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High Rankings Advisor: Yahoo/Google Changes - Issue No. 031

October 23, 2002
________________________________________________________

~~~IN TODAY'S ADVISOR~~~

*Introductory Comments:
---->   Keep Your Seat in the Upright Position!

*Search Engine Marketing:
---->   Yahoo/Google Changes

*This Week's Sponsor:
---->   Siteopedia Professional Site Designs

*Notes from Search Engine Strategies Conference:
---->   Successful Site Architecture

*Other SEO News:
---->   Who's Hungry?

*Stuff You Might Like
---->   Step-By-Step(tm) Copywriting Course

*Advisor Wrap-Up:
---->   Tell it to Mother Nature
________________________________________________________

~~~Introductory Comments~~~

Hey everyone!  I'm back from Munich, where I had a great time at the
conference.  My presentation went well, if you don't count the part in
the middle of it when half my slides disappeared!  But all in all, it
was a really good trip.  I even got to tag along with some great
people and do some sightseeing.  The only part that sucked was the guy
that sat behind me on the plane who insisted that my seatback be
placed in the upright position at all times!  Each time I would put it
down (which was as soon as we were at cruising altitude), he would
kick it back up.  He was very obnoxious.  Hey, it's not my fault that
the planes are cramped these days.  When I was just about ready to
turn around and pop him in the mouth, he stopped.  Just as well.
I'm really not one for confrontation on an airplane, but I also wasn't
about to sit 8 hours in an upright position.  It's too bad my daughter
Corie wasn't with me.  I'm certain she would have had a few choice
words for the guy!

Anyway, I'm back on Eastern time and have lots of great search engine
marketing info for you.  So, let's get right to it! - Jill


~~~Search Engine Marketing Issues~~~

++Yahoo/Google Changes++

From: Clay Crosland

Jill,

I'm very displeased with Yahoo's new way of listing sites.  I would
think they would be shooting themselves in the foot by listing their
directory matches second.  Why would anyone want to list their sites
in their directory (and pay them $300) if no one will see them?  I'm
sure some people will, but I'd guess that they'd be losing over 90% of
traffic to their directory listings.

I guess this just means that we'll have to really start working hard
to get ranked high on Google for all of our sites.  Which leads me to
my question to you.

Did Google make a change on or about the 28th of September?  We used
to rank quite well on several of our sites for several keywords, and
have now fallen off the planet for most of them.  They all seem to
have done this right around that time period.  I'm not sure what to do
to try to reposition us high in Google, as I have no clue what kind of
changes they have made...any ideas?

Clay

~~~Jill's Response~~~

These are great questions as they discuss two very important issues
that are happening in the SEO world right now: Yahoo's recent switch
to "all Google, all the time" and Google's recent "algorithm change."

In case you haven't noticed, a few weeks ago Yahoo stopped showing
their own directory results when a search is made.  They're now
showing results that come straight from Google's database, and they
are ranked (for the most part) according to Google's ranking
algorithm.  The major difference between the Yahoo results and
Google's own results is that if a site is listed in the Yahoo
directory, the Yahoo title and description will show up instead of the
information in your page's title tag.  The directory-listed pages are
also designated by a little red arrow.

There are many implications to these changes -- all for the better, in
my opinion.  Yahoo is now a worthwhile search site once again.  Before
the change, their results were so spam-filled that they were
essentially useless.  Unprofessional SEOs had taken all the top spots
for their clients' sites by creating fake keyword rich company names,
and purchasing domain names to match.  Now this trick is worthless.
(Yay!)

As to Yahoo's reasoning behind this change, all I can guess is that
they were tired of losing visitors to Google.  If you can't beat 'em,
join 'em!  Perhaps they decided that $299 per listing didn't amount to
much for them if they couldn't sell people on their other services
while they were there.  Maybe they needed a good reason for people to
come to them and stay with them.  Google has proven that having
relevant search results can make you queen of the prom.  Perhaps Yahoo
hopes to be king?

