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High Rankings Advisor: The Art of SEO - Issue No. 105

July 14, 2004


*Introductory Comments:
---->   Why Aren't There Standards?

*Search Engine Marketing:
---->   The Art of SEO

*This Week's Sponsors:
---->   Free Pay-per-click Secrets Report
---->   SEO Copywriting Combo

*Guest Article:
---->   Folders vs. Subdomains

*Stuff You Might Like:
---->   Ethical Business Pledge

*High Rankings Forum Thread of the Week:
---->   If You Could Spam the Engines...

*This Week's Sound Advice:
---->   The Myth of the Meta Keyword Tag

*Advisor Wrap-up:
---->   High Rankings Seminar in September

~~~Introductory Comments~~~

Hey everyone!  Between the Traffic Power debacle, Seth Godin and a
Google spokesman claiming that SEO is useless, and a bunch of forum
posts wondering how we can clear our name, it's been a crazy week for
SEOs.  I've come to the conclusion that SEOs have a bad name because
overall the profession is deserving of it.  Any talk of having a set
of standards or a code of ethics always gets shot down by people who
have no problems spamming the search engines on their clients' behalf.

As long as people believe that the end justifies the means, our
industry will always be splintered.

But you know what? That's fine with me.  I want it to be fragmented
because I realize now that's absolutely the only way to clear the name
of SEOs who understand that the search engines are not our enemy but
our friend.  I have no interest in being part of a group that sees the
search engines as the enemy.

Danny Sullivan is entertaining ideas on his forum for ways to keep
everyone happy and clear the industry name, but I have my own agenda.
I believe that it's time to set some standards at the highest level.
If you want to follow them, then that's great; if you don't, well,
that's great too, just don't claim that you do follow them.  In the
end, maybe nobody but me will follow them.  I don't care.

Simply telling your clients about any possible risk that your SEO
campaign may have for their site is not going to cut it.  Why are you
doing anything that puts their site at risk in the first place?
Because they told you to?  SEO doesn't have to be risky to work.  I
have no idea why people think it does, other than that they simply
haven't learned other ways of doing it, so it will be important to
make sure that there's as much information as possible on exactly how
to put no-risk SEO into practice.

Look for more to come on this topic over the next few weeks and
months.  I'm sure it's not something that will happen quickly, but if
you agree that it's important, feel free to email me and let me know.

And now, on to the good stuff! - Jill

~~~Search Engine Marketing Issues~~~

++The Art of SEO++


[Editor's Note: Aug. 2007 - An updated version of this article is available here: The Art of SEO Revisited. ]

From: Dan

Hi Jill,

As a subscriber to your High Rankings newsletter, I enjoy reading the
articles and tips presented in each issue. I also take comfort in the
fact that we are not the only business that tends to suffer low
rankings on Google for no apparent reason.

We are a manufacturer and supplier and we've had an e-commerce site
for almost two years.  Our site is filled with all of the recognized
SEO bells and whistles, you'd think that we would rank fairly high on
Google under [our main search term], but...we don't. For about a month
we were hovering around a ranking of 600. Sites with only one mention
of [our phrase], and sites that don't even sell [our product], were
ranking much higher than us! Now, we are not even listed on the first
100 pages. It's as if they dropped us completely.

We have been doing our own SEO. We have all of the right Meta tags,
title tags, alt tags, comments, keyword saturation, etc. (I hope).
We've established reciprocal links with others in our same industry,
yet those links are not showing up on Google either. We are ranking
fairly high on MSN and Yahoo (it could be a lot better!), and we even
have a fairly large monthly budget for Overture and Google PPC
campaigns (which is the only way people see our site). If it weren't
for the PPC campaigns, and the eBay auctions we run, our site would be
completely invisible to the outside world.

Why is it that our site, which clearly specializes in a particular
product, does not even rank on Google when others with only one or two
mentions of the phrase rank so high? It doesn't seem fair. Exactly
what is going on at Google?

Thanks for letting me vent, Jill! I'm sure you get email like this
every day. Our level of frustration with Google is at a breaking
point, as I'm sure it is with so many others. Keep up the great work
on your newsletter!

