Spotting Search Engine Spam: Q&A

  |  April 12, 2004   |  Comments

Microsites, ranking, and link farming. Answers to some frequently asked questions.

I received so many responses to my column on search engine spam and doorway pages, I consolidated your most frequently asked questions to alleviate confusion.

Q. I believe there's a niche for microsites. We began offering microsite development when clients wanted search engine traffic but wouldn't allow us to change the main site. The microsites used to be sub-domains of our own site, but now we offer to secure keyword-dense domain names for clients. Is this search engine spam?

A. I understand why companies are unwilling to change their Web sites. After a company pays a Web design firm thousands of dollars to develop a site, the last thing it wants to hear is design, copy, or both need modification.

Perhaps a company has its own staff develop a site. After months of focus groups, project management meetings, wire-frame approval, and so forth, it launches a new site. The company might not want to modify the it after all that hard work.

Enter microsites, satellite sites, or whatever you wish to call them. They serve to get search engine traffic without modifying the main site. Companies can easily find search engine marketing (SEM) firms that will create microsites.

But niche or no, most microsites are considered search engine spam for the following reasons:

  • Microsites are primarily built to rank well in the search engines.

  • Microsites are not built primarily for end users.

  • Most microsite content is redundant. Similar content is available on the main site.

  • To rank, the microsite is usually a part of a link farm. Creating invisible links in HTML and CSS is very easy.

  • No site should have to link to an SEM firm's site, and vice versa.

Even if the SEM firm states it will write unique content for the microsite, the content might be gibberish. Or the SEM firm might create good-looking microsites with complete sentences and full navigation schemes. Though microsites might look and sound good at first glance, many software engineers consider them spam. Optimization should always occur on the main site.

One of my favorite quotes comes from Google:

Webmasters who spend their energies upholding the spirit of the basic principles... will provide a much better user experience and subsequently enjoy better ranking than those who spend their time looking for loopholes they can exploit.

Additionally, if a microsite hasn't been penalized or banned, it's not necessarily because the search engines find it acceptable. It may be that software engineers haven't detected it yet.

Search-engine friendly microsites are rare.

Q. Our site maintains good Google rankings, even with all the changes Google has undergone. However, my site is nowhere to be found in Yahoo Is Yahoo penalizing my site for ranking well with Google?

A. Google doesn't penalize sites that rank well in Yahoo. Likewise, Yahoo doesn't penalize sites that rank well in Google (or any other search engine).

Unfortunately, many unethical SEM firms prey on the belief one site can't possibly rank well in all search engines. Don't fall for this. Building a search-friendly Web site is pretty straightforward if you follow these guidelines:

  • Use words and phrases on your pages that prospects might type into search queries.

  • Ensure relevant, keyword-rich phrases are visible in the SERPs by placing them within your HTML title tags and meta-tag descriptions (for search engines that use meta-tag descriptions in their SERPs).

  • Place keyword-rich, relevant phrases above the fold on your site. Visitors should know they've landed on a page that contains what they searched for.

  • Have at least one spider-friendly navigation scheme.

  • Make your URL structure spider-friendly.

  • Regularly request high-quality, relevant links to your Web site.

As long as a site follows these guidelines, simplistic as it may sound, the site should not have any problems receiving search engine traffic.

Q. I want to hire you for link development services. We need 500-600 links to our site within three months.

A. Link development is a slow, cumulative process that generates long-term results. Companies want to know they'll receive a specific number of links to their sites within a given time. A solid deliverable is far more appealing than "I don't know."

Unfortunately, link farm (spam) companies promise that type of deliverable because they control the links. With true link development, directories are usually the best start because the link quality is very high. Link requests can be sent on a regular basis, but there's no guarantee the links will be added.

Remember, any time an SEM firm promises "instant" link popularity or gives a specific number of guaranteed links to your site, you're probably dealing with a firm that practices link farm spam.

Thanks for your questions!

Want more search information? ClickZ SEM Archives contain all our search columns, organized by topic.

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Shari Thurow

Shari Thurow is the founder and SEO director at Omni Marketing Interactive, a full-service search engine marketing, Web, and graphic design firm. Acknowledged as a leading expert on search engine friendly Web sites worldwide, she is the author of the top-selling marketing book, "Search Engine Visibility," published through Peachpit Press. Shari's areas of expertise include site design, search engine optimization, and usability.

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