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High Rankings Advisor: Preparing for Your SEO Campaign - Issue No. 102

June 23, 2004

*Search Engine Marketing:
---->   To Mod_Rewrite or Not

*This Week's Sponsors:
---->   Web CEO: 10 SEM Tools in One
---->   New HitsLink ver. 3.0

*Guest Article:
---->   Preparing for Your SEO Campaign

*Stuff You Might Like:
---->   The Usability Effect

*High Rankings Forum Thread of the Week:
---->   Maybe I'm Doing Something Wrong

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

*Advisor Wrap-up:
---->   Need the Whole Kit and Kaboodle?

~~~Introductory Comments~~~

Hey everyone!  Hope you're enjoying the start of summer (unless you're
in Australia or New Zealand, where I hope you're enjoying the start of

I'm trying to stay productive this summer, but it's awfully hard!  I
did manage to write a nice techie article for you today, and have a
great guest article for you as well.

Let's get right to the good stuff! - Jill

~~~Search Engine Marketing Issues~~~

++To Mod_Rewrite or Not++

Hi Jill,

I have a technical question that I can't answer, so I'm hoping you can

We've been asked about implementing mod_rewrite on a database-driven
site as a tool to improve search engine rankings, but this is
something that I know nothing about and can't find anything helpful
via Google.  I find sites saying how to use it, and saying it will
help, but I can't find any figures to prove it. Do the search engines
see it as a 'trick' to boost rankings, or is it seen as a genuine
attempt to make the site more friendly and informative to the user,
given that it will change query strings into nice understandable URLs?

Any help would be much appreciated!


++Jill's Response++

Hi Emma,

Good question!  We get a lot of questions at the forum about
mod_rewrite.  It seems that there's a lot of misunderstanding about it
due to the fact that search engines are constantly evolving (for the
better).  The improvement in search engine capabilities often means
that tools and programs that once were considered imperative may not
actually be needed anymore.

First, let's back up a bit and explain what mod_rewrite is (as it
relates to search engine optimization and dynamic URLs) and why you
might be considering using it.

Search engines send out their spiders to crawl the Web and bring back
as many URLs (Website addresses) and resulting pages as they can.  The
spiders basically travel from link to link gobbling up all the info
they find.  This has always worked fine with what's known as "static
URLs," which generally contain information that is already compiled
into a Web page on your site.

The trouble starts when the spiders get to certain dynamic pages found
on dynamically generated sites.  Dynamically generated pages don't
actually exist on the server until someone clicks a link to retrieve
the information.  When that happens, data that is stored on the server
is automatically pulled from the database and compiled into a Web
page.  To people like you and me viewing the page, we really don't
notice the difference between a static HTML page and a dynamically
generated one.

However, dynamically generated pages usually leave clues as to their
dynamic nature, and these clues lie in the format of their URL.
Instead of a simple URL such as you may
see something like  That type of
compilation allows the server to create a new page based on the exact
specifications that the user was looking for.  In that fictional
dynamic-URL example, you can infer that the page is probably going to
be showing some product that comes in a "large" and is teal-colored.
Most sites that have lots of products use a database to pull the info
from, which provides this sort of flexibility.

The problem with these types of long URL strings is that they can lead
to many different addresses which in turn lead to pages that are very
similar (and often the same) as other ones on your site.  If a search
engine spider were to gobble up all the different variations that each
product on a site might have, it could end up swallowing millions of
similar pages.  There's also a chance that the spider would get so
busy eating up these pages that it would get stuck on one site for
hours or even days, because the number of URLs for it to ingest are
infinite.  (Kinda like me with my chocolate supply!)

Because of those problems, for years the search engines had programmed
their spiders to stay away from URLs that contained many query strings
(question marks, equal signs, etc.).  Very often those sites didn't
get added to the search engines' databases.

But, things change.  These days, dynamically generated sites have
become standard practice for millions of sites.  The search engine
programmers understand this, and have figured out ways to allow their
spiders to crawl these sites, although somewhat more slowly at times.