Best Regards,


++Jill's Response++

Hi Dan,

Thanks for your email and kind words about the newsletter!

Your situation is definitely not unique, and one that we hear a lot
about in the forum -- especially since last November when Google made
major changes to their ranking algorithm.  I have a theory about all
this that I've touched upon in previous newsletters and in the forum.

The gist of my theory is that Google does not particularly care for
SEOs, and more importantly, sites that have been SEO'd.  They even
have a page on their site <>
that doesn't paint SEOs in a very good light.  In fact just the other
day, according to the Search Engine Lowdown Blog
id-of-search.html>, a Google representative told the AdTech audience
there is no way to improve your rankings on Google and that any claims
by an SEO company were false.  Wow, that's news to me!

But it doesn't surprise me that they'd say that.  After all, think of
all the time, money and energy they spend every day to fight the
tricks and deception by the less-than-scrupulous SEOs of the world.
If all SEOs simply made sites the best they could be for their users,
while also keeping the search engines in mind, the search engines
would have no spam to fight and they could get on with the business of
increasing the relevancy of their search results.  Unfortunately,
that's never going to happen.  There are too many SEOs who believe it
is their job to get high rankings at all costs, without regard to what
the search engines have to say about it.  They say that they are paid
to do a job for their client (get high rankings) and it makes no
difference what methods they use to get them.

Google disagrees, and so do I.  There's not much I can do about it
other than teach people how to get high rankings without the need for
tricks and deception, but there is something Google can do about it,
and they started back in November.  Unfortunately, in their zeal to
fight spam, they seem to have decided that no SEO is good so they've
attempted to lower the ranking of any site that has the telltale signs
of SEO work done to them.

So when you tell me that you have your keyword phrases "in all the
right places for SEO" or something to that effect, you're essentially
telling Google, "Hey site has been SEO'd!"  To which they
reply, "Thanks so much for letting us know...ZAP...see ya later!"
Doesn't matter if your site is the most relevant (in your mind) to the
search query.  Doesn't matter that you've placed your keyword phrases
strategically throughout the site.  That's actually the thing that's
now become your downfall!

Stuff that used to work like a charm for many people has now become a
tip-off that the site has been SEO'd, and it often hurts more than
helps rankings in Google.  Again, this is just a theory, so take this
information with a grain of salt.  I have no proof that Google does
anything like this, and nobody from Google has told me anything.  I'm
not even sure of what would make any given site trigger an SEO "red
flag," but my guess is that it's a combination of things.  Like, if
you have a certain number of traditional SEO factors on any given
page, those may trigger a flag (or a filter as some people like to
call it).

Some of the things I'm talking about are the traditional SEO formulaic
elements that we often hear about such as:

o Keyword phrase in the domain name
o Keyword phrase in the file name
o Keyword phrase in the Title tag
o Keyword phrase in the Meta description tag
o Keyword phrase in the Meta keyword tag
o Keyword phrase in the image alt attributes
o Keyword phrase in an H1 tag
o Keyword phrase as the first words on the page
o Keyword phrase in bold and/or italics or a different color
o Keyword phrase used multiple times in the first paragraph or two on
the page
o Keyword phrase in the copy in every single spot on the page where it
might possibly make sense to use it
o Keyword phrase in all the hyperlinks pointing to a page

Pretty much all the things you've been hearing you need to do for

Now here's the tricky part...what to do about this.  Since it's
difficult to determine how many and which combinations of those things
might trigger an SEO red flag in Google, it's difficult to make
recommendations as to what to do.  I've never really done my SEO work
with any particular formula in mind, and that has helped my sites to
continue to do well for the most part.

It's hard to describe the difference between what I do and the formula
approach.  I've always had it in the back of my mind that I wouldn't
want to tip off the engines that my sites were SEO'd.  This is one of
the reasons I've never used keyword-rich domain names or file names.
That's probably the most obvious SEO thing you can do.

The main tip I can tell you that works for me is to just be creative.
Don't worry too much about the specifics of putting keyword phrases
here and there, and over there.  Not every page needs an H1 header
with keyword phrases in it.  If your page isn't designed to use H1
headers, you don't need to change it to use one just for SEO purposes.
And most images don't really and truly make sense with a keyword
phrase in their alt attribute (alt tag).  Don't force one to be there
just for the search engines.

