Skip navigation
newsletter signup

High Rankings Advisor: Newbie SEO Questions - Issue No. 080

December 3, 2003



*Introductory Comments:
---->   Just Say No to Algorithm Chasing

*Search Engine Marketing:
---->   Newbie SEO Questions

*This Week's Sponsors:
---->   Nitty-gritty of Writing for the Search Engines
---->   Buyers' Guide to Search Engine Optimization Firms

*Guest Article:
---->   Have I Been Penalized?

*Stuff You Might Like:
---->   Nitty-gritty SEO Writing Teleseminar

*High Rankings Forum Thread of the Week:
---->   Job Description for an SEO Copywriter

*This Week's Sound Advice:
---->   Are Cutting Edge Designs Killing Your Rankings?

*Advisor Wrap-up:
---->   Chicago SES Next Week

~~~Introductory Comments~~~

So I guess the thing on everyone's mind is Google's major change in
algorithm.  Many of you have written to ask me my thoughts on this and
what you need to do, etc., etc.

Here's the thing.  I don't chase algorithms, and neither should you.
I know, I know, you all want to get the best rankings possible and
have an advantage over your competitors, the easiest and cheapest way
possible, but look what that did for you -- now your site is missing
and your traffic is gone.

How many times do I have to tell you that search engine optimization
is about making your site the best it can be for the long term?  It's
not about quick fixes, and it's not about creating your site based on
some formula or the algorithm of the day.

I know you don't spam the engines and you have a great site.

But do you have THE best site in your niche?  Or at least one of the
top 10 best sites?  Do you, really?  What makes yours better than the
other 7 million that sell what you're selling?  Oh, yours is better
cuz you put keyword phrases in the Title tag and in the copy.  I see.
Yes, that's what I always tell you to do, but if you read what I
write -- really read it -- you will see that I've always said that you
have to go beyond that.

The free ride is officially over.

From now on, you can't just create a site by the book, trade a few
links with friendly competitors and expect to be found in Google for
phrases that are relevant to millions of other sites.  If you want to
beat those other sites, you're gonna have to work your butt off.
You're gonna have to live and breathe your Web site.  You're gonna
have to start an email newsletter and become an expert in your field.
If not that, then you're gonna have to think of something else that
makes you credible in the eyes of your target audience.

It's all about credibility.  And fake credibility (as in reciprocal
linking schemes) is finally a thing of the past.  At least until the
scammers figure out a new way to scam.

Links are still important, but we're talking about REAL links.  As in
the kind you get just because people like you and your company.  What?
You say those aren't given out any more?  Oh yes, they most certainly
are.  I have hundreds of them pointing to my site, and so do tons of
other sites.  The World Wide Web is still alive and well and linking
as much as ever.  It's only those of us in the SEO world who think we
have to be cheap with our links cuz we know their value.  It's all
about building relationships and learning about real marketing, real
public relations, and real advertising.

Search engine marketing has just grown up.

Things are definitely not all a bed of roses for some sectors.  Real
estate agent sites have been crucified by this update, and the same is
true of many other commercial industries.  Information sites that just
marginally touch on the topic at hand are showing up first in the
results.  But this won't last; the general public won't put up with
that for long.  Google still has some tweaking to do.  A major shift
in how to rank sites can't be done in a few weeks.  There's some
pretty comical stuff showing up for some search queries, and if I know
Google, they're working to fix that asap.

The good news is that all is not lost for you.  Even real estate agent
sites are doing fine in the rankings for many keyword phrases, just
not for the big money phrases containing the words "real estate."
There are plenty of other related phrases where agents' sites still
show up.  Phrases like "moving to city name" and "city name
relocation" still show plenty of agents' sites when those sites have a
lot of information on them.  Real information as in "written off the
top of your head and not copied from somewhere else" information.

Sure, you may have been taken by surprise by this update, but the good
news is that many of those spammy sites we were previously complaining
about have started to disappear.  Not sure why Google still can't seem
to get the redirected and/or cloaked sites to disappear for the search
query "email marketing consultant," however.  They're still stumped by
that one, apparently.  Oh well.  Maybe nobody actually searches on
that phrase but me anyway.

Whew...long introduction.  Now that I've slapped you around a
bit...let's get to the good stuff! - Jill

~~~Search Engine Marketing Issues~~~

++Newbie SEO Questions++

Hi Jill,

I opened my store through Yahoo but just found out that they don't do
anything to get the store listed on anything except Yahoo Shopping.
So, I'm on my own.