So the big question remains -- should you pay $299 a year for a Yahoo
directory listing now?  I certainly see no benefit in doing so.  In
fact, I would even say that you might be better off *without* a
directory listing.  Some people say that it's worth having Yahoo's
nice short title and description showing up in the results for your
site.  But to me, that's a bad thing!  Why would I want Yahoo's yucky
title and description when I can have any title and description I
want, simply by putting them on my page?  Okay, so that's not totally
true since I can't actually choose a description with Google, because
they use "snippets."  However, I like snippets, because they show that
the site is highly relevant to the search query by highlighting the
keywords.  Yahoo's title has to be the company name.  For most unknown
companies, this is not a benefit to their listing.

It's true that there's still the "link popularity" benefit that a
Yahoo listing supposedly gives you.  But is it worth $299 a year for
that?  Plus, aren't we supposed to refrain from getting listings for
the sole purpose of boosting link popularity (or Google PageRank)?
Besides, there are plenty of other directories that will list you for
free.  Try GoGuides <http://www.goguides.org>, JoeAnt
<http://www.joeant.com> and Gimpsy <http://www.gimpsy.org> for
starters.  (There's always DMOZ, but as most of us know, getting
listed there these days is like pulling teeth!)

Of course, these changes also mean that a good Google listing is even
*more* important than ever.  (Bet you didn't think that could ever
happen!)  Along with the Google search engine itself (which is gaining
in popularity by leaps and bounds), Google also powers AOL, Netscape,
IWon, and now Yahoo.  That's a huge reach.  Should you be scared of
this?  I'm certainly not.  Although I do wish that other search
engines would somehow miraculously become popular because it would
make things a lot more fun, I don't see it happening in the immediate
future.  All this means is that doing SEO in a professional manner is
more important than ever.

It's very simple to get high rankings in Google, although it is
nothing that can be done overnight.  You've heard me say it a million
times.  Create a great, content-filled site which naturally uses your
keyword phrases, and optimize the HTML code accordingly. This will not
only get you high rankings in Google (and its partners), but in every
spidering search engine out there!

So what happened to Clay's Google rankings around the end of
September?  Well, it's hard to say for sure.  But there was definitely
a big shakeup at Google after the last "Google Dance," which was right
around that time.  Many pages that had been highly ranked for years
suddenly dropped out of sight.  It appears as if Google made a major
change to their algorithm in their continuing effort to fight spam.
Anytime this happens, some sites inadvertently get dropped.  For the
most part, my clients' sites did not have any problems, and in fact,
most of them went up in rankings.

If your site is having problems in Google this month, here's what I
would suggest.  First, you know whether you're using any
unprofessional SEO techniques.  Just because it may have worked in the
past doesn't mean it's okay to use it.  So, be honest with yourself.
If you felt a little scummy when "optimizing," chances are that's what
your problem is.  Fix it, and wait until next month's reindexing.  If
you have honestly assessed all your techniques, and are positive that
you have behaved in a completely professional manner, PLUS, you know
that your site is as fully optimized as it can be, then I wouldn't do
anything just yet.  Trying to tweak your code for any possible
algorithm changes will only drive you crazy.  If you're confident in
your work, then there's nothing more you can do.  When that happens to
any of my sites, I chalk it up to the search engine being wrong -- not
my site!  And you know what?  Eventually the search engines work out
their little problems and my site is once again at the top where it
belongs.  If you try to change things each month, you'll never really
be able to tell which of your techniques work.  Have faith and ride it
out.  If after a few months there are still problems with your
rankings, re-evaluate everything once again, and make changes as
necessary.


__________________________________________________adv.

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__________________________________________________


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

++Successful Site Architecture++

Since he did so well on his first guest article, I've brought back
Craig Fifield, Product Designer for Microsoft bCentral's Submit It!
<http://www.submit-it.com> to report on the "Successful Site
Architecture" sessions from last summer's SES conference.  Let's give
Craig another warm Advisor welcome!

Guest Article
Successful Site Architecture
Craig Fifield

At the Search Engine Strategies Conference held in San Jose, speakers
for the session entitled "Successful Site Architecture" and the
corresponding "Site Clinic" discussed strategies and techniques for
creating search engine friendly Web sites. Barbara Coll, CEO of
WebMama.com, and Shari Thurow, Webmaster and Marketing Director of
Grantastic Designs, Inc., were the featured speakers.

