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High Rankings Advisor: Legitimate SEO Company or Not - Issue No. 067

August 13, 2003

________________________________________________________

~~~IN TODAY'S ADVISOR~~~

*Introductory Comments:
---->   Off to San Jose

*Search Engine Marketing:
---->   Legitimate SEO Company or Not?

*This Week's Sponsors:
---->   The Nitty-gritty of Writing for the Search Engines

*Guest Article:
---->   SEO Writing Strategies for Graphical Sites

*Stuff You Might Like:
---->   E-Newsletters That Work

*Other SEO News:
---->   Tampa SEO Seminar
---->   Marketing Forum Watch

*Advisor Wrap-up:
---->   Boogie Cat
________________________________________________________

~~~Introductory Comments~~~

Hey all! Just a quick note to remind you that I'll be off next week
due to heavy partying at the SES conference in San Jose.  I'm looking
forward to catching up with old friends and new ones.  If you're gonna
be there, please make sure to say hi.  I'm speaking on Day 1 and Day 3
and will be hanging out the whole week.  Like last year, you can
probably find me at the pool with my laptop (and you have to pass by
the pool anyway to get to most of the sessions), so please feel free
to stop by my pool "office" for a chat!  I'm sure I'll welcome the
diversion.

I've got lots of good stuff for you again today, so let's get right to
it! - Jill


~~~Search Engine Marketing Issues~~~

++Legitimate SEO Company or Not?++

From: Colleen

Hi Jill,

I am a small business owner who would like to improve my ranking.  I
have been contacted by a company who "guarantees" top-10 rankings on 6
major sites within 180 days for a fee.  Can you please tell me if
these types of companies are legitimate, and which ones you would
recommend or avoid.

Thank you!

Colleen

~~~Jill's Response~~~

Hi Colleen,

This is a very good and timely question, which I get asked a lot.
Many companies receive numerous unsolicited emails or phone calls
offering similar "SEO" packages.

Are they bad? Good? Indifferent?

Without extensively evaluating each offer, it's impossible to say for
sure.  However, there are definitely some things you should be aware
of before signing any contracts for this type of service.

You'll often hear people who call themselves "ethical SEOs" say that
*any* company that offers guaranteed rankings is simply out to scam
you.  They say that since nobody has control over the search engines,
nobody can guarantee rankings.  This is partially true, but I don't
totally agree.

When talking about the "natural" search listings, not paid ads, it's
true that no SEO company can simply place a URL into a particular
position in the search engines for any given keyword phrase.  All they
can do is optimize your site and hope for the best.  So in that sense,
they can't guarantee a particular placement.  However, that doesn't
preclude any SEO company from guaranteeing that they'll give you your
money back if they don't achieve a particular ranking in a particular
engine.  If they want to offer you that sort of money-back guarantee,
then that's their prerogative.  Offering this doesn't automatically
mean that the company is scamming you.

That said, before you run right out and hire a company like this, make
sure that you take a very close look at how they word their guarantee.
You may not be getting the safety net you thought you were, and this
is where they may truly be out to trick you.

Guarantees have been a part of the SEO business since I first began in
it, but I've always found them to be a joke.  Once you actually see
what it is these companies guarantee, you will find that they are
rarely worth much, and chances are you won't see any money back from
them, due to the fine print.

Make sure you look closely at what they say they will do for you.
Sure, first-page placement on at least six of the major search engines
sounds great on the surface.  But which engines do they consider to be
"major" search engines?

The major search properties people seem to use these days are Google,
MSN Search, Yahoo, AOL Search, AskJeeves, Lycos, HotBot, FAST,
AltaVista and Excite, with some of these being used a whole lot more
than others.  The interesting thing to note, however, is that many of
these use the same database!

For instance, Google powers itself, plus Yahoo and AOL.  So a decent
ranking in Google also means a decent ranking in Yahoo and AOL.  Which
gives any company that offers a guarantee three engines for the price
of one!  On top of that, there are engines such as HotBot that offer a
choice of using AskJeeves, Google, Inktomi, Lycos or all four.
Therefore a ranking in any one of those engines could also be
considered a ranking in HotBot.  (Which actually means Google gives
you four for the price of one, I guess!)  Lycos and FAST share the
same database, and MSN uses Inktomi, which also powers a whole bunch
of other engines that are probably included in the SEO company's
guarantee.

Make sure you know exactly which search engines you will see top
rankings in, and make sure they use separate databases.  You should
also make sure that they're not just ranking your site in a
pay-per-click search engine by simply buying their way in on your
behalf.  (There's nothing wrong with that, as long as you understand
where that ranking actually came from.)