Most importantly, for Google (and for your users), when it comes to
your page copy and how you use your visible keyword phrases, less is
definitely more.  Please don't read my Nitty-gritty report and then
put the same keyword phrase in every single available spot on your
page that you can find.  My report is to help you think about a few
places you may have missed because you weren't thinking about being
descriptive when you originally wrote the copy.  But I'm finding more
and more pages out there where the concepts I've promoted for writing
for the search engines are being "abused."  You can definitely have
too much of a good thing.

A first paragraph on a page that has, say, 4 sentences should not have
10 instances of your keyword phrase.  It will look and sound dumb.  I
know that I have stressed this in my report and in my seminars, but no
matter how many times I say this, people don't quite grasp how serious
I am about this.  If it reads poorly to a human, and does not come
across as natural professional copywriting, the search engines won't
like it either.  Don't ask me how they do it, I don't know and quite
frankly I don't care.  I just know that they definitely do it (more so
Google than the other engines at this time).

That all said, I did happen to take a look at Dan's home page, and
just as I suspected, it's completely riddled with one keyword phrase
EVERYWHERE!  If you highlighted the phrase, the page would light up
like a gaudy Christmas tree!  Less is more.  If you remove about 2/3
or even more instances of that keyword phrase, you might find that
your rankings improve.  Again...less is more.  You think you're making
your page "more relevant" than the next guy's, but to Google you're
saying, "Look at me, I'm a Christmas tree." ;-)

I didn't look at your code, but if you're using Header tags, try not
using them.  I've found no evidence to show that they actually
increase rankings in Google, and again it's simply shining a spotlight
on the fact that you think you know how to optimize a page.  If you've
forced keywords into images where you really knew in your gut they
shouldn't have been, take 'em out.  If every link pointing to your
page has that very same keyword phrase in it, have them changed.  If
you've used comment tags for keyword phrases, take 'em out.  That's
the biggest rookie mistake of all and it's like slapping an "I've been
SEO'd" sign on your site's "forehead."  Comment tags have never had a
place in SEO other than to separate those that know SEO from those
that think they do.

Part of the problem is trying to optimize a page (and sometimes a
whole site) for just ONE keyword phrase.  I strongly believe that no
natural page on earth focuses completely on one phrase.  Just because
the engines could never pick this up before doesn't mean it was a good
strategy.  When you do SEO, you don't follow a guidebook.  Think like
a search engine and consider all the possible things they might have
to combat both now and in the future.  Always optimize for 2 or 3
phrases and spread them out throughout the entire page.  Never, ever,
ever think that it's the first paragraph that matters and stuff 'em
all in there.  There should be an equal distribution throughout the
page, and you should never use the phrases so much that you hear them
constantly when you read it.  (Sorry Dan, but your home page is the
epitome of this!)

If you've done it right, an everyday user should not have any idea
that a page has been SEO'd.  A trained SEO should be able to spot what
your keyword phrases are, but it shouldn't be glaringly obvious.
Last, but not least, I cannot stress enough the importance of hiring a
professional copywriter to work on the important pages of your site.
This is the single most important investment you can make for your
site and your business.  Even if you don't want to hire an SEO, you
absolutely MUST hire a professional copywriter.  Not just someone who
thinks they can write, either; you need someone who really and truly
understands target audiences and how to speak to them about the
benefits of what you offer.  Do not skimp on this.  Just because you
can type or write emails doesn't mean you can write the copy for your
site.  Most people can't.  There's no shame in that.  Copywriters are
not that expensive and are worth every penny.

Hope this helps and gives you some ideas on how you might get out of
formula-SEO mode and start doing more creative SEO.  In my opinion,
SEO is much more of an art than a science.  The science is only a
small portion of it.

Good luck!



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~~~Guest Article~~~

++Folders vs. Subdomains++

Catherine Parker writes today's guest article.  Catherine is a search
engine marketer at Quirk, a full-service eMarketing agency
<> based in Cape Town, South Africa. After
studying IT, she became a copywriter, which helps her fully appreciate
the daily battle between a site that's great to read and one that's
just great for search engines.