Naming Files, Directories and Links

According to Coll, when developing your site, it is important to
remember to use your target keywords in your directory and file names.
By using your important keywords in the URLs, you are providing the
search engines with valuable information about that page. As an
example, she stated that instead of naming a directory the traditional
"products," try calling it "musical-instruments" or whatever the
keywords are that will describe your products and resonate with your
target audience.

Thurow emphasized the naming of hyperlinks. She said that when working
with text links or alternative text inside of graphic images, you can
improve their effectiveness by asking the question, "What kind of?"
As an example, she said, "In the alt text, don't label a graphic image
'services.'  What kind of services do you offer?  Accounting services?
That's better. But then take it one step further and ask 'what kind
of' accounting services?  Income tax accounting services? That's even
better."

Site Maps

One of the most essential pages of a Web site is the site map. "Site
maps are great 'food' for search engine spiders," stated Coll. "They
provide links to all the important pages of your site -- thus
encouraging the search engines to add them to their database."

Coll advised, "Make sure you create a site map that also provides a
welcoming entry point for visitors who land there directly from search
results.  This means having a paragraph (with keywords strategically
embedded) that describes your company or services, along with
descriptions of each of the pages you are linking to. By fleshing out
your site map to be more than just a set of links, it can become one
of your highest ranked pages.

For reference, Coll provided these examples of good site maps:
<http://www.webex.com/home/webex-sitemap.html>
<http://www.cme.com/sitemap.cfm>
<http://www.homegain.com/real_estate/home_sitemap>.

Custom 404 Error Page

Coll also discussed the importance of always creating a custom 404
error page. People often mistype URLs, and some sites (through the
redesign process or just common typographical errors), end up having
links to non-existent pages.  By creating a custom 404 error page, you
are "error trapping" your site, making it easier for end users to find
where they want to go.  Coll stated that you should include HTML links
to the most important pages of your site, and also a site search box
if you have one. She cited Apple Computers' 404 page
<http://www.apple.com/custom.html> as a good example to follow.

Dynamic HTML (DHTML)

DHTML generally consists of Cascading Style Sheets and JavaScript,
which Thurow addressed separately.

"I highly recommend using style sheets on all designs. They greatly
decrease the download time of your Web pages," she said. "Plus, since
style sheets have replaced most HTML formatting options, they will be
essential for all future site designs."

The problem with CSS is that they can be easily abused. "Don't use
style sheets to place all of your Web page content into an <H1> tag,"
she warned. "The search engines understand that content inside of an
<H1> tag is a headline."  She also advised against using CSS layers to
hide text unnecessarily. "Drop-down menus are understandable," she
said, "and I have designed sites that have invisible layers in
drop-down menus that have no spam penalties. However, if the content
inside of the layers is never meant to be viewed by your site
visitors, then that can be considered spam."

For JavaScript, Thurow stated that all scripts should be placed in
external files to improve download time and make your pages easier for
the search engines to index. She added that the robots exclusion
should be used for your JavaScript files to keep the engines from
indexing them unnecessarily.

Flash Sites and Splash Pages

Coll and Thurow do not encourage the use of splash pages on a Web
site.  Splash pages contain little or no quality text for the search
engine spiders to index, and no links for them to follow, making them
ineffective for search engine marketing.

However, Thurow announced that FAST Search is now able to index Flash
sites and extract the data from the movies. "Be patient," she advised.
"I'm sure the other search engines will come around as well."

Framed Sites

Due to the difficulty of having them properly listed by the search
engines, Coll and Thurow highly recommend avoiding framed sites
altogether.  "Every time I remove the frameset from a site design,
search engine visibility, traffic and sales also increase," stated
Thurow.

For those reluctant to remove frames, Thurow recommended offering
users the ability to choose between a framed or unframed version of
your site.  "If you find that your users prefer the unframed version,
then you know that's how your future designs should be formatted."

Server-Side Includes (SSIs)

Thurow advised that when using SSIs, the server puts together the Web
page first, then sends the fully constructed page to the browser and
search engine spiders. Therefore, using SSIs is fine as long as the
fully constructed Web page is search engine friendly.

