "Drylon."  It appears that they stopped making
them, and you can't find them in any stores.  I wanted to see if there
were any places to buy one online, and as usual, started my search at
Google.  I figured my best bet would be to search for "Drylon."  Got a
few results, but nothing much.  So I figured I'd give AltaVista a
spin, but again, nothing much came up.  I then went to MSN (which is
Inktomi-based) and got a whole bunch of different results than I had
received at Google and AV.

When I visited one of the sites, I couldn't find the word Drylon
anywhere -- but there it was in the Meta keyword tag.  The page was
for a company that manufactured all kinds of fabrics, including Drylon
(apparently Drylon is used for socks now!).  Teoma had most of the
same pages Inktomi had.  It appears that Teoma also reads Meta keyword
tags, even though they claim that they don't.  (At least they did at
the time of my searches.)

I never did find a Drylon shower curtain (except one really ugly fish
one), but I learned something about SEO.  Instead of always telling
people they should put only the words that are *already on the page*
in this tag, it should really be the opposite.  Put words that aren't
on the page, like synonyms, common misspellings, etc.  This is what
the search engines used to tell us, and in fact, AltaVista still says
it in their Webmaster FAQ
<http://www.altavista.com/sites/help/search/faq_web#4>:

"Use a meta tag with keywords to add synonyms for words you use on the
page itself."

It was written when AV still looked at Meta tags, but it tells the
same thing my Drylon searches told me.

Unfortunately, once Meta tags became spam magnets, we SEOs started
telling people to only use words that were already on the page and no
others.  From what I discovered, that advice was actually wrong -- and
in fact, probably useless!

I'm now shifting my position on this (and will eventually rewrite my
Meta keyword article to reflect it).  My new recommendation would be
as follows:

For most sites and pages, don't waste your time creating a Meta
keyword tag unless you feel like it.  (I do it for clients' sites
because they would think I wasn't doing my job if I didn't.)  However,
if you have a specialized site with some funky-techie words that might
apply to the site (as was the case with Drylon), then put those words
*once* in your Meta keyword tag.  It's obviously not gonna help if
there are a whole bunch of other sites with the words visibly on their
pages.  But for unusual stuff, the Meta keyword is still alive and
well in a few engines.

Of course, all of this is moot unless people realize they can search
somewhere besides Google!  But who knows...maybe if we all start using
the Meta keyword tag correctly, old GoogleGirl will start reading
them.  Google did miss some relevant pages for Drylon, and therefore
forced me to look elsewhere.  Food for thought if nothing else!


