Reader Q&A: March 2003

Q. The Open Directory Project seems to be hopelessly behind in posting new listings. I've been trying since September to get in. I've written to the category editor, other editors, the staff, etc. No response, no listing. Is it still as important as it once was to get listed in the ODP? Any hints on how to get through to someone there who might help?

A. It is still important to at least attempt, given that Google in particular makes use of the Open Directory within its own site and that the link may help contribute to you ranking better at Google and elsewhere. However, if you don't get in, it won't be the end of the world. Sounds like you've already "gone up" a category and tried the editor there. I'd suggest trying the ODP public forum. Posting there for help has been helpful for others.

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Q. Once upon a time, I had this idea that everyone should enter my site through the home page and created a robots.txt file that lets robots index the home page but no others. Does this restriction adversely affect my ranking in search results?

A. Yes, it is a bad, bad thing. This is because you are essentially allowing only one of your pages to be indexed, your home page. The file is preventing the other pages from being added to the search engine's index. In general, the more pages you have indexed, the more traffic you are likely to receive. This is because each page will tend to be targeted toward a different search term. So, remove that block!

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Q. I keep running into the same problem with various search enginesnamely, the preset page limit. For example, after I do a search on Google, I can only view 100 pages with 10 listings each for a total of 1,000 listings. Same with Alta Vista. Can you tell me what I can do to on my end to be able to view more pages? After all, they do tout the fact that they have millions of viewable pages!

Both Chris Sherman and I have done articles on this before. In short, there is no way to retrieve all the millions of matches. You typically can't go beyond 1,000 or so. See this past Search Engine Watch article, near the bottom, for more about this.

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Q. I have just designed a website that I work for. Due to the very graphical nature of the home page (built in Fireworks MX) there is very little room for actual written text. I fear that this is affecting our search engine rating. What do you think? Any suggestions?

A. Yes, the lack of HTML text means that the crawler-based search engines have little ability to know what your home page is about. The solution would be to add some relevant HTML content to the home page along with your Fireworks content. Also, see this recent SearchDay article that discusses workaround for those using Flash on their home pages. The same workarounds may help you.

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Q. I recently spent a lot of time on the Google site, learning how best to prepare my site, and how to submit. I had been considering buying WebPosition Gold, until I read that Google disapproves! Imaging my surprise to read this in an WebPosition ad, in a recent newsletter: "Search Engine Watch called it the 'clear leader in the perfect page numbers game.' " Please explain!

A. Some people want tools to help them create what they hope will be "perfect" pages from search engines. It's not a tactic I recommend, because I feel it can easily lead people down the wrong path for long-term success with search engines. The In Pursuit Of The Perfect Page article from Feb. 2000 talks about this in more depth. Having said this, some people do find it helpful to use "page checkers" to spot potential tweaks and changes that they may wish to make to their pages. Nor is it "spamming" to use such tools to examine existing content.

WebPosition's software includes a page checking feature, and the quote in the ad comes from a review of this feature, from the article I mentioned above. I haven't reexamined WebPosition in depth since then, but the assessment almost certainly remains valid. WebPosition has long been a leader in trying to analyze what "on-the-page" factors seem to be important to search engines, in terms of ranking.

Aside from page checking, WebPosition and other tools can also create content-light "doorway" pages. These pages can be seen as spam, depending on the search engine. Because of this, you should be wary of using any tool not to optimize existing content but instead to create new pages, from scratch.

Finally, WebPosition has the ability to report on how pages rank in different search engines. Google has long-stated that they don't like this. If they detect you using WebPosition (or another tool). there's a chance they might prevent your IP address from running queries using the tool. That doesn't mean that they would ban your web site from being listed, however. Also, it's extremely rare for anyone to get their IP address banned from just running queries. That's usually reserved for those who make very heavy use of the tool.

In short, WebPosition and other tools can be used for both "good" and "bad" purposes, depending on the exact feature and the search engines involved. Some articles offering further guidance are available to Search Engine Watch members on the Toolbox page.

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Q. Should you change your keywords and make them different for each search engine. I used Wordtracker and see that each search engine has a different KEI for the keywords. So do I customize each page with the best keywords for that particular search engine and change it again for another?

A. Some people believe it is best to build a "perfect page" for each search engine. My view is that the differences are not big enough to justify the effort, as well as the potential spam risk that's involved. In Pursuit Of The Perfect Page is an article that explains the issues involved with trying to make "Perfect Pages," in more depth.

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Q. I use LookSmart, Overture, Google AdWords and FindWhat as PPC engines. I just optimized my site to be on top without having to pay per clicks. What will happen? Can I get both top placement as a sponsored listing (temporarily until my site gets indexed) AND a top position because my site is relevant or is it one or the other? I have worked very hard to improve my site and I don't want my PPC sponsorships to interfere with my listings.

A. Your PPC and "editorial" or "organic" or "free" listings work independently of each other. So, your optimization efforts may indeed result in you getting a top listing for free at some of the search engines. If you have PPC listings with these search engines, you'll also continue to have these, as well.

In short, yes, you may have double representation. What to advise about that is difficult. You may think it is worthwhile to keep paying to ensure that you are as high on the page as possible. Paid listings usually come first in most search results pages. However, you may want to drop some of your paid listings so as not to pay for a term where you are already showing up for "free."

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Q. Every snake oil salesman is on the phone about their CPC Engines. Which ones are good and which ones are not? I've heard that there are a few out there that just shuffle their links to MLM "work at home" folks who just click on links. Do you have a recommended list and a watchout list?

