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Reader Q&A: June 2002

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Q. I bought a link building program last night and tried out the first step of just checking on the number of links back to my most popular site. The results were as follows: AOL, 290; HotBot, 300; AltaVista, 489; Google, 0. This site ranked sixth under my top search term on Google for six months until about six weeks ago and then disappeared off the listings. I assumed it was because my Zeus link directory had too many links outside of the narrow theme of my web site, so I deleted over 800 links from it and have been building it back up with sites having a strict theme. Several of my doorway sites also show 0 links on Google, but others show a few Google links. My question is, have my sites with 0 links been banned from Google?

A. Almost certainly. If you know your web site has links pointing at it but you can't locate those links running a link: search on Google (see http://searchenginewatch.com/webmasters/checkurl.html), then you've probably been banned or had some penalty attached to your site. This is one of the sure signs that Google dislikes something you've done -- and it sounds like you've done plenty bad.

You are running multiple web sites, probably not mirror sites with duplicate content, but perhaps a number of them that really have no reason to exist to benefit human visitors. If you are running "doorway" sites, then you might also be using low-content "doorway" pages, flooding Google with content that only serves to bring you traffic, not necessarily to benefit Google's users.

You've also been using the Zeus link building tool. That's not necessarily bad, if you use the tool correctly. That would mean using it to perhaps locate good web sites where you want links, then making such a request manually. I wouldn't suggest also taking part in its link directory or any other directory associated with a link building tool. I think the risks of being seen as associating in a "link farm" are too high. See also this very good thread at WebmasterWorld.com about reported problems with Zeus, which seem restricted to making use of the directory feature (http://www.webmasterworld.com/forum3/2537.htm).

Your email also suggests some other misconceptions. You seem concerned that you are getting links from sites that don't match your site's "theme," a concept search engines somehow calculate key phrases that define entire web sites. This doesn't happen. Crawler-based search engines operate on a page by page basis -- each page is ranked individually.

Links from other individual pages, even those from within your own web site, can help a crawler-based search engine understand what a particular page in your site is about. However, the crawlers do not some how magically add up all your pages to determine a site's overall "theme."

Those who have "themed up" web sites and found it successful have been benefiting because by breaking up a site, you tend to get more pages indexed than by having one big site. In addition, when breaking up a web site, you will have a more focused root home page for each site. Root pages tend to be more highly ranked and tend to attract the most links from other sites, as opposed to inside pages. These additional links can help the new root pages do better than within a larger web site.

As a result, breaking a site into "themes" may work, but it's not working because all the pages in a site are being used to understand what the entire site is about. If that were the case, then large sites such as Amazon could never rank well for anything. Instead, breaking up gives you a number of page-specific advantages, which can be found described in more depth on http://searchenginewatch.com/subscribers/more/submit.html.

One thing to keep in mind is that you really should only break up web sites because there's a good reason to -- you have substantial content in a particular subject area, and it would help your users to finds this site independently, under a nice, short URL, especially for branding reasons. Google gives you examples of this itself: groups.google.com for the Google Groups service, news.google.com for the Google News area, images.google.com for the Google Images service, and so on. It makes sense for these sites to standalone. However, if you only break up a web site because you think it will help you with search engines, you're probably making the wrong choice and may run into spamming problems.

As for getting links, people are spending entirely too much time trying to figure out which sites will give them the "best" links, such as by examining the PageRank display in the Google Toolbar or other criteria, such as whether a site you'd like a link from is listed in an important directory category, at other sites, how many outbound links it has, and so on.

Instead, I'd advise you to take the key terms you want to be found for. Search for them on Google or on your other favorite major search engines. Look at the pages that come up in the top first and second page of results. Those are the important links. You don't need to try and evaluate their "quality" any further than doing this, because since they are ranking well for a particular term, the search engine is already validating that they are important.

Find the pages that are non-competitive to you -- heck, maybe even the competitive ones -- from the list. Visit them and see if there's an appropriate place they could list your site, where it would benefit their users to do so, either on the initial page you found or elsewhere in the site. And offer a link back from an appropriate area in your site, where it would make sense to help your visitors with an outbound link.

Conversely, if someone offers you a link, how do you determine whether you should accept it? Forget the PageRank value. Look at the page. Does it benefit your users to add it to your site? If so, then do so. Do what makes sense to do for your human visitors, and Google should do right by you.

For more about building links in an appropriate manner, see http://searchenginewatch.com/subscribers/more/linkanalysis.html. As for getting back in Google's good graces, I'd drop out of all those link farms you were associated with, remove all your "doorway" domains and go back to having one single web site. I'd then tell Google using its report spam page (http://www.google.com/contact/spamreport.html) that you've done all this and ask if they would remove any penalties associated with your remaining site.

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Q. I am in the UK. Is there one company or organisation where I can report a "rogue" trader advertising his business on his web page. This rogue should be stopped from doing business on the web. He has his site listed on several search engines. They should be warned, so is there one organisation that can alert all leading search engines in one shot?

A. No, there is not. Moreover, search engines are likely to be wary about removing a site with "illegal" content on the say-so of the general public. Unless they can easily understand a site is advocating something illegal, they probably won't take action. Instead, you'll need to approach a law enforcement agency with jurisdiction over the type of action. In this case, for the UK, I would contact the Financial Services Authority which oversees traders. In turn, they can follow up with search engines and speak with some authority.