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__________________________________________________


~~~Notes from Search Engine Strategies Conference~~~

++Designing Search Engine Friendly Sites++

Today's conference reporter is Craig Fifield, Product Designer for
Microsoft bCentral's small business Web site optimization and
submission service, Submit It! <http://www.submit-it.com>.  Craig's
one of those old-timers in the Internet marketing field, as he's been
optimizing sites since 1996.  These days, he tells me that he spends
most of his time writing about search engine optimization, helping a
few friends get the top listings they deserve, and endlessly
developing ways to improve the Submit It! service.  Sounds like my
kind of guy!

Enjoy!

Guest Article
Designing Search Engine Friendly Sites
Craig Fifield

At the Search Engine Strategies Conference held in San Jose,
California, the session entitled "Designing Search Engine Friendly
Sites" provided valuable tips for designing web sites that: (1) rank
well in the search engines and (2) satisfy your target audience. Shari
Thurow, Webmaster and Marketing Director of Grantastic Designs, Inc.,
was the featured speaker.

"Web site owners tend to think about search engine marketing as an
afterthought," said Thurow. "They create a site design first, and then
think that the site can miraculously appear at the top of search
engine results without considering how the search engines and
directory editors will treat the site.  All too often, those site
owners are in for a rude awakening."

"Too many web site designers focus on fancy workarounds or try to
trick the search engine spiders," stated Thurow. "In reality,
simplifying everything on your site (design, scripts, style sheets,
URLs) from the very beginning of the design stage will get you the
best initial results. Not surprisingly, I find that search engine
friendly designs are also user friendly designs."

According to Thurow, users prefer sites that follow five rules of web
design, which are: legibility, ease of navigation, design and layout
consistency, quick download time, and the ability to find products and
services as quickly and easily as possible. "All of these design
principles are interrelated," she says. "No one design principle is
effective without the others."

For example, a site might rank well in the search engines, but the
download time of the destination page might irritate your site
visitors.  "This is particularly true of web sites designed in Flash
or sites with splash pages," said Thurow. "When people come to your
web site, they don't necessarily want to see a gigantic Flash
animation.  They want to see information about the keywords they typed
into a search query."

Once the design template is established, there are three items
designers should keep in mind: visible text, navigation scheme, and
link popularity.  "All search engines index visible text.  This is
something all of the search engines have in common.  This is a fact
about search engines that will not change," stated Thurow. "Therefore,
always put text on the pages you want to show up well in the search
engines."

The most important text on your pages is the text in your title tags,
and the visible body text. Text that is at the top of a page, in the
first screen your target audience views is the most important text on
that page.  Text that is not visible, such as Meta tag text and
alternative text, is not as important as many people think.

When it comes to web copywriting, Thurow advises learning to write
copy using the words that your target audience will type into search
queries.  "You don't even have to spend any money to do quality
keyword research," she said. "You can perform keyword research on the
search engines, look at your web site statistics, and use your site
search engine."

For sites that are willing to spend money on keyword research, Thurow
recommended WordTracker </wordtracker> and
pay-for-inclusion (PFI) programs. "Position Technologies
<http://www.positiontech.com> has wonderful reporting that shows
exactly what people enter into a search query to visit your site," she
said. "You'd be amazed at the keyword combinations people use. Three-
to five-word combinations are quite common."

"Site navigation," said Thurow, "is equally as important as keyword
selection and placement.  Search engines should be able to spider
important sections of your site, so that they know the content exists.
And your site visitors might not necessarily land on the page that
contains the information they are searching for.  Your site's
navigation scheme should help them get to their final destination and,
hopefully, encourage them to take an action (placing an order,
subscribing, etc.)."

"I always have two forms of navigation on a web site: one for the
target audience and one for the search engines," advised Thurow, as
she went through the different types of site navigation that are
search engine friendly. She also warned that most design firms and
advertising agencies do not keep abreast of search engine friendly
designs nor do careful testing.

"Hiring a search engine optimization consultant early in the design
stages can save your company thousands of dollars in time and
expenses," she said. "A consultant can tell you if the design team is
making a fundamental mistake in the initial design templates. For
example, there is no such thing as a 100% search engine friendly
JavaScript rollover. So something as simple as including text links on
pages will help."

The last element of an effective search engine friendly design
involves your site visitors.  Link popularity, which is the number and
quality of links to your site, can determine your site's search engine
visibility.  "That's where the rules of web design come into play,"
stated Thurow. "People tend to link to sites that they find easy to
use and easy to comprehend."

Summarizing the importance of creating search engine friendly sites,
Thurow stated, "The responsibility of marketing a web site falls on
the site owner, not the search engines and directories. A search
engine's job is to deliver relevant results to their target audience.
So if you help the search engines do their job by giving them
keyword-rich text, a navigation scheme they can easily spider, and
quality content that other sites link to, you are helping the search
engines.  And likewise, the search engines can help you."

Craig Fifield
http://www.submit-it.com

[Thanks, Craig!

Craig will be reporting on the "Site Architecture" session for me in
the next few weeks, so be sure to stick around! - J]


~~~Other SEO News~~~

++PageRank Penalties++

With the latest Google shuffle, the world's most popular search engine
has taken a strong stance against the manipulation of PageRank.  They
really didn't have much choice -- the integrity of their results was
at stake.

You may have heard about an Internet marketer who decided to start an
ad network to buy and sell ads for sites, and charge for them based
solely on the Google toolbar PageRank number.  An ad from a page with
a PageRank of 7 cost more than an ad from one that had a PageRank of
6.

Now, one could argue that a PR7 page must get more traffic than a PR6
page, and therefore it should be worth more in terms of advertising
dollars.  However, this isn't always the case, and in fact, it's often
NOT the case.  For this particular ad network, pricing is determined
by the toolbar PageRank number alone.

What it boils down to is that this ad network was attempting to broker
Google PageRank -- pure and simple.

Remember, any links from a page pass along some of that page's
PageRank to the linked page.  Since people seem to think that having a
high toolbar PageRank helps them in the search engine results pages
(it's debatable how much it actually helps), many are willing to do
just about anything to gain high PageRank links.  This is exactly what
the ad network was counting on.