A look at the search results at Google and Yahoo show tons of pages
that have dynamic looking URLs.  Take my forum pages, for instance.  A
typical thread there has at least 1 equal sign ( = ) and 1 question
mark ( ? ), but these URLs are getting indexed every day without a
problem.  Even longer URLs from the forum with many query strings are
getting spidered and indexed.  A quick check at Google shows me that
at least 12,500 URLs from my forum are in Google's index!

For example, take a look at this one:
We've got a question mark, 2 equal signs and an ampersand, yet it
shows in Google's cache without a problem.

Okay, so back to mod_rewrite.  The idea behind using mod_rewrite for
dynamic sites was to change dynamic-looking URLs into static-looking
ones.  Since question marks and equal signs were the usual tip-off to
the search engine spiders to avoid certain pages/URLs, many smart
programmers would use mod_rewrite on their server in a special way
that would enable them to change those characters into some other
character that was more crawler-friendly -- such as a forward slash
( / ).

For example, my above forum page URL using mod_rewrite might instead
look like this:


In this instance, the question marks, equal signs and ampersand were
turned into slashes.  Now the URL *appears* to be one that would be
used for a static page (even though it's not).  This should
theoretically make it more apt to be indexed by the search engines.

Before the engines started indexing URLs with query strings without
many problems, using this technique was a good idea to encourage
spidering.  There's nothing "spammy" about it, and it won't get you
into trouble with the engines if you do it right.  However, these
days, it really doesn't seem to be necessary for most sites.

My theory is always "if it ain't broke, don't fix it," which is why I
wouldn't recommend moving towards this solution unless you are very
sure it is the only way your URLs will get indexed.  According to my
programming friends, this solution uses up lots of extra server
processing time, which can slow down your pages, and perhaps use up
more of your bandwidth.  I've also seen instances where the engines
index both the dynamic-looking and static-looking URLs, which only
serves to cause more problems!

For more information on indexing dynamic sites, I suggest reading this
interview with Alan Perkins:
</issue065.htm#seo>, and doing a search at
the High Rankings forum to check out the various threads we've had on
the topic.

