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High Rankings Advisor: Missing Backlinks in Google - Issue No. 051

April 16, 2003
________________________________________________________

~~~IN TODAY'S ADVISOR~~~

*Introductory Comments:
---->   That Time of the Month

*Search Engine Marketing:
---->   Missing Backlinks in Google

*This Week's Sponsor:
---->   Search Engine Optimization Basics Seminar

*Guest Article:
---->   Obtaining User Feedback

*Other SEO News:
---->   Seminar Early Registration Extended
---->   Last Chance for Free London SES Conference Pass

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

*Advisor Wrap-up:
---->   Yippee-ki-yay
________________________________________________________

~~~Introductory Comments~~~

It's that time of the month again. Google has danced and my inbox is
swarming with "what happened to my site listing?" emails.  Happens
every month when the new crop of penalizations comes up.  Google has
been hard at work to rid its database of sites that purposely try to
subvert its index or its PageRank process.  Each month, more and more
Webmasters and SEOs find that their spam techniques of yore are
suddenly causing their sites to get booted.  Stuff they had no idea
might be considered spamming...cuz they've done it for years without a
problem. Read on for more. - Jill


~~~Search Engine Marketing Issues~~~

[This is just one example of the many emails I've received on this
subject this week. - Jill]

From: Bruce L.

You know what's really funny with my site and Google?  Google used to
show the links pointing to me, but for the last month or so they don't
show any links pointing to me even though there are some. I emailed
Google about this but haven't received any type of response. Any idea
why they have lost this very important piece of information on my web
site?

Thanks,

Bruce

~~~Jill's Response~~~

If you have a new site that has never had backlinks showing up and/or
has a Google toolbar PageRank of zero, there's nothing to worry about.
This simply means that Google hasn't had a chance to index your site
yet, or it hasn't indexed the sites linking to you. There's no cause
for alarm in those situations.

However, for a site that is well-established that had previously shown
backlinks in Google, or one that used to show some decent PageRank but
has seen it significantly lowered (more than one point), there may be
cause for concern.

Before I go any further, I want you to know that the average Web site
owner who designs a site and optimizes it through the techniques I
discuss here every week -- writing keyword-rich content and creating
HTML tags to match -- will not generally have to worry about their
site getting inadvertently penalized in the search engines.

Oh sure, there have been cases where a site might have gotten caught
up in some sort of "spam filter" even though there was never an
attempt to spam.  In these cases, it may take a month or so for things
to get sorted out.  But 95% of the time there's a technical
explanation for why the site is no longer indexed correctly (see
"Blackballed From Google"
</issue017.htm#seo>), or the site designer
has purposely pushed the envelope with their search engine
optimization.  They may not admit it to anyone, but if they think
about it a bit, they can generally recall what they might have done to
get penalized.  Sure, they may not have known it was a no-no at the
time, but then they're simply not using their common sense.

When your backlinks totally disappear in Google (but your site is
still showing up in the cache) you've probably done something that
takes away from your users' visitor experience.  These things include
the following unprofessional SEO/design techniques:

* Creating multiple sites on the same or similar topic and linking
them all together through visible or invisible links.  Generally,
these types of sites have content that is very similar or exactly the
same.  Often a site template is used and the specific keyword phrases
for each site are simply inserted into the copy and tags.  These sites
usually have long lists of links to all of the other sites in the
network.  This is the *most common* reason I see these days for Google
penalizations, and unfortunately, it's a technique still touted by
many who haven't been caught yet.  This is because it worked very well
for many years.

Please note that this doesn't mean you can't have a network of related
sites without fearing the wrath of Google.  You absolutely *can* have
a network of sites if it makes sense to have them and improves your
users' experience.  But you really need to have unique content on each
and every site and not link them all together where it really doesn't
make sense to do so.  For instance, just because a person is
interested in the gold jewelry selling on one of your sites, it
doesn't mean they'll be interested in the low-cost loans you offer on
another of your sites.  It really doesn't make sense for those sites
to be linked together, and generally the only reason they are linked
is in an attempt to gain links and/or Google rankings -- not out of
courtesy to the site visitors.

