Skip navigation
SEO Website Audit

High Rankings Advisor: Recap of 2003 - Issue No. 081

December 17, 2003



*Search Engine Marketing:
---->   What Did I Do Wrong?

*This Week's Sponsors:
---->   GlobalServers Virtual Private Servers
---->   Nitty-gritty SEO Writing Handbook

*SEO New Year's Predictions:
---->   Recap of 2003

*High Rankings Forum Thread of the Week:
---->   Froogle Now on Google

*This Week's Sound Advice:
---->   Choosing the Best Keywords

*Advisor Wrap-up:
---->   Happy Holidays!

~~~Introductory Comments~~~

Today's search engine marketing issue Q&A expands upon what I was
talking about last time in terms of Google's recent changes and what
it means to the average site owner.  By the way, thanks for all the
great feedback on that issue!  I got tons of email from those of you
who agreed with me, and a few from those who thought I was just being
mean, dumb, a dork or whatever.  I hope that what I write today helps
clarify some of the points I was trying to make last time, because
many of you asked for some specific advice on what you should be

On to the good stuff! - Jill

~~~Search Engine Marketing Issues~~~

++What Did I Do Wrong?++

Dear Jill,

Enjoyed receiving your newsletters for the past few months.  You keep
everything light and informative, so they are great to read.  Didn't
think I would be writing to you, but now I have a Google listing
dilemma that I can't believe.  I just went through my best month in
sales through November.  I do try and optimize my site and recently
put in some alt tags, as I just figured out how to do this.

Changed some of the keyword phrases in my meta tags and thought
everything was going great.  Had a first page listing on Google and
Yahoo for my main keyword and pretty good rankings for a couple
others.  And the week before Thanksgiving - BAM!  I was gone.  I still
come up as the company name, but I can't find my listing for the main
keyword when I do a search.  We are just gone.  And sales?  GONE.

I am over crying, but what in the world did I do?

If you would have the time to just glance at it, I would just like to
know what I did wrong, if you can see anything at all.  I don't know
where else to go and thought maybe you could help.

Can't tell you how much I appreciate your time and your input.  Good
luck to you and again, enjoy reading the information you provide.

When I read [the last] newsletter that you sent, I thought maybe it
was a sign or something!

Many Thanks,


++Jill's Response++

Hi Susan,

Sorry to hear about your recent Google misfortune.  If it's any
consolation, I've heard a number of similar stories over the past few
weeks.  But for every example of a site that stopped being shown for
the main keyword phrases, there have been others who are suddenly
showing up.

For whatever reason, before this latest Google update, following a few
simple rules could often do the trick for high rankings.  This meant
that anyone could quickly slap up a site and start making money.  Not
saying that's what you did -- your site is probably one of those that
simply got nailed when that loophole was closed.

The really sad part is that there are still plenty of spammy sites
showing up, and there are plenty of "honest" sites gone.  So even
though you weren't one of those who simply slapped up a site, your
site may very well have the same characteristics of one that was put
together very quickly and cheaply.

Some of those characteristics include:

* A site that sells products which one can buy on hundreds or
thousands of other sites, but with no original or unique content

* A page or two of copy intended solely for the search engines with
only a little bit of thought given to the user.  That is, the kind of
site that when you read it, you keep hearing a certain keyword phrase
over and over again, and it's pretty darn noticeable.  A real person
shouldn't read your site and feel that it's repetitive.  Your keyword
phrases shouldn't just be listed in the first sentence, but should be
an integral part of the site in general.

As an aside, there seems to be some confusion over what unique content
is.  I believe Danny Sullivan discussed this in one of his sessions at
the conference last week, and I'm glad he did.  It's something that I
have been noticing from my conversations and email with others also.
Content is not simply a description of your products or services.
That's a great start, but that's all it is -- a start.

Real content that sets you apart from your competitors, both in the
search engines and in real life, is more the added-value kind of
stuff.  Information on how to best use the products, other things that
might go with them, what other customers of yours have done with their
products, reviews on various brands of your product, special offers
for special customers, etc.  I'm probably not the best person to give
you those ideas, but there are some great marketing people out there
who could certainly think of some great ideas for your needs.

The stuff you have now is a great start to a wonderful Web site.  Now
is the time to take it to the next level.  If I'm right and Google
really is trying to list the most all-encompassing sites, then adding
value to your site will surely help it in the long run.  Heck, even if
I'm wrong and Google just feels like showing irrelevant results for
certain search terms, you'll still end up with a better site in the
long run.