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Q. I received a call today from a company that claims to have a 10 year advertising deal with MSN.com. When a person types phrases into their web browser, they will be taken directly to those advertising with this company. I wanted to find out if you've heard of this before, and if so, what you've heard about it.

I've not heard of the company you named. However, what you describe sounds very similar to the RealNames system, which was resold by other companies. Microsoft did have a partnership with RealNames, but that ends this month. I suspect this is a RealNames reseller, and I absolutely would not purchase this product, given that the RealNames deal has ended.

I have sent a message to Microsoft to double-check whether there is some new deal in the works with a new company. If so, I'll let everyone know. However, when I spoke with Microsoft last month about the RealNames closure (see http://searchenginewatch.com/sereport/02/06-realnames.html) nothing like this was suggested to be happening. I think you can safely assume you are missing out on nothing.

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Q. I've read that "duplicating pages" on a web site might be considered spam. But I would like to also have a non-frames version of my site that visitors can't read frames can see. These pages would be almost identical content shown in my frames. Is having a frames and non-frames version on one same site considered spam?

A. It can be considered spam to have duplicate pages, but I wouldn't worry, in your case. You're only going to have one "duplicate" for each "real" page, rather than the typical spamming tactic of having hundreds of near-duplicate or duplicate pages targeting one particular term. Search engines have mechanisms to deal with naturally occurring duplicate pages, and I think you'll be OK. Having said this, if you want to be absolutely safe, put all the files for your frames site into a directory, such as /frames/. Then use a robots.txt file to keep spiders from indexing those files (see http://www.robotstxt.org/wc/exclusion.html#robotstxt and http://searchenginewatch.com/subscribers/more/robotstxt.html) That will eliminate the duplicates. Of course, the better option is just not to have a frames site at all!

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Q. I've seen a couple of references to a "keyphrases" meta tag allegedly being used by search engines, but couldn't find any information on your site. Do you have any information on it?

Anyone can make up a meta tag -- and they do -- but none of the major search engines recognize this tag. The only ones that some of the majors do understand are listed on http://searchenginewatch.com/webmasters/meta.html.

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Q. What's the different between search.msn and auto.search.msn?? When do people use the "auto.search" portion????

A. search.msn.com represents people who go directly to the MSN Search site. auto.search.msn.com represents people who do a search in the address bar of their browser (see http://searchenginewatch.com/sereport/02/04-ie.html)

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Q. Let's say I know that a phrase like "california jobs listings" is a very good keyword because it has almost no competition on searches. Do I have to place exactly the same phrase in the meta tags, title, headings and body copy ?

A. If you want to be found for that exact phrase, then you would want those words to appear on your page in that exact order.

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Q. I am trying to find out whether search engines can navigate links from a drop down select box. Specifically, can they navigate through JavaScript

A. Generally, the crawlers have said they cannot do this. You should have a backup method for them to find your web pages.

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Q. In your article about searching for "egyptian funerary bread" on Google, you found that the search brought up tons of spam. My question is, how could this possibly happen? What are they doing to come up in a search that has nothing to do with what they offer?

A. There weren't that many pages on the web that contained those exact words I searched for, in that order. So, by creating some pages and using that phrase, they had a pretty good change of appearing. Technically, they are relevant because they have the words. However, content-wise, they aren't relevant at all. And by the way, not surprisingly, Google has now removed those pages from its index.

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Q. My site is finally showing up on Yahoo because of our Google listing. Given this, is it still worth paying Yahoo to be indexed in Yahoo's directory? Will the paid Yahoo listing result in any more traffic?

A. If you are showing up on the first page of results at Yahoo, without having paid for an actual Yahoo listing, then getting that Yahoo listing might not be worth it. However, if you are showing up on the second or third pages or beyond, behind all the web directory listings, then getting a Yahoo listing will probably get you listed before where you currently show up and probably bring you more traffic. I'd recommend doing it, and if you don't think the traffic is worth it for the yearly fee you'll pay, dont renew. Also, having that Yahoo link will probably help boost you in Google results as well as with other crawlers that make use of link analysis.

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Q. I have a website that has been in the search engines and directories for a long time now but recently some ill intended competitor has been adding my URLs multiple times to the search engines, and I am concerned that if this continues, my website will be removed for spam. Is there anything I can do to stop this? I am afraid if I contact the search engines, I will only make it worse.

A. If you know a competitor is doing this, you might be able to scare them off with the threat of legal action. However, I wouldn't worry too much. Yours is not the first site to be targeted like this, and the search engines generally are going to try some thing to verify whether these submissions seem to be from you and worth banning you. Given that you've seen no drop off pages, I think you can conclude they recognize that it is not activity being done by your site. If you do see something happen, then I would get in touch to express your fears.

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Q. Our web site uses .htm pages rather than .html. Do search engines penalize for this? Is it better to save as .html?

A. It makes absolutely no difference. As long as these are valid HTML files, you can use whatever extension you like. In fact. the Google speaker at one of our Search Engine Strategies conferences once joked about having a friend who likes to make up unusual extensions just to be different. There is one caveat. If you have unusual extensions because you use a dynamic delivery system, then that system -- rather than the extension -- might prevent your pages from being indexed. See http://searchenginewatch.com/subscribers/more/dynamic.html for more about this issue.


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