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High Rankings Advisor: Search Engine Hide and Seek - Issue No. 086

February 4, 2004

*Introductory Comments:
---->   You Proved Me Wrong

*Search Engine Marketing:
---->   It's All About Keyword Focus

*This Week's Sponsors:
---->   GlobalServers Virtual Private Servers
---->   GoGuides.Org

*Guest Article:
---->   Don't Play Hide-and-Seek with Search Engines

*Stuff You Might Like:
---->   High Rankings Seminar, CD, and Nitty-gritty Handbook

*High Rankings Forum Thread of the Week:
---->   SEO Frustration

*This Week's Sound Advice:
---->   SEO for Local Companies

*Advisor Wrap-up:
---->   SEO Writing Kit and SES NYC Reminder

~~~Introductory Comments~~~

You did it! You proved me wrong.  We *were* able to get 2,000
registered forum members before the end of January!  I can hardly
believe it.  So Scottie wins.  She had guessed January 30th for 2,000
members many months ago, and totally nailed it.  Yay, Scottie!

So when do you suppose we'll get 3,000?  There have got to be a few of
you subscribers left who haven't registered.  What am I saying --
there are over 27,000 newsletter subscribers, so there are a whole lot
more than a few of you who haven't registered!  What are you waiting
for? It's free, it's informative, but most of all it's fun!  Here's
the forum link: </forum>.

Okay, on to the good stuff. - Jill

~~~Search Engine Marketing Issues~~~

++It's All About Keyword Focus++

Hi Jill,

I've enjoyed your newsletters even before Issue 1, and following your
advice has given me very nice rankings, generally. I even got to watch
a few competitors copy some of my stuff. But the Google shake-up has
hurt, and other ratings have slipped as well, and I'm thinking it's
time for a major update; getting rid of most of the JavaScript (for SE
friendliness), adding CSS, and tightening up my prose.

But I find myself at square one. How much weight does a search engine
give to the index page versus the other pages? That is, most searches
will refer you to the home page, but will sometimes refer you to an
"inner" page directly, and will sometimes list the home page with the
inner page as a sub-heading.

My current index page is fairly short and tries to give an
"at-a-glance" overview of what I offer, with more specifics within, as
well as some more substantial free advice and opinion in its
newsletter archives. The index page is able to feature all of the key
words and phrases I'd like to have, but without any depth. Should my
index page be longer, trying to optimize for just one or two words and
phrases, while consciously trying to focus on other key words on other

Thank you for any advice!


++Jill's Reply++

Hi David,

Nice to hear from a long-time subscriber!

Regarding this:

>>...the Google shake-up has hurt, and other ratings have slipped as

The Google shake-up being referred to has to do with the latest
algorithm  changes that Google made a few weeks ago.  (We're calling
the shake-up "Gladys" in my forum, so that's how I'll refer to it

First of all, don't be too quick to change things simply because of
Gladys.  If you were in need of a redesign or whatever anyway, then go
for it.  Just don't do it because your site is missing from the
rankings this week.  If you have stuff on your site that you've always
kind of felt might have been "borderline spam," e.g., a few too many
instances of your keyword phrases, image alt attributes (alt tags)
that all have the same keyword phrase in them even though it really
doesn't make sense from a usability perspective, excessive
cross-linking between sites that you own, and things like that, then
now's definitely the time to fix things.

But I suggest that anyone who has lost rankings this time around take
a close look at the other sites showing up where you used to show up.
Are they truly relevant and good sites that answer the search query at
hand?  If they are, then yes, you do have some work to do to get back
up there.

However, I've noticed that for many queries, the current results don't
seem to be the most helpful sites out there.  For instance, if you are
suddenly seeing tons of directory listings, or comparison shopping
sites where you and your major competitors once used to be, then I
would hold off making any big changes.  I doubt that the average
person searching at Google wants to find what they're looking for by
taking the "scenic route" so to speak.  Most people are in a hurry and
want to find the information they're looking for right as
few clicks as possible.  Forcing searchers to first go to a directory
that might have what they want just doesn't make sense to me.

Therefore, I have to assume that Google can't leave these types of
results up for long.  They're able to get away with it now for a few

1. None of the other major search engines are any better than Google,
and in fact most are generally worse, and littered with way too many
sponsored results.

2. The average Google user hasn't figured out yet that the quality of
the results has deteriorated.  When you can't find what you're looking
for very easily, what do you usually think?  I bet you assume that
you're just not doing a good job with your search phrase, so you
revise it.  I bet there are may people doing just that without even
realizing it.

If I'm correct, this is quite an arrogant gamble on Google's part.
Training people to be better searchers is a noble thought, but to do
it at the expense of your relevancy just doesn't seem very smart.
Since we all know that the people who work at Google are indeed very
smart, I imagine there's more to all of this than anybody knows at the

What that all boils down to is that altering your site in response to
Google's temporary changes is most likely not in your site's best
interest.  If your site is ranking well in all of the other search
engines, then you've probably got a good, relevant site and I wouldn't
recommend changing it at this time.