I did a search engine readiness check on my store yesterday and scored
in the fair range.  The areas where I was poor, I don't know how to
fix -- maybe you could help?  To people who know computer lingo, these
are probably going to really sound dumb, but here goes.

1.  META DESCRIPTION TAG:  It said that no Meta description tag was
found on my site for any of the 3 key word phrases.  What is a meta
description tag?

2.  IMAGE ALT TAGS:  It says my keywords do not appear in any image
alt tag.  What are image alt tags and do you have any idea how I could
get text to appear in them in my Yahoo store?

3. LINKS:  My supplier has said to use links.  I have looked at
informative articles and cannot figure out what exactly these are and
how to be sure my store has them.  One article says specifically to
"use embedded text links so visitors (and search engines) never have
to leave the active window.  Search engine crawlers bounce to pages
from links.  Include keywords in links to improve your search engine

Anything you could do to help would be appreciated. I'm learning but
very slowly.

Thank you.

Merry Lou Gumm

++Jill's Response++

Since I have a ton of recent subscribers who are very new to search
engine marketing, it's a good time to answer these basic questions.

First, since your site is a Yahoo Store, it needs to be managed
through their proprietary content management system.  This means that
you may have to do things a little bit differently than someone who is
not tied to such a system.  Doesn't mean it can't be done, you just
have to get used to how to do it through your store interface.  It's
been ages since I optimized a Yahoo Store, so I can't give you the
specific directions you might need in that respect.

Second, any automated search engine readiness check must be taken with
a grain of salt.  Most of them can only tell you rudimentary things
like whether you have certain tags on your page.  They really can't
tell you whether your site is actually optimized to rank highly in the
search engines, nor whether it's poised to make you some money.

With that in mind, a Meta description tag is the bit of HTML code that
you can use to describe each page of your site.  Its purpose is to
tell the search engines what your page is all about in one or two
sentences.  In the golden-oldie 90's, the description that you placed
in this tag would also show up in the search engine results pages
under the clickable link to your site.  Because of this, I've always
recommended writing this tag so that it's a good marketing statement.
When it shows up in the search results, it should entice people to
click on your link.

These days, most of the major search engines have given up on relying
on Webmasters to tell the truth about their pages in hidden tags such
as the Meta description; therefore, it's rarely used anymore.
Instead, Google started the trend of showing a "snippet" of words from
the visible content of your page which matches the searcher's
keywords.  That said, if a page comes up in the results and the exact
phrase searched for is contained in the Meta description tag, Google
*will* often display it.  Because of this, it's a good idea to make
sure that your main two or three keyword phrases are woven into your

It's really not critical to use this tag any more, but it certainly
doesn't hurt, and in some cases it can help.  Since it doesn't take
very long to write, you should definitely try to write unique
description tags for each page of your site.  Keep them short and
sweet and highly relevant to the info on the page.

As to image alt tags, they are really not tags at all.  The correct
terminology is "image alt attribute."  This is because the "alt" part
is actually just an attribute of the image tag.  (Alt stands for
alternative text.)  Alt attributes are supposed to be used to describe
an image (for non-clickable images), and/or to describe the page one
would land on if the image is clickable.