The other thing that I can't stress enough (and I'm sure I've
mentioned this once or twice in the past) is that nobody ever should
have been counting on free traffic from Google for their livelihood.
Search engine traffic from the free results should always have been
your gravy, not your meat.  Think of Google traffic as bonus traffic.
Obviously I'm a great fan of search engine marketing, because it
brings highly targeted visitors who want exactly what you're selling.
But common sense has got to tell you to diversify.  Just as you
shouldn't put all your money in one type of stock, you shouldn't put
all your marketing efforts in the search engines.

The interesting thing is that any other marketing promotions you do
can also help your search engine rankings. For instance, having
special promotions each week and announcing them to your newsletter
list or through press releases can often bring your site attention.
Any attention to your site is good attention, and it often comes with
links.  Links in turn help search engine rankings.

Oops...didn't mean to go back into rant mode.  I also wanted to
mention that neither alt tags nor meta tags will really help you in
Google. In fact, Google is waivering back and forth between even
indexing the info in the image alt attribute.  Header tags are quite
possibly not given any boost anymore either.  Relying on things that
were never intended for SEO purposes to begin with is starting to
catch up to many sites.  There's certainly nothing wrong with using
header tags, nor alt attributes, nor link title attributes, nor
keyword-rich copy, nor keyword-rich Title tags, nor anything else that
we've all discussed and used for years.  They are fine to use where
and when it makes sense for your particular page.  Just don't go crazy
nutty obsessive with all of them, all at once.  If a page doesn't call
for an H1 tag, don't force it in there.  Don't list keyword phrases at
the top of your page because it seems like the search engines might
like it.  Don't place your keyword phrase into your copy 50 million
times just because you can.  If it doesn't really make sense to your
user, it's not going to be good for the search engine.  This is not
something that can be proven, but just common sense for a long-term

Yes, search engine spiders are dumb, but they are getting smarter all
the time.  The theory behind using long-term strategies (as opposed to
algorithm-chasing) is that you can't really go wrong with it.  It's
true that it may not always rank highly for the keyword phrases you
feel you need, but you will have an overall better site, which should
also make more sales.  Your site will always go up and down in the
rankings; everyone's does.  Target lots and lots of relevant, specific
keyword phrases so that when some go down, others go up.  Never try to
do everything with your home page alone.

Remember, if Google stops showing the best sites, people will stop
searching at Google.  It is in their best interest to show the best
sites.  Do your best to be the best.  (Think I can get this page to
show up for the word "best"? ;-)

By the way, Susan, it's a really bad idea to close down your site for
the holidays.  At the moment, most of your inner pages are only
showing the following text:

"We are sorry for the inconvenience, as [site name] will be closed for
the holidays. We will re-open January 5th, 2004. All orders placed
prior will be filled and shipped as scheduled to arrive for Christmas.
Thank you for your patience. Happy Holidays Everyone!"

Internet businesses don't close down for the holidays.  That's the
beauty of the Internet!


_________GlobalServers Virtual Private Servers____________adv.

What else matters besides SEO?  Your hosting matters!

If you need root access, tons of disk space and plenty of bandwidth,
then you need GlobalServers Virtual Private Server! Around since
1995 so we know how to make sure the world views your message.