* Using automated software to submit your site or to check your
rankings in Google.  This includes any rank-checking software such as
WebPosition Gold, AgentWebRanking, etc.  (It's true that most software
of this type has built-in safeguards so that you won't get caught
performing automated queries.  Google may or may not be able to track
you down for doing this, but the bottom line is that it's against
their stated terms of service.  If you decide to do it anyway, you do
so at your own peril.)  Google has and does penalize sites for this,
and there's no way to know for sure if this is why your site is
penalized.

* Stuffing keywords and keyword phrases into your content at the top
or bottom of your page, either visibly or invisibly.  Or stuffing your
Title and Meta tags in a similar fashion.  (C'mon...does this really
add any value to your visitors' site experience?)  It used to be that
this junk was simply ignored, but Google is on a real quest to provide
high-quality pages and will automatically penalize it when they can.

That said, we all still see lots of really "spammy" pages in Google
that continue to rank highly.  (Do a search for "email marketing
consultant" and you'll see some blatant spam.)  Obviously, Google
hasn't quite gotten their spam filters in tune yet.  It's got to be
quite difficult to figure out ways to penalize the bad without hurting
the good.  But just because you see others "getting away with it"
doesn't mean it's a good idea to use those techniques on your own
pages.  Certainly not if you have any long-term goals for high
rankings.

* Linking to sites that have very poor quality (or that spam the
search engines), and which offer no value to your visitors.  I have to
laugh when people ask me if they should link to a certain site just
because the other site linked to them.  Or they ask if it's okay to
bury their links page so that real people won't find them.  Seems to
me that if you have to ask...

Again, as with everything I've been talking about today and always --
your site visitors are key.  Do you really think they benefit from
those links to poor-quality sites?  If they're so beneficial, why do
you feel the need to hide them?

So...given all of the above, I headed out to take a look at Bruce's
site.  Many times when I check out sites that have been hit with an
apparent penalty, it's not readily apparent what the problem might be.
Usually, some digging and probing is necessary.  However, this was not
the case with Bruce's site.  In fact, I was surprised that Bruce is
actually a subscriber to my newsletter, because he apparently has not
been paying attention!  This site is breaking nearly every obvious
rule in the Google best-practices book.  I can't even imagine how
Bruce could not realize this, but then I suppose maybe he read the
wrong forums, or talked to some unprofessional SEO who was still
partying like it was 1995.  I really don't know.

The home page of his site had no content to speak of, only links to
inner pages.  This in and of itself is certainly not spam, but it's
not good SEO either!  What *was* spam, however, was the bottom of the
page where there were links that said "mirror1, mirror2, mirror3" etc.
Ummm...how could someone not realize this was spam?  Any up-to-date
search engine optimization reference site would tell you this.  Even
old-time spammers know better than to be so blatant!  What was even
more amusing to me was these mirror links lead to sites that were each
spammier than the next!  Keyword-stuffed text that was partially
hidden, and more links to additional spammy "mirror" sites.  The Title
tags of all the sites were miles long, and overrun with keywords.
Basically, I was looking at classic search engine spam of the worst
(stupidest) kind (because it's just so cheesy!).

When I emailed Bruce to tell him that he was a very baaaaaad boy for
using these techniques, his answer was simply that he had been given
some bad advice.  No, I'm sorry, that just doesn't cut it.  Sure, in
1995 that excuse might work.  Maybe even in 1997.  But there's
certainly enough good SEO advice in existence right now that ignorance
of this magnitude is really inexcusable.  Now, I'm not saying that
this is true for all the sites that have found themselves penalized.
There are definitely some penalizations happening that are not blatant
spam...more like "pushing your luck" kind of spam.   But the spam at
Bruce's site was so darn pitiful and obvious that any site visitor
would spot it.

[LOL...okay, now this is funny.  While I was working on the rest of
this newsletter, I noticed one of the many, many email spams that came
in was selling products just like the kind that Bruce sells.  So I
opened it up out of curiosity.  Guess what?  It was Bruce's company!
Why am I not surprised?  I'm only sorry that I wasted my time emailing
him personally in an attempt to help at first. - J]


__________________________________________________

Teach a person SEO and their site will gain top-10 rankings for life!
__________________________________________________

Let me show you the ins and outs of SEO -- in-person -- on the
morning of May 16th at the Sheraton Colony Square Atlanta.