A few issues ago </issue076.htm#seo> (see
#2) I discussed how alts relate to SEO, so I won't repeat it again

If you're not using the alt attribute within your image tags, it's
most definitely not the end of the world; however, if all the links to
your inner pages are graphical, it would be a good idea to add alts to

Your last question was about links.  Links are just those blue and
purplish (often underlined) words that you click on to move around a
site, and the Web in general.  Technically, they are called
hyperlinks.  Do you have them and do you need them?  If your site is
more than one page, then you already have them.  Links can be
clickable graphics as noted above, or plain text.  It's always a good
idea to make sure your links describe exactly what a person will find
at the other end after they click.  Interestingly enough, this can
often be accomplished by using a page's all-encompassing keyword
phrase in the links that point to it.

In other words, if you have a page that sells wooden toy soldiers it
certainly makes sense to have all the links that point to that page
say "wooden toy soldiers."  This way your site visitors know that
they're gonna probably find wooden toy soldiers at the other end.
Well, guess what?  The search engines also understand that links
generally work that way too, making this a nice little technique for
helping your rankings as well as your visitors.

_____________Nitty-gritty Special Report_________________

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!

~~~Guest Article~~~

++Have I Been Penalized?++

Time to listen in on my fellow forum moderators' conversation from the
last Search Engine Strategies conference.  Shh...don't let them know
we're here. - J

Have I Been Penalized?
An Interview with Matt Bailey By Scottie Claiborne

Continued changes in Google's algorithm have more webmasters than ever
concerned that their site might be penalized when they notice a drop
in their rankings.  How can you tell if your site is suffering from a
penalty or just a change in the algo?

I discussed site penalties with Matt Bailey, Web Marketing Director
for The Karcher Group <>.  Matt spoke at
the "Cleaning up the Mess" session at Search Engine Strategies in San
Jose, and is scheduled for the same session in Chicago next week.

[Scottie] I hear this question all the time: "Is my site penalized?"
How do you answer that?

[Matt] The answer is:  Have you done anything that should be
penalized? Do you use "tricks" on your site? Have you done anything to
your site that was recommended by an article or tutorial that you
might not have totally understood? Did you have someone work on it in
order to get you rankings? Those questions should be a starting place
for your investigation. Penalties are typically a result of hiding
something from the user that's only meant for the search engines.

[Scottie] How do you start investigating whether or not a site has a

[Matt] Once I've ruled out recent server downtime or other technical
issues, I take a look at the log files. I start by comparing
historical activity over a number of weeks, primarily the search
engine referrals and amount of referred traffic, to see if there is a
significant enough decline to be concerned.  Usually if there is a
penalty it needs to be evaluated over a couple of months.  Even with a
keyword moving around in the top 30, referrals tend to be consistent.
However, if the primary ranking phrase is dropping in both rankings
and referrals, then it may indicate a problem.

[Scottie] What exactly are you looking for?

[Matt] It's not a scientific determination by any means -- it's really
a gut feeling.  Generally, I'm looking at multiple factors such as
rankings, backlinks, number of pages in index, visibility, etc.  You
can often compare these things to past performance and see if there is
an overall decline.

[Scottie] OK.  Once you've decided that it's likely there is a
penalty, how do you find out the probable causes?

[Matt] I look into possible doorways and cloaking -- start big, then
work down. I do this with HTTP header requests, text browsers, and an
HTML editor.

[Scottie] And you are looking for...?

[Matt] Anything that is out of the ordinary: invisible gifs, server
re-directs, frameset cloaking, hidden links, and invisible text.  I
examine all links to verify paths to make sure they aren't going to
any "search engine food" pages. So much of it is based on a feeling
and what to do next is based on what the site is telling me. I become
one with the site; it talks to me.

[Scottie] Very insightful, Yoda.  When should you be concerned?

[Matt] Something happening one day and maybe lasting for a day to a
week is not likely to be a penalty.  Something causing your site to
lose rankings, reported backlinks, traffic, and conversions over the
course of a couple of weeks is a red flag.

[Scottie] How would fewer conversions indicate a penalty?  Wouldn't
your traffic still convert at the same rate?

[Matt] It's all mathematical at this point. You lose "new" traffic
that may find you for keyword results, but you are still found for
company name searches -- meaning customers, probably looking for your
phone number.  The quality of the traffic changes when you aren't
being found under key phrases.

[Scottie] Why can't I tell if I have a penalty from the Google

[Matt] At one point, it was easier to do that than it is now.

When you are trying to determine if a penalty has been assessed, a
drop in PR on a single day doesn't tell you anything. The key is that
anything that happens in a single day or week doesn't mean that there
is a penalty. A consistent drop in PR is an indicator that you may be
losing links to your site.  Look there first.  Are you losing links?
If so, then why?  Were they reciprocal links?  Were they links from
bad sites?  How did you acquire these links?

[Scottie] How do links figure into possible penalties?

[Matt] Linking issues are different, because often it isn't so much of
a penalty as much as the links are simply not being counted anymore.
As long as you aren't linking to sites that have been penalized, it's
more likely that your links just aren't being counted.  It seems to me
that Google now filters out links that they determine are not relevant
or important, which is not a penalty, but it can still cause a drop in
the rankings.  You still need to reassess where you stand.

The key is not to look at the Google PR evaluation on the toolbar. It
is not the sole authority in determining a penalty or ban. The value
can change daily, or not even appear for a couple of days at a time,
depending on what Google is doing at the time.  Turn it off and watch
your stats.

[Scottie]  With all the current changes at Google, should people worry
about being penalized?

[Matt] Trying to relate this recent update into whether or not you are
penalized is tricky.  Penalties tend to happen over months, not during
single update. An immediate drop in rankings during an update is
attributed to an algorithm change.  It goes back to what I said
earlier -- if you were hiding something from the engines or trying to
trick them, then fix it.  The recent algo changes are completely
separate from actual penalties.

[Scottie] Thanks for taking the time to talk to me about possible
search engine penalties, Matt!

Scottie Claiborne, Right Click Web Services

Matt Bailey, The Karcher Group


Buyers' Guide to Search Engine Optimization Firms: 3rd Edition

Which firm should you hire to help you get higher search
engine rankings? And how much should you pay?

Authored by Jill Whalen of High Rankings
and Anne Holland of MarketingSherpa.

Learn more here: <>.

