Strategies for ranking well in "natural," or "organic," search engine listings are quite different from those used in paid search engine advertising. Search engine optimization (SEO) specifically concerns natural search results.
Plenty of unethical search engine marketers will take your money by making false promises without a moment's hesitation. This column explains some top SEO myths you'll hear from their firms. SEO sales reps may tell you exactly what you want to hear. Listen for the flutter of these red flags.
Guaranteed Search Engine Positions
Credible, experienced, knowledgeable search engine optimizers can demonstrate results from past performance but cannot guarantee future results. In that sense, they're just like stockbrokers. No broker knows how future markets will perform, and no optimizer knows what future search engine algorithms will be.
Except for pay-for-placement advertising, optimizers cannot guarantee top positions. Only one group has final control over what ranks and what doesn't: the search engines themselves. All of the major search engines have some sort of disclaimer stating they ultimately decide which Web pages will be included in their indexes.
Unfortunately, a large number of the SEO firms that offer guaranteed search engine positions are spammers. To achieve top positions, thousands, even millions, of doorway pages are submitted to search engines. If one such doorway page gets a top position, even if only for a few days, the SEO firm fulfilled its end of the contract.
People like the comfort of a guarantee. Many believe a guarantee shows the firm's confidence in their skills and expertise. Remember, a guarantee is only one part of a sales pitch. The same guarantee that convinces you to sign the contract may very well result in spam practices that will get your site penalized or banned altogether.
Permanent Search Engine Positions
There's no such thing as a permanent top position. Positioning and traffic fluctuations are perfectly normal. New pages with unique content are added to the Web all the time. Old pages are deleted or updated. How pages and sites link to each other also changes.
Search engine indexes constantly evolve. Therefore, position will always fluctuate.
Instant Link Popularity
Anyone who promises link popularity right off the bat is spamming search engines. In all likelihood, SEO firms that promise instantaneous results build link farms to artificially inflate link popularity.
Quite often, these firms rely on expired domains on Yahoo and Open Directory. Many of the link farm sites aren't even in the same industry. Why would a mortgage site link to a site that sells watches?
Results people see during the sales pitch that are generated by link farming are short-lived. Search engine software engineers discover the link farms and promptly remove their sites.
Quality link development takes time.
You Don't Have to Change Your Web Site
A Web site is always a work in progress because the Internet is constantly evolving. Browsers are frequently updated to support improved HTML, Cascading Style Sheets, scripting, and multimedia files.
"I'm finished designing and writing my site. Now it's time to promote it," is an unrealistic attitude when undertaking natural SEO. If a site isn't crawler-friendly, it will have to be modified to obtain search engine visibility.
If you haven't written your site using the keyword phrases your target audience types into search queries, your pages won't rank well. And if you did use keyword phrases on your pages, were those phrases used prominently and frequently enough so the pages appear focused? This must hold true not only from a crawlers' point of view but from your visitors' point of view as well.
Be prepared to modify your content in places with the highest impact. That includes HTML title tags and visible (body) text: headings, paragraph tags, hyperlinks, table cells, ordered and unordered lists, and so forth. Modifying content in meta tags alone won't make your site appear more focused.
If a site doesn't contain at least one navigation scheme crawlers can follow and a URL structure they can easily index, participation in paid-inclusion programs should be part of your budget.
Create New Microsites
Optimization must always be performed on Web site pages that reside on your domain. It should never be performed on a new microsite hosted on an SEO firm's server.
One persuasive argument SEO firms will use to create microsites hosted on their servers is tracking. How are they supposed to track results if they're unable to determine the number of clicks? This may seem reasonable at first. But dig for more information. You might find the microsite:
Doorway pages, redirects, some forms of cloaking, and link farms are all spam techniques. The definition of search engine spam is pages or sites created deliberately to trick the search engine into offering inappropriate, redundant, or poor-quality search results.
Microsites are created purely for search engine positioning, not for human viewing. Therefore, most microsites can be considered spam.
Are all these myths applicable all of the time? Of course not. Some SEO firms offer money-back guarantees. They do this because they're confident they'll get results, not because they practice unethical techniques.
Many other SEO firms know how desperate people are to obtain top search engine visibility. They prey on that desperation. So if you hear any of these myths in a sales pitch, proceed with caution. Read the fine print in the contract. Follow best search engine practices, and achieve the long-term results your company needs.
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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.