Hope this helps!


~~~Guest Article~~~

++Preparing for Your SEO Campaign++

Today's guest article was written by Kalena Jordan.  Kal has the
distinction of being one of the first search engine optimization
experts in Australia and New Zealand.  She recently opened up the
much-needed Search Engine College
<>, which is an online training
institution offering instructor-led short courses and downloadable
self-study courses in Search Engine Optimization and Search Engine
Marketing subjects.  As if that isn't enough, Kal also runs Web Rank
<>, her own SEO business.

Take it away, Kal! - Jill

Preparing for Your SEO Campaign
By Kalena Jordan

One of the most important aspects of a search engine optimization
campaign is also one of the most overlooked - preparation!

As I'm always explaining to my SEO101 students, there are some
important steps to take in advance of launching your campaign that
will make sure it has a better chance at succeeding.

Before You Start

Before you start any search engine optimization campaign, whether it's
for your own site or a client's, you need to answer the following
important questions:

1) What is the overall motivation for optimizing this site? What do we
hope to achieve (e.g., more sales, more subscribers, more traffic,
more publicity etc.)?

2) What is the timeframe for this project?

3) What is the budget for this project?

4) Who will be responsible for this project? Will it be a joint or
solo effort? Will it be run entirely in-house or outsourced?

Answering these questions will help you to build a framework, as well
as establish limitations for the size and scope of the campaign.

Gather Requirements

Next, you need to establish the project requirements so you can tailor
the SEO campaign to your or your client's exact needs.

You need to know things like:

1) What technology was used to build the site (e.g., Flash, PHP,
frames, Cold Fusion, JavaScript, Flat HTML etc.)?

2) What are the file extensions of the pages (e.g.,.htm, .php, .cfm

3) Does the site contain database-driven content? If so, will the URLs
contain query strings (e.g.,, containing "?"
symbols), or does the site use parameter workarounds to remove the
query strings?

4) Are there at least 250 words of text on the home page and other
pages to be optimized?

5) How does the navigation work? Does it use text links or graphical
links or JavaScript drop-down menus?

6) Approximately how many pages does the site contain? How many of
these will be optimized?

7) What is the current link popularity of the site?

8) What is the approximate Google PageRank of the site? Would it
benefit from link-building?

9) Do I have the ability to edit the source code directly? Or will I
need to hand over the optimized code to a site admin for integration?

10) Do I have permission to alter the visible content of the site?

11) What are the products/services that the site promotes (e.g.,
widgets, mobile phones, hire cars etc.)?

12) What are the site's geographical target markets? Are they global?
Country-specific? State-specific? Town-specific?

13) What are the site's demographic target markets (e.g., young urban
females, working mothers, single parents etc.)?

14) What are 20 search keywords or phrases that the target markets
will use to find the site in the search engines?

15) Who are the major competitors online? What are their URLs? What
keywords are they targeting?

16) Who are the stakeholders of this site? How will I report to them?

17) Do I have access to site traffic logs or statistics to enable me
to track visitor activity during the campaign? Specifically, what
visitor activity will I be tracking?

18) How do I plan to track the rankings in the search engines?

19) Do we have the abilities and resources in place to respond to
increased traffic/business as a result of the campaign?

20) What are the expectations for the optimization campaign? Are they

Answers to the first 10 questions will determine how search
engine-compatible the site currently is and the complexity of
optimization required.

This initial analysis will help you to scope the time and costs
involved in advance. For those of you optimizing client sites,
obtaining accurate answers to these questions BEFORE quoting is
absolutely crucial. Otherwise you can find yourself in the middle of a
project that you have severely under-quoted, and that's very

The remainder of questions are to establish in advance the "who, what,
where, when, why and how" of the optimization campaign. This will help
you determine the most logical keywords and phrases to target, as well
as which search engines and directories to submit the site to and
which sites to pursue reciprocal links with.

You're Now Prepared!

So now you are clear about your motivations for optimizing the site,
you know more about the target markets, you know how compatible the
existing site is with search engines and how much work is involved in
the search engine optimization process. You're ready to tackle the

Kalena Jordan
Search Engine College

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~~~Stuff You Might Like~~~

++The Usability Effect++

Now there's no excuse for not learning what makes a usable (or
unusable) Website.

My usability buddy Kim Krause has just put the finishing touches on
her new site, "The Usability Effect."  You'll find all kinds of great,
informative usability articles, links and resources.  Be sure to check
it out here: <>.

So that's what she's been doing in between writing usability reports
for my clients!

Well done, Kim!

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

++Maybe I'm Doing Something Wrong++

Help solve the mystery of why forum member "ClubMilwaukee" can't seem
to get his site indexed by Google:

If you're having trouble getting your site into Google, this thread
has lots of info and things you might want to check on.

~~~Sound Advice~~~

++Choosing the Best Keyword Phrases++

(This audio recording changes each week.)

~~~Advisor Wrap-up~~~

That's all the SEO info that's fit to print for today!

So, will someone please tell me where June went?  How can it already
be the 23rd, when yesterday seemed like the 1st?  Now I know I'm
getting old.  It's like each week goes by faster than the next.  Seems
like I just wrote last week's newsletter yesterday, yet here I am
writing this week's today.  Next week, it will probably feel like I'm
doing two in one day...if that's possible!

Perhaps it's just cuz I'm so busy lately?  Remember I told you about
my new partnership with that marketing agency here in Cambridge, MA?
Things are moving along nicely on that front.  I've been busily
training them on how to optimize sites the "right way" (well okay MY
way...but it's really all the same thing, now isn't it? <grin>).
We've been putting out lots of proposals for SEO and redesigns, and it
appears that our first mutual client should be signing on the dotted
line any day now (unless of course I just jinxed it by saying that!).

We're very excited about the opportunities our partnership creates, as
well as the complete line of services we can now offer to clients that
we couldn't offer as separate entities.  In the weeks and months to
come, we'll be rolling out a new identity for the partnership, which
will make it easier for us to conduct business together.  For now, if
you're looking for a complete holistic package that includes a
redesign as well as full-service SEO, you know where to turn to!  We
also offer individualized services that don't include the whole kit
and kaboodle, but we're especially looking forward to being able to
service all your online (and some offline) marketing needs!

Maybe time is just flying because I'm having so much fun?

Catch you next week (tomorrow? <grin>). - Jill

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