You also mentioned:

>>getting rid of most of the JavaScript (for SE friendliness)<<

There's nothing wrong with JavaScript.  In fact, if you surf the Web,
I'm sure you'll see that most sites use JavaScript and they're indexed
by the search engines just fine.  You should certainly not compromise
the design of your site because you think the search engines don't
like JavaScript.

That said, if you're using a crawler-unfriendly JavaScript
navigational menu on your site, then be sure to also place your
navigational links in the <noscript> tag, as well as somewhere else on
the page, such as the very bottom.  You most definitely don't need to
remove it altogether, especially since you mentioned that you had
previously been ranking well.  This shows that the engines have no
problem with your design and overall crawlability (assuming that your
inner pages are showing up).

As to this question:

>>How much weight does a search engine give to the index page versus
the other pages?<<

The index (home) page is often given more weight than the inner pages,
because it has the most links pointing to it, both from outside
sources, as well as from the internal linking structure of the site.
So yes, the home page does tend to show up more often in searches than
inner pages, but this is definitely not a hard and fast rule.

Sure, if you've optimized each page of the site for the same two or
three keyword phrases, the home page would probably be the one to show
But that would not be the best use of your pages.  Each and every page
should focus on different phrases that are specific to what they're
all about.

Your home page copy may or may not even contain the same keyword
phrases as most of your inner pages.   Well-written, optimized inner
pages can and do show up in the search results for their specific

>>My current index page is fairly short and tries to give an "at-a-gla
nce" overview of what I offer, with more specifics within...<<

That's exactly as it should be.  However, when I looked very briefly
at your site earlier today, I have to say that you really weren't
doing what you said you were.

Well, you were, but only "above the fold" (in the top-half of the

Search engines read your entire page, however, and below the fold you
had a whole paragraph of text listing all the stuff you sell within
the site.  It appeared to be something you might have been doing only
for the search engines, due to its placement on the page and the fact
that the font color was fairly light.

That's the thing that may be hurting you the most.  Not because it's
spammy or anything, but because it takes away all the focus of your
home page.  The focus was supposed to be the few general phrases
describing what the site offers as a whole.  There's no need to focus
on each specific product or service on this page.

A strong keyword-phrase focus on each page is extremely important with
the type of SEO I write about.  I don't know how many sites I've
looked at where people feel that they've optimized the home page, and
yet, I can't find any focus at all.  It should be clear what keyword
phrases you're targeting, yet they shouldn't stick out like a sore
thumb.  There's definitely a delicate balance, but a good SEO
copywriter can usually help with this.

Good luck!


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~~~Guest Article~~~

++Don't Play Hide and Seek with Search Engines++

[Today's guest article is from Mike Banks Valentine, a past
contributor to the Advisor.  Mike is a Search Engine Optimization
Specialist practicing ethical SEO for online businesses.  Mike has a
lot of great free info at the tutorial part of his site here:
<>, with a quiz to test
your skill level here:

Here's Mike! - Jill ]

Don't Play Hide-and-Seek with Search Engines
by Mike Banks Valentine

You could be hiding your site from the Search Engines!

Hiding? Yes, you heard me right; I said hiding from search engines!
Let's take a look at a few of the ways you might do that without
meaning to. Hide-and-seek! Peekaboo!

Secure Server Pages and Dynamic URLs

Search engines do have the ability to spider secure-server-hosted
pages, but often these pages require either that a visitor fill out a
form or log in with a password and user name before being allowed past
a certain point. If any page requires filling out of forms or
passwords to reach, search engine robots will simply leave. They can't
log in because they can't fill out forms, leave email addresses or
enter passwords.

A Webmaster for a 4,500-page ecommerce web site contacted me. He
wondered why search engines were ignoring such a large site. I asked
for the URL of the site and visited the home page. I noted that upon
loading, there was an immediate passing of the URL site to a secure httpS:// page.
This has two immediate faults that may be a problem -- the forwarding
method and different server. If the instant forward is by JavaScript,
then it's bad news.

First, search engines often either penalize or downgrade sites that
use immediate URL forwarding, especially from a home page. URL
forwarding suggests doorway pages (a search engine no-no) or affiliate
URLs forwarding to an affiliate program site, or the worst of all
scenarios, cloaking software on your server. You may not be doing any
of these things, but the robots don't know, don't care, and don't
index your site, plain and simple.

Secondly, secure servers are very often a separate web site, meaning
that the secure server is actually a different machine and is an
entirely different site from the non-secure server site unless your
site is hosted on a dedicated server on its own IP address, with a
security certificate at the same domain. This can happen when secure
shopping carts are hosted by a third-party host so that a small
ecommerce site needn't purchase a security certificate or set up
complex shopping carts.

For example, if your shopping cart is hosted by Yahoo stores or other
application service providers (ASPs), pages hosted in the shopping
cart don't reside on your domain and can't be recognized as pages on
YOUR site unless you also host your domain with the same company.
Unfortunately, many shopping cart ASPs use dynamic IP addresses (IP
address is different each time you visit) and use database-generated
dynamic pages.