Don't be surprised to find that what the SEO company considers to be a
"major" search engine is one you never heard of before.  That's a
common trick some use to "fulfill" their guarantee.  Do you really
care if you're number one at Joe's Extreme Search Engine
Extraordinaire?

Another trick these companies often use is that they simply optimize
your site for keyword phrases that nobody is searching for.  I've said
it before, and I'll say it again...anyone can optimize pages for
phrases like that.  Who cares?  Who cares if you're number one in all
the search engines for a stupid keyword phrase that sounds really good
on the surface, but which according to Wordtracker has zero searches
in the past 350 million search queries?  Be sure to check out current
ranking reports from the company and do some keyword research on the
phrases they have ranked highly.  Better yet, see if you can look at
some log file reports to see if any targeted traffic is coming into
their clients' sites.  I'm not saying that the SEO company should be
shooting for the most competitive keyword phrases there are, but they
shouldn't be shooting for the least competitive either.

So, in answer to the original question, what I'm trying to say here is
that if you sign up with an SEO company because you figure you have
nothing to lose, don't be so sure.  Go through your SEO contract with
a fine-toothed comb and make sure you understand *exactly* what you're
getting or what you're not getting. Once you sign on the dotted line,
it will be too late.

Most professional SEO consultants don't offer a guarantee, because
they don't need to.  As professionals, they will do the best they can
do for your site and keep doing it until they've satisfied the
requirements of their contract with you.

As with hiring any service, be sure you do the appropriate research
into the company you hire.  Check references, learn about their
methods, and don't let them sway you with techno-babble.  Good SEO
companies
are not cheap.  If you don't have much of a budget for SEO,
you should learn to do it yourself.  The ironic thing is that in many
ways, doing the SEO yourself may be easier than choosing a reputable
company to do it for you!

Good luck!

Jill



~~~Guest Article~~~

Got another one from my good friend and copywriter, Karon Thackston.
'Nuff said...

++SEO Writing Strategies for Graphical Sites++

SEO Writing Strategies for Graphical Sites
by Karon Thackston (c) 2003

As a copywriter, I'd love to tell you that every site on the Web needs
tons of copy.  However, the simple truth is not all do.  Many sites
simply produce better sales when they use more graphics than words.
Since search engines are hungry for words you simply have to use copy
if you plan to get ranked highly.  Quite a dilemma, isn't it?

So what do you do if you're a graphic designer, if you sell jewelry,
or if you have another site that needs more pictures than copy?  Don't
despair.  There are some strategies that can help you reach a happy
medium, satisfying your visitors and the engines both.

1.  Use Descriptions - Place keyworded descriptions under each graphic
on your pages.  Just a sentence or two for each one can add up and
give you enough room to achieve good keyword saturation.

2.  Break the Copy Into Sections - Instead of having all 250-350 words
of copy in one place, break your copy into small sections.  For
example, place a headline and three sentences at the top of the page,
a few words under your bottom navigation bar, and a short paragraph
above your "Order Now" link.  The engines will find the words
regardless of where on the page they are, but your visitors won't be
overwhelmed by seeing all the copy in one place.

3.  Don't Neglect ALT Tags - but don't abuse them either!  ALT tags
(technically known as image alt attributes) are designed to give short
descriptions of graphics on your page.  They are read to those who
can't see well (when they use special text-to-speech software).
Abusing ALT tags by stuffing them full of arbitrary keywords or an
extremely long description is frowned upon by the engines.  However,
feel free to assign a short keyword phrase that describes each graphic
you have.

4.  Go Below the Fold - Copy can always be placed "below the fold."
This term is used to describe the section of your index page that is
not visible when the page first loads.  In order to see it, the
visitor would have to scroll vertically.  If you've designed your
index page to be fully visible without scrolling, consider using the
space below the design to insert your copy.

5.  Use the Sidebar - If your site design uses a sidebar for the
navigation links, use the empty space for short bits of copy.  Even
the statement "Order ________ Now" will give you one more instance of
keyword placement.

6.  Create Bulleted Lists - Many people don't perceive lists as copy.
For this reason, you can use bulleted lists (or numbered lists) where
traditional "sentence" copy wouldn't work.  Tip:  Instead of creating
a list that reads:

We meet all your ____ needs by:

* offering the lowest price.
* providing first-rate service.
* shipping your order in just 24 hours.

Create a list that reads like this:

At ABC Company, we offer you:

* the lowest price on ______.
* first-rate service.  Ask us any questions you have about ____.
* shipping of your _____ in just 24 hours.

See the difference?  More keywords in the same amount of copy.

If you use a little creativity, you can get enough keyword saturation
in your copy without cluttering up your site.  This is sure to please
both the search engines and your site visitors.

Karon Thackston
MarketingWords (formerly KT & Associates Marketing)




____________Nitty-gritty Special Report__________________adv.

Want to learn how to write for high rankings in the search engines?
__________________________________________________

If you don't have the time or money to see Jill's Writing for the
Search Engines presentation at conferences or seminars, for
only $49 you can learn it all in her informative, quick-read report.

Download the Nitty-gritty of Writing for the Search Engines today!

__________________________________________________



