Search Engine Optimization Facts and Fantasy

Search Engine Optimization Facts (for non-webmasters)

Stick to the search engines that matter.

There are really only three search engines that matter if you interested in the Australian market:

  1. Google
  2. Bing
  3. Yahoo

AOL feeds off Google, and the remaining searches make up such a tiny proportion of the search market that they don't matter. Teoma is somewhat relevant as several other minor search engines feed of it, but even together they don't amount to a decent percentage. Baidu is huge in China. If you want to get into that market we recommend you talk to a Baidu specialist, and the same applies to other search engines with a foreign national focus.

If you've never heard of a search engine, chances are nobody else has either. There are many special Australia only engines, but they are off quite limited value. Australians, like everyone else, mainly use Google, though there are cases where a local search engine like Web Wombat may be better for local business. Engines with a particular national focus can often be a good choice if your business is geographically constrained.

Yellow Pages

Yellow Pages is definitely not a search engine, but as a means of getting your site found it is a very effective service. Their sales team are prepared to take the time to help you understand their complex maze of options and packages, but in general their system favours loyalty from customers, and within a price grouping the oldest customers get listed first. (It's not alphabetical like the phone book). However, you can buy your way to the top, within limits.

If you want to be found by local customers Yellow Pages is probably your best option by far. However, they have made changes that spam users with non-local results from big companies offering a nationwide service - usually not what the user wants - and this has done a lot to reduce their usefulness to users and local advertisers. True Local have made similar changes, so be on the lookout for providers that deliver genuine local results to fill the gap the big players have opened up.

While we can't help you with Yellow Pages, we do recommend that our customers consider their (or similar) services. We've noticed that when people are fixated on Google and 'search optimisation' they can overlook an easy way to drive traffic to their site that works around predictable fees that are easy to budget for and definitely aren't some kind of digital snake-oil. If your business is limited to a locale, then geographically targeted advertising will be much more effective than search optimization.

Focus your efforts on popular search terms

It's a waste of time is being number one for keyword searches that hardly anyone ever performs. Being in the first three pages for the number one search term on the web will generate you more visits than being number one in a search term that has only been used twenty times since Google launched.

An SEO scam artist may show you a list of sites he has 'optimized' and the queries to perform to see them rank number one. Look very carefully at the queries that were used. Chances are a more obvious query will not get quite such impressive results, if it gets the site at all. Nobody performs those contrived searches so those number one rankings are worthless.

Magic might work for Harry Potter, but not for search optimization

The techniques to get ranking in Google and Yahoo are well documented and well understood. There are effective techniques to improve search rankings, but none of them are secret. Realistically, if the search engines can see something you've done, so can other webmasters. There really are no search engine optimization secrets. People who claim otherwise are almost certainly selling you a scam. The best and most obvious things you can do are to make your site relevant, accurate, well written, and update it often. Just search for 'google search optimization' to learn more.

Some operators claim to have some new special technology that assures their clients will be at the top of Google. If that sounds too good to be true, it's because it is. Even the most successful operators use the same methods as the other good optimizers. They just use them better.

Google continue to invest millions in researching how to deliver the best and most relevant search results. Apparently, they should give up now because some mythical technology has done it for them: the clients of web studio X will always be at the top of every search... Doesn't sound very likely does it? Google still works, and web rankings change based - at least to some extent - on how good a site is. If Google catch you 'cheating' they will remove your site from their listing altogether.

Some operators claim to have special connections within the search engine providers themselves. Chances are you didn't believe that story before you read this, and you shouldn't.

Some operators claim to have special ways to submit your page to the search engines that guarantee you a number one ranking. This is as plausible as believing that their magic beans will grow into a giant beanstalk overnight. Google openly publish several means of getting listed in their search engine. They provide excellent tools for webmasters to help analyse a site and the searches that take people to it. These tools are available to everyone but understanding how to use them properly certainly helps.

Structure your site properly

Sites built with a proper heading and paragraph structure and links embedded in the text peform better in search than ones that are built in strange 'clever' ways.

If you don't really understand about HTML, then it's a good idea that to lay the whole site out in Microsoft Word Outline mode when you prepare the text for your site. Use the different levels of headings and proper document structure. This will make it much easier for the people building your web to figure out where to put headings, etc. Think of the 'site map' you see on other sites (such as this one).

Good Content Is King

If there isn't really much on your site, then it's unlikely that any search engine will see it as the natural place for a searcher to find the information they want. You need good content, in quantity, and with frequent updates.

It's very important that your site is actually useful and easy to understand. If there is nothing to keep people on your site once you've got them there, they are going to leave right away and they aren't going to come back.

Flash is dead to Google (Mostly)

Google (and other search engines) usually can't index information hidden inside flash graphics. It's an ongoing area of research, but don't hold your breath. Though there are ways to work around this, and Adobe have done their best to make Flash friendly to search engines, but unless you have a very good reason you are better off without Flash in your site. Flash entry pages are also ranked in the top ten things that internet users hate. Unless your site actually needs animation, stay away from Flash. Apple hate Flash too, which is unfortunate, but not something we can do much about. Flash will not work on iPhones or iPads. If you want elaborate animations and interactivity a better route is HTML5 and Javascript. However, that still doesn't mean that Google will be able to index your content unless you provide plaintext.

Link Farmers Market

Some SEO operators operate 'link farms' and other sites that are useless except for increasing the ranking of sites linked from them. Thankfully these nuisance sites are increasingly ineffective and in many cases can have a negative effect. Google does its best to spot link farms and ignore them and the value of PageRank is less than it used to be. These useless pages do nothing but clutter the web with digital landfill and annoy people trying to find useful information. You might have seen sites filled with incoherently assembled auto-generated content and wondered why people made such useless sites.

Another kind of nuisance is the gateway page: these are pages loaded with stolen content related to a target search-term, usually auto-generated, that exist on large numbers of domains - sometimes hundreds. They auto-redirect to the actual target site. Often there is an attempt to hide the redirection from search engines so they can't tell the page is just another gateway to the same old target. While this technique builds ranking in search engines, if they catch on it gets your site banned - and rightly so.

Domain campers like to leverage their 'investments' by using them as part of SEO schemes. Mistyping a domain name or a careless click in Google can take you to a domain that is being camped by some 'speculator' who is interfering with the effective operation of the internet as a tool for transporting information. These nuisance sites are usually used to build PageRank one way or another. Fortunately, google cares less about PageRank than it once did and this technique is increasingly ineffective.

Link exchange programs... If your site is already well ranked, a link farmer may want to link from your site to their farm. They want to use your site to boost the ranking of all theirs. You do not want this. Google will not penalize you for the people that link to you, but they may penalize you for linking to landfill sites.

Google Adwords

Many SEO operators will tell you Google Adwords is useless. Yup, that's right, according to them, Google became the richest and most successful search engine on the back of advertising that doesn't work. If this sounds like nonsense, it's because it is.

If you take time to pick the right words, you can do very well with a Google campaign, though it is unlikely to increase your search engine ranking. It will however, get people to visit your site, which is what you want. It costs money, but not the vast sums Google recommend you spend. Budget sensibly and you can see fair returns on your advertising money. Don't set your cost per click too high to get to the top of the list in a highly competitive market. Certain nasty SEO companies pay people to click your links until they burn your budget. This is called click fraud and it's a common phenomenon. Of course, people can click your ad and not stay on your page legitimately, so it's complicated to spot and even harder to prove.

Unfortunately, it does take a little hard work and determination to pick words that are both useful and unpopular enough for you to get value from them. This doesn't mean you shouldn't try. It's a good idea to coordinate an advertising campaign with site updates and advertising in other media.