The "Successful Site Architecture" session and clinic were some of the
better segments of the conference.  Coll and Thurow provided a wide
variety of informative tips and examples that are not common
knowledge, but very important to your search engine success.  Anyone
that has been having difficulties getting listed properly or that is
designing a new site should consider attending in the future. The
design time and headaches saved will more than make up for the price
of admission.

Craig Fifield
Submit It!
http://www.submit-it.com

[Jill's Comments:  Thanks for that great report, Craig!

Normally, I don't comment on these conference reports, as they are a
factual account of what was said in the presentations.  However, there
were a few things discussed at this session (I attended it) that I
can't help but give my opinion on.  (I'm funny that way!)

I just have to disagree with the emphasis that Barbara Coll puts on
using keywords in directory and file names.  Most sites that I
optimize do not use this technique, yet they always get top rankings.
It's one of those things that won't hurt to do (if you're starting
from scratch), but are highly over-rated, in my opinion.  I don't
think it's ever been proven beyond a reasonable doubt that
keyword-rich file names actually increase rankings.  Therefore, I
would certainly not go out of my way to rename them.  If I were a
search engine engineer, instead of giving these pages extra weight, I
would actually go to the opposite extreme and "flag" them as possible
spam pages.  (Especially ones that use multiple hyphens in them.)  I
have no knowledge of the engines doing anything like that, but when I
optimize pages, my #1 priority is to think like a search engine.
Certainly, keywords used this way may have once been given some weight
with some engines.  But with the ever-present cat-and-mouse game that
goes on between the engines and unprofessional SEOs, it makes sense
that keywords in file names would be one of the first things to be
downgraded in their algorithms.  It's all about common sense!

Oh, and the other thing that crossed my mind while attending that
session and reading this report was that although Flash may be
indexable by FAST (and possibly other engines in the future), so what?
Have you ever seen any actual content worth indexing in a Flash movie?
I haven't.  I think it's important for professional SEOs to stress the
fact that like splash pages in general, any page that is created
totally in Flash should not be considered part of your search engine
marketing campaign.  Use Flash if you like it, but optimize your site
correctly by ensuring that it has search engine friendly pages that
are rich with body text content.  I'm pretty sure that Shari would
agree! - Jill ]


~~~Other SEO News~~~

++Who's Hungry?++

Don't forget to sign up for my half-day search engine marketing
seminar on November 18th at the Boston Marriott Burlington.  There are
still spaces open for the seminar; however, the "lunch with the
expert" (me!) is limited to only 25 people.  Last I checked this
morning, it was up to 20.  If you were hoping to be there for the
lunch, you better get off your butt and register quickly!  And even if
you're only interested in the seminar, you'll save $50 by registering
early also.

Visit this page: </seminar> for more
information or to sign up.  I hope to see you there in November!  Oh,
and just so you know, so far I've been able to convince reps from
AltaVista and Overture to show up.  They'll be happy to answer your
questions about their engines and services during the breakfast and
break.  I'm working on getting a few more reps in also, and will keep
you informed through the newsletter and on the seminar page of my
site.


~~~Stuff You Might Like~~~

++Step-By-Step(tm) Copywriting Course++

Okay, so I don't have any new stuff to tell you about.

But you know what?  If I sell just four more copies of Karon's
excellent copywriting course this month, I get a $100 bonus from her!
(That's a lot of chocolate!)

'Nuff said.

Read my review of it here and make your own decision:
</issue009.htm#stuff>.


~~~Advisor Wrap-Up~~~

So I wake up this morning to drive my girls to school (late as usual),
and I look up at my skylight to see it covered with...snow!  Huh?
Isn't it still October?  I tell the girls it's snowing, and Corie (my
15-year-old) says, "No, it can't snow before Halloween!"  Okay, well,
tell that to Mother Nature...

Later, while writing the newsletter, I happened to look out my front
window and saw how cool it looked to see the orange-red leaves of our
tree against the snow covered background.  I don't think I've ever
seen that before.  So I grabbed my camera and took a few shots of it.
You can see one here: </fallsnow2.jpg>.
Now, many hours later, the sun is shining and the snow has melted.  At
least my photos prove to me it wasn't just a dream!

While I was grabbing the photos off the camera, I also downloaded the
few I took in Germany.  You can see them here
</germany.htm> if you're interested.

Catch you next time! - Jill
 
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