~~~Stuff You Might Like~~~

++E-Newsletters That Work++

Having published an email newsletter in one form or another since June
2000, I've learned what a powerful business-builder they can be.
Therefore, I'm always interested in learning tips and tricks to help
me improve mine.  A few months ago I signed up for a newsletter about
newsletter publishing put out biweekly by e-newsletter guru Michael
Katz.

Immediately after receiving the first issue, I thought...gee...this
guy writes his newsletter just like I do!  He had the perfect blend of
personal tidbits and solid information about newsletter publishing.
After a few more issues, I was even more convinced.  I decided to
check out his Web site to learn more about Michael and his company,
Blue Penguin Development.  Lo and behold, he's in the town right next
door to mine!  Of all the places in the world to live, it seemed so
funny that he was just a mile or two down the road.

So a few weeks ago after receiving yet another great newsletter from
him, I decided to email Michael to say hi and mention that I was
nearby.  He wrote back pretty quickly, and mentioned that he knew of
me also!  We exchanged a few more emails and then decided we should
meet for coffee sometime.  Well, we met this week, and shared some
interesting conversation.  We had a lot in common, and are in similar
situations work-wise these days.

Anyway, Michael sent me a copy of his ebook, "E-Newsletters That
Work," to see what I thought.  It's a pretty quick read, and I was
able to finish it up last night.  Guess what I thought of it?  If I
were ever going to write a book about creating email newsletters that
work, the one that Michael wrote would be exactly what I would have
written!  I swear, it was like I actually wrote it...but I didn't!  It
mentioned all the things I've learned over the years about email
newsletter publishing.  There were only a couple of things that I
don't do.  One was publishing in HTML.  I know many of you would like
it if I did, but I just hate HTML newsletters and refuse to move into
the 21st century...yet!  Most everything else was exactly what I would
tell you to do if you were thinking of starting your own newsletter.

That said, I heartily recommend that you purchase Michael's ebook if
you're at a point in time when you kinda know you need to start a
newsletter, but aren't really sure about the why's and/or how's.  Just
pretend it's me teaching you from my experiences with this newsletter!
It's all right on the money and will help you get over that "how do I
begin" hump that happens to everyone before they take the plunge!

The price is $29.95 and you can learn more or purchase it through my
affiliate link here.


~~~Other SEO News~~~

++Tampa SEO Seminar++

You've sent in your ideas for seminar locations and I've listened!
Tampa was one of the most requested venues for my seminar, so Tampa it
is.  We don't have all the details yet, but it looks like it will be
Friday, November 7th, someplace in Tampa.  What better time to go
south?  Mark the date on your calendar, and I'll give you more details
once I have them.

For now, I can tell you that it will be the usual 1/2 day morning
part, along with the addition of some afternoon site-clinic type of
stuff.  There will be some special guest stars there to help review
your sites, so you won't have to be stuck with just me the whole time.

If all goes well in Tampa, you can look for the seminar to hit Chicago
in April or May also.  Stay tuned...


++Marketing Forum Watch++

The High Rankings Forum  is still
surpassing my wildest dreams with tons of registered members and
posts.  Not bad considering the forum wasn't even a glimmer in my eye
just weeks ago!  At any given time of day or night, you'll find people
there reading or posting, and it's already got a ton of great search
engine marketing information available for you.

Come visit us on the forum where you can ask your SEO questions, or
just hang out with me and my merry gang of geeks!


~~~Advisor Wrap-up~~~

That's all for today, guys.  Thanks for reading all the way through
(or skipping the meat and just reading the top and bottom like my mom
and my kids do!).

Oh yeah, and speaking of kids, my daughter Jamie is still having a
blast in Hawaii.  From what I've heard, it sounds like Uncle Bruce is
having even more fun than Jamie.  There was something about putting
the cat out on a boogie board in the middle of the pool, the cat
attempting a long jump back to firm ground but not making it (of
course), Jamie saving its life, and my sister Beth screaming from the
sidelines throughout the entire episode.  That's what happens when you
put two sillies together like Jamie and Uncle Bruce, I guess.

Catch you in 2 weeks! - Jill
 
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