You can hire a high-priced SEO consultant like me, or you can spend
less than $300, have some fun and learn how easy SEO really is!

Can you really afford NOT to attend?
</seminar>
__________________________________________________


~~~Guest Article~~~

++Obtaining User Feedback++

So far in Kim's series of usability articles she's focused on
organizing the layout and the foundation.  Today she's going to
discuss how to get Web site feedback.

Many people build a site thinking they've done everything right, when
in fact, the site has failed.  At Kim's Cre8asiteForums' Website
Hospital <http://www.cre8asiteforums.com/viewforum.php?f=4>, many
people come in and ask, "What do you think of my website?"  Yet, what
they really want to know is why their site ranks poorly in search
engines and why their traffic and sales are so slow.  These are great
questions, but unfortunately, they're often being asked of the wrong
target audience.

So sit back and learn how and when to get the feedback you *really*
need...before it's too late to do anything about it!

Guest Article
Being Tops with Your Users and the Search Engines
Part 3 - Obtaining User Feedback
By Kimberly Kopp Krause

The idea behind an organized, well-planned website is that it's
designed according to the original specifications outlined in the
"Business and Functional Requirements" discussed in Part 1 of this
series </issue049.htm#guest>.  This
exercise makes sure each detail is covered in the design.

Playing Detective

There are three times in the life of a website when user feedback is
necessary:

1.  Before the design or redesign.  At this stage, it's important to
figure out who your target audience or ideal client is so that you can
meet the objectives of the site. Include marketing data, and ask
potential users what they want, how they want it and why.

2.  During the design.  First test the website on your development
server with sample test users. You can include the development team
but since they know how it's intended to work, they're not necessarily
the most objective testers. Be sure to run a beta test on your
"staging site" (a mirror of the final site) with other, more objective
testers.  This will allow you to work out the bugs, create
enhancements and perform navigational adjustments *before* your live
launch.

3.  After the launch.  When the website is in full production,
included in the search engines and humming along nicely, it's time to
start digging into your server logs and stats to track your users'
interaction with your site.  (Pages visited, how long on each page,
paths throughout the site, etc.)  You can learn a lot about your
visitors this way.

All websites will benefit from this before/during/after approach and
attention to detail, but few actually take the time to do it.  Those
that do are generally many steps ahead of their competitors.

Detective Tools

If you simply want to know how your website is doing, feedback is easy
to gather.  However, if you built a website where you need statistical
data such as ROI (return on investment), customer satisfaction
results, and competitive analysis, things will be a bit trickier.

Here is a variety of different methods for collecting user feedback
(some are more easy to implement than others):

1. Contact email address - include this in your footer and/or contact
page.

2. Contact feedback form - do not *require* personal information here.
Leave lots of room for comments, and be sure to ask questions. Offer
incentives to encourage user feedback.

3. Polls - there are all kinds to choose from (look for third-party
polling software).

4. Popup forms - however, many users don't like these or have them
disabled. Consider your target audience and any risks before deploying
this option.

5. Exit polls - for instance, a poll that shows up after a person
checks out of your shopping cart.

6. Ratings - try adding a "rate this page" function.

7. Ask for help from Listservs/Forums - there are many forums that
allow you to ask for a website critique and will help you with any
trouble spots.

8. Email surveys - survey a sample of your users through email (only
those who've given you permission to do so). You can design longer
surveys for user testing this way.

9. Web-based surveys - there are many pre-built surveys you can add to
your site.  Some are designed for generic feedback while others
collect real-time data for analysis.

10. Focus groups - there are marketing firms you can outsource this to
if it's within your budget.

11. Labs - hire usability experts to watch people using your website
and record their movements via videotape.

12. Friends - if you don't have the budget for a usability expert, you
can copy the lab scenario by watching friends use your site.

13. Clients - don't wait until the final rollout to show the site to
your client. Allow the client's staff to beta-test it using their own
operating systems and browsers.

14. Usability testing  - more on this in Part 5 of this series.

How To Ask Questions

It's important to note that the way a question is asked and presented
can bias the results of any user feedback.  There are user-testing
books to help you understand how to set up a neutral testing
environment, and white papers or usability studies that teach the
design of questionnaires, where to place web-based surveys and how
many people to sample for meaningful results.

Types and Examples of Questions

When creating questions for your users, you'll want to categorize them
into the following types:

* New ideas
* Criticisms
* Help/FAQ
* Navigation
* Performance
* Credibility/popularity
* Functionality
* Ease of use
* User interface
* Search engines

There are many ways to ask your questions, and of course, many
questions to ask.  Your survey format can include "yes or no"
questions, five-point scale satisfaction, verbatim answers (written
comments), checkbox selections or simply a question written on a piece
of paper and handed to someone (usually in the form of a task you
would like them to perform).  Tasks are the most telling of all
because watching a user shows what works and what doesn't.

Here are some example questions that will help you uncover the most
common mistakes:

* Were you able to locate the login button?
* Were you able to locate the shopping cart icon?
* At what point, if any, did you get lost on this website?
* How satisfied were you with the navigation of this website?
* Please rate your experience with locating product specials and/or
sales.
* Was the objective of this website clear?
* How fast did this page load?  What connection speed are you using?
(DSL, cable, modem)
* Were the tasks you performed self-explanatory?
* How satisfied are you with our link descriptions?
* How satisfied are you with the product images?

Why Bother?

A successful website is one where the visitors' needs are being met.
User surveys and feedback are diagnostic tools to help identify
problems before, during and after the site is built.  It's like
designing the food take-out speaker for a drive-thru restaurant and
finding the speaker height is wrong for sports cars.  Far better to
find out before a billion speakers are built and sent to the
restaurants!  If enough users are surveyed you can understand the
magnitude of any problems or trouble spots before it's too late, and
then determine whether it's financially justifiable to make
improvements.

Part Four - Building Your Search-engine-friendly and User-friendly
Website

Kimberly Kopp Krause
Cre8pc: http://www.cre8pc.com
Cre8asite Forums: http://www.cre8asiteforums.com