The process of serving dynamic pages is not the problem. The problem
is simply that the URL of those pages contains several characters that
either stop or severely curtail search engine spiders. Question marks
(?) are the biggest culprit, followed by ampersands (&), equal signs
(=), percent symbols (%) and plus signs (+) in the URLs of dynamic

These symbols serve as alarm bells to the spiders and either turn them
away entirely or dramatically slow the indexing of your pages. This is
stated simply in the Google "Information for Webmasters" page at

"1. Reasons your site may not be included.

"Your pages are dynamically generated. We are able to index
dynamically generated pages. However, because our web crawler can
easily overwhelm and crash sites serving dynamic content, we limit the
amount of dynamic pages we index."

Just because your site is dynamically generated, creating long URLs
full of question marks, equal signs and ampersands like doesn't
mean you are in search engine limbo. There are simple solutions
available for your Webmaster. Here are a couple of articles explaining
an elegant solution called "mod_rewrite."

You can read about that technique if technically inclined:


This technique is simply creating a set of instructions for your web
server to present URLs in a different form that replaces those "bad"
question marks and ampersands with slash marks (/) instead. The method
will require that your Webmaster is a bit more technically savvy than
most home-business CEOs who created their own web site. Some hosts
will help here by simply turning on the "mod_rewrite" for shared
hosting clients.

Don't play hide and seek with the search engines! Tell them exactly
where to find every page on your site -- and if there's any question
that they will find every page on your site, give them a map.

Hard-code those dynamic URLs for most subcategories within the
categories of different sections of your web site into your
comprehensive site map. As long as those dynamic links (even those
that include ?=+%& symbols) are hard-coded into a site map, the
spiders will follow them. Clearly those 4,500 pages mentioned earlier
would be too much for a site map listing. But the main category pages
could be provided for the engines.

I visited the site map page of the Webmaster mentioned above and saw
14 pages listed on the site map. That explains why they have 14 pages,
not 4,500, indexed by Google.

How to find out how many pages of your site are indexed? Go to Google
Search and type "" (without the quotes,
replacing "domain" in the above example with your own domain name).
This query operator will return a list of every page of your site.
Look in the blue bar across the top of the Google results page and
you'll see the number of pages indexed at your site!

That should do it. Get indexed and stop playing hide-and-seek!

Mike Banks Valentine

[Thanks, Mike!  Regarding the dynamic URL issue, another good resource
is my interview with Alan Perkins on this subject:
</issue065.htm#seo> - Jill ]

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~~~Stuff You Might Like~~~

++High Rankings Chicago Seminar++

We're still not quite ready with the registration for our April 23rd
all-day search engine marketing seminar in Chicago, but we're getting
closer!  I should have everything sorted out and ready by next week's
newsletter if not sooner.  You might visit the seminar page
</seminar> sometime during the next week if
you're interested in registering early.

In the meantime, we're seeking sponsors and have a tentative agenda
ready.  If you're interested in sponsoring the event in some capacity,
please email me at and I'll send you more

Here's the tentative agenda:

9:00 - 10:30  Search Engine Optimization Basics (Jill Whalen)
10:30 - 10:45  Break
10:45 -11:15  SEO Basics and Questions (Jill Whalen)
11:15 - 11:55  Link-building Techniques & Tips (Debra Mastaler)
12:00 -1:00  Lunch
1:00 -1:45  Pay-per-click (PPC ) Search Engine Advertising (Christine
1:45 - 2:30  Copywriting Your Way to Success (Karon Thackston)
2:30 - 3:15  Measuring Traffic and Conversions (Scottie Claiborne)
3:15 - 3:30  Break
3:30 - 4:15  Site Reviews
4:15 - 5:00  Open Q&A (all speakers)

The price is $650, but you'll save $75 if you register early ($575
early price).

If you can't make it to the seminar, consider purchasing the audio
version of the last High Rankings seminar.  It's less than half the
seminar price ($279), but most of the same great info.  You can learn
more about the CD here:

And if you're really cheap, but still need some SEO help, just buy my
Nitty-gritty of Writing for the Search Engines for $49:

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

++SEO Frustration++

This week, High Rankings Forum member "Phil" expresses his frustration
with Gladys and SEO in general.  Read it and add your own thoughts
here: </forum/index.php?showtopic=3476>.

~~~Sound Advice~~~

++SEO for Local Companies++


~~~Advisor Wrap-up~~~

I didn't have time to mention the SEO Writing Kit this week, but you
can read my previous mention of it here:
</issue084.htm#stuff>.  It's well worth the
price, so I urge you to check it out!

Don't forget to register for the March Search Engine Strategies
conference in NYC: <>.  I'm
looking forward to meeting lots of you there, and if not there, then
at my Chicago seminar.

I guess that's it for this week!  Catch you next time. - Jill

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