Then the network decided to go public with the plan in order to gain
more customers, and to support their assertion that what they were
doing was perfectly legit.  The guy in charge is a true marketing
master.  He put all sorts of spin on it, claiming that he wasn't
buying and selling PageRank -- just selling ads, and Google should
certainly not have any problem with it.  He remarked that if they did
have problems with it, then all Internet marketing would be in
jeopardy. It all sounded fairly believable because he was so good at
spinning the yarn.

But not everyone in the industry bought into it.  Not by a long shot.
Many warned him that he was opening his sites up to a possible
penalization.  However, those that warned him were brushed off as
being silly (or "cute" as he called me one day).  Many begged him to
at least warn all the owners in his vast network of hosted sites of
possible repercussions from Google.  It's one thing to take a risk
with your own sites, but when other sites are in jeopardy, it only
seems fair to make them aware of what might happen.

Sure enough, the ad network site got the dreaded PR0 (PageRank Zero)
penalty in the latest Google update.  And the main page of the network
of hosted sites saw its PageRank cut in half.  From there, all hell
broke loose with most of their sites losing some or all of their
PageRank.

Of course, the ad guy claims to not understand how Google could
penalize all those innocent sites in his network because they had
nothing to do with the PageRank sales.  And sure, on the surface, it
does make you wonder.  But no! Stop and think about it for a moment.
This guy was warned (not that he needed to be warned -- he's no
dummy), and yet he went ahead and did something that was against
Google's terms of service.

To be sure, he is the one to blame for getting his networked sites
penalized, not Google.  They did what they had to do.  If they let
this ad network get special treatment, the Google search results would
get so messed up that they'd totally lose their relevancy over time.
There was no way that Google could allow blatant manipulation of
PageRank.  They just couldn't.

So now, the network partners are really mad that they've been
punished.  Many are furious at Google.  But they need to direct their
anger to the proper place, i.e., the guy that used their sites as a
shield, and dared Google to attack him.

So...with all that in mind, something occurred to me today when
sitting down to write about this.  If linking out to a "bad
neighborhood" (or penalized site) can get your own page penalized,
what happens to someone like me who writes about the situation and
places a link to the penalized site as part of the article?

I often put links to the sites I discuss here.  I don't have to agree
with what the site is doing to link to it.  I am happy to let you make
up your own minds.  In this case, I have no interest in giving this ad
network any additional press, but it is big SEO news.  Many others
will be writing about it too.  I happen to know that linking to bad
stuff can hurt your site, but what about some writer from C|net, or
some blogger person, or anyone who doesn't know this?  They write
about the situation, add a natural link to the penalized site and then
watch their own page get penalized?

Something's wrong with that picture.

All I can say is that I hope Google has taken all this into
consideration when they set up their filters or penalizations or
whatever the heck they set up for these things.  Free speech really
will begin to erode if this starts to happen, and I would truly hate
to see that.  Thankfully, I have every faith in Google as a company,
and I'm sure they have things under control.  (But I still ain't gonna
link to that *bad* neighbor!)

For more info on PageRank, you should check out the brand-new
"PageRank Uncovered" document written by Chris Ridings and Mike
Shishigin (and edited by yours truly).  If you read the first edition
already, you'll still want to check this version out.  There's a lot
of new and insightful info in it.  I find Chris's take on PageRank to
be fascinating and quite brilliant, which is why I'm honored to have
been involved in the project!  You can find it here:
<http://www.supportforums.org/pagerank>.  (It's a fairly large PDF
file, so be warned!)


~~~Advisor Wrap-Up~~~

The response to my upcoming half-day seminar on November 18th has been
phenomenal.  I'll be emailing all who have responded so far, as soon
as the registration form is in place (some time on Thursday).  If you
have any questions about it, please email me at
mailto:seminar@highrankings.com.

Here are a few more details to help you make your arrangements as
necessary:

When:  Monday, November 18, 2002 -- 9 AM - 11:45 AM
Where: The Boston Marriott Burlington
Cost:  $249 early registration (prior to Oct. 28)
      or $299 late registration (Oct. 29-Nov. 17).

Lunch with the Expert! (That's me...duh!)
When: 12:00 to 1:30 PM
Cost: $35 per person -- limited to the first 25 attendees who register
for it.
(You must be registered for the seminar to be eligible for the lunch.)

Catch you next time! - Jill
 
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