 ~~~Other SEO News~~~

++Seminar Early Registration Extended++

Due to some server glitches this week, along with taxes and Easter
coming up, I've decided to extend the early-bird discount of $50 off
the regular price for my Atlanta Search Engine Optimization Basics
seminar.  If you didn't have a chance to get in and register yet, you
can still reserve your spot for $249 -- a savings of $50.  This is
scheduled to go up to $299 on May 23rd.

As further incentive to sign up now, I'm going to give everyone at the
seminar a free copy of my Sound Advice on Search Engine Optimization
written transcript!  Currently it's only available with the Sound
Advice CD, and it has a market value of at least $20 or more.  So,
head on over to </seminar> and get yourself
registered today!  There are still lunch spaces left too!

I'm looking forward to meeting many of you there.


++Last Chance for Free London SES Conference Pass++

I'll be choosing one lucky person next week. Learn more here:
</issue049.htm#seonews2>.


~~~Stuff You Might Like~~~

++Recap of Past Stuff++

Here's a quick recap of some past stuff I've told you about, with
links to their full reviews:

* Step-By-Step Copywriting Course (revised and updated):
</issue049.htm#stuff>

* Nitty-gritty of Writing for the Search Engines:
</issue043.htm#stuff>

* Search Engine Visibility:
</issue041.htm#stuff>

* 21 Techniques to Maximize your Profits on Google AdWords Select:
</issue006.htm#seonews2>

* Search Engine Yearbook 2003:
</issue038.htm#stuff>

* Sound Advice for Search Engine Optimization CD:
</issue048.htm#stuff>

* Search Engine Optimization Basics Seminar Atlanta:
</seminar>

* Search Engine Marketing (all new 2nd edition) - The Essential Best
Practices Guide: </issue018.htm#stuff>.


~~~Advisor Wrap-up~~~

Well, we're off to a ranch in Upstate New York for the long weekend!
We're going with some of my husband's family and we're all looking
forward to it. Yippee-ki-yay!

Catch you next week if my butt's not too sore from horseback riding! -
Jill


 
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