A. People we think are important are listed in our Search Links area, with the most important ones generally at the top. That's not to say those at the bottom of the page aren't "good" nor is this list an assurance that everyone on it is worthwhile. However, the people at the top certainly do control more traffic -- which means more money, more advertisers and more likelihood of being good about fraud detection, customer service and so on. At the bottom of the page in Search Links, you'll also find links to two sites that specialize in reviewing PPC search engines.

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Q. I have a new site and just starting to submit. Notice another well established site with the exact name and which uses the name in their Australian domain name while my company name uses a .com domain. Looks like I am not getting listed. Could there be a conflict with the names be so close?

A. I've cut the real domain names out of your question, to protect your privacy, but lets say the situation is that Australian site has the domain name of cheapcomputerparts.com.au while you have cheapcomputerparts.com. The similarity of these domain names isn't the problem. In fact, I can see that you are listed in Google when searching for your domain name.

Instead, I think the problem you are worried about is the fact that both companies have the same name, so if someone searches for "your" name of "Cheap Computer Parts," it is this other company that comes up first.

There's no simple solution to this. As the more established site, they are likely to have many more sites linking to them and using those words in the links. That makes Google and other search engines believe they are more relevant than your site for those words. Over time, your reputation might grow, which will help your rankings. Alternatively, you might consider another company name that isn't competing with an established company.

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Q. A client of mine has a number of websites totaling about 20,000 URLs, with new content being added daily. Is there any software with an API that - for such a large site where adding URLs manually is time-wasting - we could hook into to automate adding and submission of new and exiting URLs, with that information (title, meta data, contact info.) being stored in a database?

A. Direct submission outside of paid inclusion programs is largely a waste of time. So, you could find software to submit the URLs, but the search engines aren't going to spend much time paying attention to those submissions.

In addition, you cannot automate sending title, meta data and contact information to crawler based search engines. They gather that information from visiting the URLs themselves.

The exception is with paid inclusion. With paid inclusion, you can do an XML feed of information -- the URLs to be listed, the titles, meta data, etc, and have that added into the search engines on a regular basis. Recent newsletters have had an in-depth look at how this works with AltaVista and Inktomi.

Google doesn't have paid inclusion, so it's not an option there. Instead, the best advice on Google is to ensure you have good internal linkage.

You might also look at this article, which discusses ways to construct a site to encourage getting more pages listed, as well as the Toolbox page, which does list some "deep submission" programs.

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Q. I recently spoke to a company who, for $50,000 will put my site at the top of the search engines. I am curious to know if this is legitimate, and/or if I could do this on my own.

A. With any company, the only way a top position can be guaranteed is through paid placement. You can do that all by yourself, and the but you may find working with a third party to be helpful. This is because third party firms often have great experience in how to manage paid listings better, which is gained by working on multiple accounts.

As for non-paid listings, the answer is the same. By building great content and making some simple changes, you might get top rankings all by yourself and for free. However, a third party firm may also be able to help better guide you in this. They cannot guarantee to get you a top ranking in this way, however. Instead, if you look closely at such claims, you'll usually find that the "guarantee" is to give you some money back or do to additional work, if they fail to get you a top ranking.

You also need to beware about what constitutes a "top ranking." For example, they might get you to the top of the Open Directory, http://dmoz.org, for your company name and say they've delivered on the contract. However, ranking well for your company name -- assuming it is fairly unique -- is no real challenge. And ranking well at the Open Directory is no great benefit, given that few people actually search at that site.

In short, if you want to do it yourself, Search Engine Watch has a good step-by-step guide with key instructions, especially the numbered sections. If you decide to outsource, then look over the recent article I did looking at Google's advice on selecting a third-party firm. I point out areas I agree with, disagree with and in the "Choose wisely" section list a variety of resources to help you better find and select a third-party firm.

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Q. Are you aware of any research that identifies trends of how particular types of names perform on search engines (or Google in particular)? I'd be interested in knowing how a descriptive name, like drugstore.com, compares to an arbitrary name, like amazon.com.

I don't know any specific research like this. I can tell you that there are a variety of tactics. Some companies want a name like "drugstore.com" because they think the name contains the word they want to be found for "drug store." It doesn't. Instead, it contains the word "drugstore." Ideally, you instead want your name to be "Drug Store," which certainly could help you get found for that term.

However, you'll also see that Amazon is number one on Google for "books," without having that word be part of its name at all. Why? Certainly plenty of people link to Amazon and say the word "books" in or near the link, which helps Google through link analysis know that the site is relevant for that term. This article explains this in more depth.

In short, if you were a new company with no brand recognition or established presence, then having the top words you want to be found for as part of your company name would be helpful. However, I would still never go for a name simply for search engine purposes, if there were better brand reasons to go with something else.

See also this article, which examines the issues involved with having keywords embedded in your domain name and the general myth that this somehow equates to top rankings.

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Q. When I do a search on all the major search engines, my browser opens up a frame on the left with links to paying advertisers based on the search phrase I entered. I'm using IE 5.00. My Netscape is not infected.

A. Some program installed on your system, perhaps without you being aware of it, is causing this. I'd suggest running Ad-Aware on your system (it's free) to see if there's any adware present. The Counterexploitation site also has a good page listing some programs that might be causing it.

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Q. Are link farms bad? I think that I read from a forum where a person from Google said that someone's website was penalized for being in Zeus. This is a link farm right?

A. Zeus has never been outright named a link farm by Google, to my knowledge. The company does warn against being in link farm schemes. However, for the vast majority of people, the people linking to you have little ability to "hurt" you. In other words, if you only have links from something Google does consider a link farm, that really just isn't going to help you. For more advice on building good links, see this article and also this article for step by step help.

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Q. I see a company spamming with lots of doorway pages. How can this be stopped?

A. The Best thing to do is use spam reporting forms, such as listed here.