Let's give a warm Advisor welcome to Catherine! - Jill

Folders vs. Subdomains
By Catherine Parker

Whether it's synchronicity or just my imagination, I've come across
the same SEO issue several times in the past few weeks. The issue in
question? Folders vs. subdomains, and which is a better site structure
to ensure high search engine rankings. By folders, I mean having one
high-level domain with each site section following, e.g., as opposed to a subdomain structure
such as

The Case for Folders

Sections in a folder structure are seen by search engines as part of
one site, so the more subsections you have, the more content your site
appears to have. And we all know how much search engines just love a
site that is rich in content. Folders allow you to build your site's
bulk with each new section addition. Also, the PageRank in each
section will be distributed throughout your whole site -- provided you
have a sound internal linking structure.

Apart from search engine issues, a folder structure is easier to
maintain -- it's easier to create a new site section than it is to
create a brand-new subdomain each time you want to add a new section
to your site. With a subdomain structure, you need to commit to a lot
of time and forward planning, since you're building up each subdomain
as though it were a different site.

The Case for Subdomains

Search engines see and
as completely different sites. Therefore, any links between subdomains
will hold greater perceived weighting because they will be seen as
external rather than internal links within the site. This presupposes
that each of your other subdomains has a high PageRank -- in order for
the "external" links to be of benefit. However, a site with a folder
structure that has numerous inbound links of a high quality will have
the same effect.

A colleague of mine has an interesting theory that themed directories
are more inclined to link to subdomains. For example, an accommodation
directory would rather link to than, as subdomains are likely to be more
concentrated on the topic and have more content. Whether it's true or
not, this demonstrates the branding advantage of having subdomains. As
he says, "It's the difference that does make a difference to some
directory editors."

The other advantage is that some directories allow for category
submissions -- meaning that with subdomains, you can submit various
subdomains under each relevant category without abusing any of the
policies.  It's important to keep each subdomain unique. If you do
this, there's no risk of duplicate content and more chances of being
accepted into different categories.

So Which One Is Better?

Not all sites are created equal, and as with offline business, each
site has its own goals and priorities. Great rankings are much more
about site content than site structure -- although the latter is still
important in terms of usability. If you stick to a long-term plan of
building great content and sourcing some great inbound links, all
things being equal, it won't make much difference whether you have a
subdomain or a folder structure.

If you go with a folder structure, be sure to build up substantial
content and have useful and important inbound links back to your site.
If you have loads of content and good branding reasons for treating
each section as a separate entity, then subdomains may be the best way
to go. However, there is a lot more work involved if and when you
decide to add a new section -- it's not as simple as adding another

Examine your site goals before you decide what structure is best for
you. Then roll up your sleeves and give it your best shot. Good luck!

Catherine Parker

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At the same time, keeping your keywords featured prominently is
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~~~Stuff You Might Like~~~

++Ethical Business Pledge++

In keeping with today's theme of standards and ethics and all that, I
thought you might be interested in Shel Horowitz's campaign to get
people to take an ethical business pledge.  You can learn more at his
site: <>.

I just signed the pledge!

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

++If You Could Spam the Engines++

...and know that you could never get caught...would you do it?

This is a question I posed to forum members last week.  What would YOU

Grab your favorite beverage and get ready for a lively's a
long one with many twists and turns along the way (including moderator
OWG getting jokingly booted from the forum by me for being a "bad


~~~Sound Advice~~~

++The Myth of the Meta Keyword Tag++

(This audio recording changes each week.)

~~~Advisor Wrap-up~~~

Just a quick note to let you know that the next High Rankings Seminar
will be a 2-day seminar in the Boston suburbs, hopefully in the Natick
area, on September 23rd and 24th.  The first day will be all the basic
SEO and SEM advice you'd expect to hear from our select High Rankings
moderators, and the second day will consist of some hands-on
workshops.  We're still working out all the details, but if you think
you might be interested, please keep those days blocked off on your

Also, look for an email soon as I switch you over to my upgraded list

Catch you next week! - Jill

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