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Navigating the SEO Minefield

By Detlev Johnson, 2/25/2002

Search Engine Optimization (SEO) holds many hazards hidden from the untrained
eye. Search services are varied and complex and getting listed is surprisingly
difficult.


Did you know that 95 percent of submissions to crawler-based services are turned
away as inappropriate, and Web sites that intentionally deceive the search audience
can be banned for life by some of the major services? So how should you navigate
such treacherous waters? A search engine optimization shop can help.


Find a Good Shop

Most major agencies now offer SEO in one form or another as part of their online
marketing strategy, but if you are in search of a company to help strictly with
SEO, you might wish to employ an SEO shop. These are companies whose entire business
it is to provide SEO, and include so-called doorway SEO shops that provide doorway
pages. Whichever type of support you choose, educate yourself on what services
you're really being offered.


In your quest for SEO services, you might have already come across a confusing
variety of techniques and terminology. Some SEO services probably sound appealing,
and some a bit deceitful to the search services. Trust your instincts and steer
clear of the second variety. Choosing an ethical SEO shop will pay off in the
long run — even though it may seem as if it does things the hard way.


Never forget your underlying goal is to promote your domain name. A good SEO
shop will do that by matching Web site content with searcher semantics and ethically
altering your code.


Semantics Can Sink You

Semantics can be tricky. You might be surprised to discover that people searching
for your Web site don't always think of your company the same way you do. They
don't typically type the keywords you expect into the search box. And, if the
textual content of your site doesn't match the keywords of your audience, you
stand little chance of being found easily — if at all. A good SEO shop will
suggest adding pages to accommodate your search audience.


The SEO shop can also promote your domain by altering your code, outfitting it
with provocative titles, descriptions and keywords. This has the effect of engaging
your search audience while simultaneously passing the ever-watchful eyes of Internet
search services.


Some SEO shops will tell you they have proprietary technology that allows them
to improve your ranking without altering your code at all. Sounds good, right?
The lure of these ideas, and even those pay-per-visitor payment schedules, are
seductive. But beware.


To drive traffic to your site without altering its code, the SEO shop buys a
separate, arbitrary domain name for use in its SEO promotions. The shop can do
this fairly effectively by using your brand as collateral. For example, if your
domain name is www.widgets.com, they'll simply spin off and establish www.widgetsforsale.com
with a link back to your site. Then they sell your traffic to you directly and
boast about listings in search services. It might be nice to see your brand in
search listings, and you may not notice the listing initially takes users to the
wrong site. So why should you care how this is accomplished?


Promoted or Not?

The problem is that without changing your code and content, your domain is not
really being promoted at all. In fact, your site's natural traffic has merely
been lifted from you and sold back to you — visitor by visitor — at
a premium. It's a parasitic arrangement that steals your name without truly propagating
your domain.


Once you're wise to these practices, what happens if you want to quit working
with the SEO shop? Recovery from such situations is not always easy.


I'm familiar with it because company owners who feel duped often turn to me.
For as long as the arbitrary domain is promoted, you are obligated to pay. And
once your site is listed with Search Engines and Directories, it is often as difficult
to remove listings as it was to add them in the first place. Yahoo!, for example,
will not change or remove a listing at all unless spelling errors are involved,
and even then there is a waiting period of more than a year. Avoid getting stuck
paying to promote a domain name that does not truly represent your company.


Maybe you believe that getting visitors is what's most important. As long as
the listing is top-ranked, you figure you must be getting your money's worth.
You might be right — but remember: You are marrying the company that set
this program up for you and you must pay them indefinitely for as long as you
promote online. Wouldn't it be better to accept changes to your code at your own
domain and collect your natural traffic for as long as you want? Don't let anyone
usurp your name and sell back to you what was rightfully yours.


Yes, stepping out into SEO can be tricky. But, you can do it effectively and
ethically — and enjoy explosive growth in site traffic without wasting resources
on a strategy that backfires.

Detlev Johnson is vice president of technology at Position Technologies, an Inktomi partner and maker of advanced search engine optimization (SEO) tools for webmasters and major online agencies. He moderates the popular I-Search Digest, a vital SEO resource.

 

 

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