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Jan 09, 2001
How To

How to Avoid the Most Common Myths and Blunders of Search Engine Optimization

SUMMARY: No summary available.
Everyone knows search engine optimization is one of the most effective ways to drive highly qualified sales leads to your Web site. But let's face it, for most marketers from creative backgrounds, mastering optimization is like having to memorize the postal regs manual. It's technical. It's complicated. It's boring. And whenever you think you have it nailed, it changes.

So when we heard that Anthony Muller, President of Zenhits is not only an expert, but he speaks marketing English, we called him immediately.

Q: OK so what are the biggest misconceptions that lots of marketers have about getting great search engine positioning?

Muller: The most common is the idea that you can get to the top with words like "Web Design" or "Car Sales." You'll hire some guru and he'll magically whisk you immediately to the number one spot whenever somebody types in that word. Things don't work that way. If there is somebody who can do that, I'd like to meet them!

To get that one keyword up there, you'd need a lot of information pages, a lot of separate Web sites ranked importantly pointing to you, and you need a lot of visitors coming to you already.

Misconception number two is, "Why can't I be all over every search engine?" People think the guru can whisk them to the top of every engine. While it's possible, you'd spend so much money doing it, it wouldn't be effective.

There are hundreds of search engines, but only 20-30 main ones, and just four-five of them account for 60-75% of the total engine traffic. For example, Altavista gets about 17% of the total search engine market and it equals roughly 40 million searches a day; as opposed to Lycos or HotBot which each get 2-3% of the market. It would shock you to know Yahoo only gets about 24%!

We take an electoral college approach to engines -- so we target Altavista, Yahoo, MSN and AOL. Those alone amass a good 60% of the total market.

Q: What about Google? We keep hearing B-to-B marketers rave about their ad results on Google.

Muller: Google is up to 8% and growing. They're very good -- the search results are very relevant. There are a few things about Google that are kind of tricky. They have spam detectors that weed out a lot of people, and also weed out rookies who don't know what they're doing. It leaves the area open to professional search engine marketers who know what they're doing.

Q: A lot of people advertise themselves as search engine consultants these days. How should we figure out which one to hire?

Muller: You have to be careful when you go to these guys. Some do mass emailings saying they'll get you "into the Top 10 rankings guaranteed." We checked those companies out -- what they're promising is when you type in your domain name you'll be in the top 10. Well I should hope so! You're the only one out there with that domain name!

There are other people out there who will offer services but don't have a lot of knowledge. For example some Web designers offer to submit your site every month as part of their service. That actually hurts your site more than it helps. Once is ok, but other than that you could be risking your ranking in some engines.

You want to hire people who can show you actual results from past clients, proof of what they can do. You also want make sure they get results without spamming. Spamming is using devious means. That can get your domain banned for good from search engines after a few weeks' good results. Then you can't ever get engines to rank that domain again until you write letters of apology ... there's this whole rigmarole.

Q: What "devious means" do we need to make sure to avoid so we aren't banned for spamming?

Muller: There are a variety of things, including:

Invisible text -- for example when you'll put a paragraph of black text on a black background.

Keyword stuffing -- when pages have one word repeated over and over again in the text. Duplicate words in your meta tags and titles are also considered spam.

Meta refresh tags -- when you do a search and you click on a link and it looks like a page is about to load but another one pops up and quickly jumps you to an unrelated page. The first page is optimized for where the search was targeting, the second is a redirect with no relevance to the first.

Trapping techniques -- when you go to a page and your back button is disabled.

Now, bear in mind, not all of these are considered spam by every search engine. For example Excite doesn't mind invisible text but HotBot does.

Q: What about just using an inexpensive program like Web Position Gold instead of hiring an expert?

Muller: We use Web Position Gold for link tracking. It's excellent to track where your links are hitting. It saves a lot of time and creates easy-to-read reports. The program does have a doorway page generator (these are pages optimized solely for a specific number of keywords you're targeting search engines for) but it's an ugly page with a few words and links on top, no graphics, nothing nice looking.

Creating doorway pages that are visually appealing is one of the hardest things to do. Search engines can barely index things that make Web pages look good like Java, Flash, image maps, and other graphics. So you don't get ranked. Engines unfortunately like ugly pages!

So I don't recommend using Web Position Gold to build your pages. You need an expert for that.

By the way, if you don't need historical data showing how your ranking has changed over time, you should try Agent Web Ranking. It reports just like Web Position Gold in real time only without history.

NOTE: Next week in Part II of this exclusive interview, Muller reveals how much a good optimization consultant should cost you; how long it will take to see real results; and, his favorite tactics to get high rankings.
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