Reader Q&A: October 2003

Q. Is it possible that if you have paid ads on Google or Overture that this will hurt your search engine listings?

A. Your paid ads should have no impact on the listing gathered for free from crawling the web. These are completely different systems.


Q. I went to the Open Directory to register our new web store. I clicked on Shopping, then Gifts. My journey ended there, because I could find no way to enter our URL or otherwise continue.

A. The problem is that the category you want to be in, Shopping/Gifts is too “high” up to allow submissions. Instead, you need to drill down to a lower level category. Find one a bit further down that’s appropriate, such as the Shopping/Gifts/Gag Gifts category as an example, and you’ll see a “suggest URL” link at the top right-hand side of the page.


Q. If I have paid to be listed with a search engine, will I have to pay the fee again if I want to make changes to how my site was listed initially.

A. If you paid for a crawler-based search engine to list a particular page, any changes you make to that page will be automatically detected each time the crawler revisits over the period of your paid inclusion subscription. When your subscription runs out, there’s a chance the page will be dropped. If so, you might have to pay to get relisted. If the page is deemed important enough, it could be that it will remain listed and keep getting revisited for free. It’s only when dealing with a human-powered search engine that you’ll need to pay or resubmit to get a listing changed once it has been initially entered.


Q. Where can I find out the popularity level of shopping search engines such as DealTime and Froogle? It would be a great resource to roughly know how many users these sites get, since then one can make a decision whether it is worth the time to work on being found in these sites.

A. NetRatings occasionally releases public data on this. As it turns out, you’re in luck. A good look at major shopping sites has just been posted in this PDF file.


Q. A couple of my sites that were submitted to the Open Directory and were accepted a year ago disappeared from the directory this week. Why?

A. Probably an editor at the Open Directory deleted them for some reason. Scroll to the bottom of the category where your sites were listed, Look for the editor name. Click on it and send a message. You should also resubmit. If you don’t see an editor listed, go up a level to the category above and message that editor.


Q. Do search engines read the words within links?

A. Indeed they do. Most search engines will read the words in links on your web pages and see them as part of that page’s body copy. In addition, the words in the links are sometimes used, especially by Google, to understand what the pages being pointed at are about. So, if you link to your own pages in a descriptive manner, you’re helping yourself with link analysis systems. For more about this, see the Link Analysis And Link Building page.


Q. We have been asking Google for weeks now to remove a site that operates many different near-duplicate sites simply to earn affiliate fees for a particular product. These seem to violate spam guidelines. We all feel it is wrong for them to list themselves as local suppliers of a product in every city and to misrepresent products to the consumer. We all are local businesses who believe to be losing sales to them. We sincerely hope they will be investigated and made to comply with current business laws at both the federal and state levels.

A. You can report spam to Google via its spam reporting page. You’ve done that, of course. The best thing to do is to try again. Sometimes Google doesn’t act immediately on spam reports, because it’s trying to figure out an automated way to eliminate spam. That can be frustrating for those reporting. I’d say, if that spam is still there after about two or three months, definitely fire off a complaint letter again.

As for misrepresenting themselves to consumers, Google and the other search engines may perhaps pull listings if they can determine this. However, the real policing body in the United States is the Federal Trade Commission. You can easily file a complaint with them using an online form.


Q. Is there an easy way to find out what the cost/going bid is for a particular term on the various search engines? I am interested in knowing what “VA Loans” would cost me on the major search engines.

You can look at Compare Your Clicks, which is a great way to get bids back from a variety of small PPC engines. It doesn’t cover the two most important, Overture and Google, however.

Checking on Overture is pretty straight-forward. Do your search, then look in the top right-hand corner for the View Advertisers’s Max Bids link. Click on that, enter the code that comes up, then you’ll get listings with max bids being shown (for that term, you’re looking at around $2.60). You can log into your Overture account to see this, as well.

As for Google, you’ll need to log in, select the Add Keywords option, then choose Estimate Traffic, then play with the CPC until you get your Average Position to be shown in where you’d ideally like to be (ie, the first listing, the second and so on.). For an exact match on your term, you’re looking at between $4.84-$5.39 to be in the top three results, roughly and on average.

Bid management software may be able to pull this information from the two major paid listing providers more easily. See the list of these that I maintain. And if any readers have other suggestions, please let me know!


Q. I don’t see AllTheWeb in the Nielsen NetRatings Search Engine Ratings figures you keep. Why not? What are their numbers?

A. You don’t see them on that chart or others I maintain because their traffic is so low that they don’t make the cutoff point. They are below the lowest sites listed.


Q. I am trying to find out which search engines have the most users (more specifically UK users if possible). Within that, I am trying to discover what keywords are used the most when navigating to mortgage sites. So far, I am struggling to find this information.

A. The best figures I can point you toward for the UK are those produced by Nielsen NetRatings in Europe.

As for the keywords used to reach a particular type of web site, the best resource for that is probably a service called HitWise. WebSiteStory may also be able to do this for you, as might ComScore Media Metrix, but I’m not sure of how strong the latter two companies are in the UK.

Finally, Alexa is a free service that provides some very basic details about various web sites. For instance, here’s what it shows for Abbey National.

To view details on other sites, visit the Alexa site and search, or download the Alexa toolbar, or simply enter into your browser and add the web site URL after the question mark, like this:


Q. My professor thinks it’s important for most people doing a web search to use Boolean commands. Could explain why you feel search engine math commands are better choices?

A. The main reason I suggest the search engine math commands is because they are widely supported and consistently used by the various search engines. In contrast, Boolean commands historically have not been processed the same way (or at all) by the various major search engines. The main commands can do most of what anyone needs with the exception of some complicated nested Boolean queries — and in these cases, resorting to a search engine’s advanced search page might be better advised.


Q. Do you know anything about whether or when Froogle will be released in the UK or elsewhere? Or perhaps there are other good sites for finding the cheapest products?

I’ve not heard any information from Google recently on expanding its Froogle shopping search service. They have said in the past that this is something they’d like to do. As for alternatives, for the UK and Europe, Kelkoo is a good service to look at. DealTime also has a good UK edition. The Shopping Search Engines page that Search Engine Watch maintains lists both of these. To reach DealTime UK, scroll to the bottom of the home page for a link.


Q. I’m curious about the meta description tag. Is that worthless to worry about at this point? On the other side, should we really instead get our content spiffed up and page titles well defined?

There’s still a lot of value to using a meta description tag. Several major search engines, including Google, support it to varying degrees, as my Search Engine Display Chart outlines. The other things you mention, having good page content and page titles, are also essential for ranking well.

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