~~~Stuff You Might Like~~~

++Nitty-gritty SEO Writing Teleseminar++

In case you missed this info in the last newsletter:

Keep December 12th from 1:00 to 2:30 (Eastern) open, if you're
interested in getting in on a teleseminar with yours truly (in
conjunction with MarketingSherpa).

I'll be reviewing the information in my "Nitty-gritty of Writing for
the Search Engines" report, as well as looking at real-life examples
of how you can edit your existing copy to make better use of keywords.

The teleseminar includes all of the following: a copy of Nitty-gritty,
answers to questions submitted beforehand, a page of your site
evaluated during the class, plus a transcript of the entire thing when
it's over.  Not bad for just $149!  (If you've already purchased
Nitty-gritty, the price is just $100.)

Here's the link to learn more or register for the teleseminar:

~~~High Rankings Forum Thread of the Week~~~

++Job Description for an SEO Copywriter++

We're having a fun little discussion today started by forum member
"Craig B," who was trying to come up with the perfect job description
for an SEO Copywriter.

Join the conversation here:

~~~Sound Advice~~~

++Are Cutting-edge Designs Killing Your Rankings?++

Listen to it here: </soundadvice>.

~~~Advisor Wrap-up~~~

Here's something me at least.  This is issue number 080 of
the High Rankings Advisor, the same number of issues I previously did
with RankWrite!  (Not counting the last goodbye RankWrite.)  Hard to
believe I've been doing the Advisor as long.  Onwards and upwards from
here on out!

Next week I'll be in Chicago visiting with all my SEO friends at the
SES Conference!  That means no newsletter, however.  If you're at the
conference, please seek me out and say hi.  It's always great to meet
so many subscribers there.  I'm speaking in 3 sessions and will be
hanging out somewhere during my "off" times, and I hope to see you

Catch you in 2! - Jill
Email a FriendPrintRSS