See how a GlobalServers VPS package can help you right now!
<> (Check our 150% affiliate program.)

~~~SEO New Year's Predictions~~~

++Recap of 2003++

Back in January, I made some SEO predictions for 2003
</issue038.htm#seo>.  So let's take a look
at how I did!

"SEO consultants will move more in the direction of 'fixing' existing
pages of sites to rank higher, as opposed to creating new ones, due to
the high level of long-term effectiveness this approach has."

I think we're at about the same place we were last year in regards to
this.  Although we did have a rash of new sites and cross-linking
going on there for awhile.  Not sure if Google's recent changes will
take care of those once and for all, or not.

"The line between SEO and usability will become increasingly blurry,
as many will realize that a people-friendly site is also a
search-engine-friendly site."

There's definitely a lot more buzz about this lately.  Usability was a
hot topic in many of the sessions at last week's SES conference.
Maybe soon we'll have a full-fledged usability session?  Would be
well-attended, I'm sure.

"Companies paying for full-service SEO will expect a total package
that includes usability as well as copywriting for sales conversions
and high rankings in the search engines."

I'm still not seeing that many clients asking specifically for this,
but the more knowledgeable clients do expect this sort of package.
The Web analytic software companies have certainly listened and have
all come out with great new versions to help track conversions.  This
should make converting visitors to customers an even hotter topic in

"PPC will continue to grow in popularity, but so will the price tag.
Bids for keywords on Overture and Google AdWords are already out of
reach for many sites, and this will only get worse.  This in turn will
make 'organic' search engine optimization more popular than it
currently is (and it's pretty darn popular)."

Being out of the PPC loop, I'm not sure if this has happened, but I
have heard complaints about outrageous bid prices for some terms.  I
think what we're seeing lately are people learning how to use their
PPC accounts more effectively.  This should help keep the bid prices
in check, assuming most of the bidders actually care about making a
return on investment.

I'm not sure if the high bid prices helped organic SEO to be more
popular this year either, because those that figured out how to tune
up their PPC campaigns were able to spend unlimited sums and make it
pay off.  No reason to really use traditional SEO if you can get your
PPC campaign to work for you.  I imagine it takes a ton of study to
get it all figured out, but once you do, it's a gold mine.  [Listen to
or read some of Kevin Lee's (from Did-it) stuff for more info on

"For those willing to learn how to do SEO for their own sites, it will
be cheaper than ever to optimize a site for high rankings in the
'regular' search results. "

This was in regards to my believing that paid inclusion really wasn't
necessary anymore.  I do still believe this is true, but the monkey
wrench in the whole thing is that SEO totally exploded this year.
Because of this it got a lot harder to obtain high rankings.
Therefore, I don't think I'd still say that SEO is cheaper to do on
your own site, because you have to have a lot more knowledge and
really keep up with all the latest SEO happenings.  SEO can certainly
still be done for free, but the time involved is a lot more than it
used to be.

"It will be more expensive to hire SEO consultants to optimize your
site, as the good ones will have more work than they can handle."

Everyone I know is very busy, and rates are definitely not cheap.  My
friends at iProspect are charging as much as $250k a year these days!

"Google will remain the dominant player in the biz, with more and more
*regular* people believing that Google = Search Engine."

That definitely happened.  Many younger folks don't even know other
search engines exist.  This is great news for Google because even when
some of their results stink (as they do now) searchers simply try to
fix their search query instead of going elsewhere.  "Regular people"
that I've talked to about this have said that they have noticed that
it's taking them a bit more work to find what they want with Google,
but that they hadn't really thought much about it, and just figured
they weren't doing a great job of searching.  I'm pretty sure Google
will fix the relevancy problem fairly quickly, but if they don't, my
money is on Teoma to gain some ground. It's the only other major
engine to not be inundated with poorly labeled ads, and it has some
really great features that Google doesn't have.  The only thing
keeping me from switching to it completely is that it lacks the cache
feature.  I need my search query highlighted on the page so that I can
quickly scan to see if the page is what I want.  Come to think of it,
I could use the highlight function of the Google toolbar to accomplish
that too...hmmm...the irony!  (Problem is, my browser isn't IE, and
has no toolbar.)

"This newsletter will become required reading for every Webmaster in
the world and will have at least 25,000 loyal subscribers by the end
of 2003."

I am proud to say that last week I hit that 25,000 mark, so I was
right on the money there!  In fact, at the time of this writing, I'm
up to 25,270.

Since I've already talked your ear off today, I'll save my predictions
for 2004 until next time.

__________Nitty-gritty SEO Writing Handbook______________

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!

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

++Froogle Now On Google++

Danny Sullivan dropped by the High Rankings Forum the week before the
conference to give us the heads-up about Google starting to show
Froogle results on some search queries.  It appears that it was a test
at first, but it's showing up more often than not these days.

You can read the thread about this here:

I think you'll agree that if you sell products, Froogle is an
important place to be listed.  You may want to revisit the guest
article by Susanne Cluff that I ran a few months ago: "Getting Listed
on Froogle" </issue065.htm#guest>.

~~~Sound Advice~~~

++Choosing the Best Keywords++


~~~Advisor Wrap-up~~~

That's it for the SEO stuff today.  The conference last week was a
blast as usual.  I heard that it had the most paid attendees ever!  It
was wonderful to meet so many of you guys, and to also see many
familiar faces from previous conferences.  I'll definitely be speaking
at the next SES conference in NYC in March, plus, I'll be back in
Chicago with the High Rankings Forum gang for another one-day seminar
on April 23rd.  Look for more details on that soon.

I guess next week is Christmas vacation already?  Is that right? How
can that be?  Hmm...the calendar says it is so.  That means no
newsletter next week since none of you will be hanging around your
computers anyway.  We'll be visiting my grandmother down in Pompano,
FL for a few days.

Hope you all have a great holiday season!  I'll probably have a
newsletter for you on New Year's week, but I'm not promising

Later guys! - Jill

Email a FriendPrintRSS