“SEO Don’ts, Myths and Scams” at Search Engine Strategies 2008 Toronto

by Joey deVilla on June 19, 2008

Search Engine Strategies 2008 Toronto logo

Here’s another set of notes I took at Search Engine Strategies 2008 Toronto. These are from SEO Don’ts, Myths, & Scams. Here’s the description of the panel:

Whether it comes from a cold call, a spam e-mail, or just misguided advice on a forum, there is some information that is just plain wrong. Other “tried and true” tactics are way out of date. Panelists address and debunk their biggest SEO pet peeves, and address your questions and comments in the Q&A.

Myths (Jill Whalen, CEO of High Rankings)

Lessons from the Buddha

Medicine Buddha

A number of lessons from the Buddha apply equally to SEO:

  • Do not believe anything simply because it is spoken and rumoured by many
  • …or because it’s found written in your religious (or in this case, SEO) books
  • …or merely on the authority of your teachers.
  • Do not believe in traditions because they have been handed down for many generations.

But after observation and analysis, when you find that anything agrees with reason and is conducive to the good and benefit of one and all, then accept it and live up to it.

Search Engine Myths

You have to submit URLs to search engines. Search engines will find you if people link to you. If people are linking to your site, you don’t have to go around submitting its URL to Google, Yahoo, Microsoft and so on.

You need to provide a Google site map. It’s nice, but it’s not really going to help. “Most sites are spiderable the way they are.” If you have a site with millions of pages that changes often and your system can auto-generate a map, then mmmmaybe…

Frequent spidering helps rankings. If it’s already indexed, getting it spidered again isn’t going to do much.

PPC ads will help organic rankings! PPC ads will hurt organic rankings Google keeps its search engine and Adwords divisions separate and it appears that your ranking are not affected by whethe ror not you’ve bought pay per click ads.

Keyword Myths

Your site must have a keyword-rich domain. Having applicable keywords in your site’s domain name help, but it’s not make-or-break.

Your site must use keyworded URLs. These may give you a slight boost, but they’re not they key to high rankings. They’re good for usability, though.

Header tags — <h1>, <h2>, <h3> and so on — are necessary. For headlines, make sense to people, put keywords in them, but don’t worry if your CMS doesn’t use header tags for headings.

Words in your site’s meta keywords tag must also appear in its content. Actually, that’s the opposite of the intent of meta tags — they were meant for extra words that describe your page but might not actually appear in its text (they’re also good for handling common misspellings). They’re useless anyway — Google ignores them.

Content Myths

Content needs to have a minimum number of words in order to be indexed. The number that gets thrown around as the minimum is “250”. I made that up at a conference, when someone tried to get an exact number out of me! It’s a good number of words to get a basic point across, though.

You content must have a specific keyword density. Nope.

You should optimize each page for just one keyword phrase. Most SEOs out there do this — it’s a big waste. It’s hard to write copy for just 1 phrase; in fact, it tends to make pages sound spammy.

You must optimize content for the long tail. Another half-right/half-wrong myth (there are many of these). Just write an article! You’ll get found for the words you used. SEO is really about optimizing for keywords that will get used a lot (which is the opposite of keywords in the long tail).

Duplicate content will get your site penalized. A big myth out there. Duplicates are filtered in search engine results pages because they don’t want to show ten copies of the same article. They’ll show what they perceive to be the most important version. At worst, they might not show your version in the results.

Design Myths

The HTML on your pages must validate to W3C. It’s a good thing to do, but not for boosting your search engine rankings. Crawlers don’t care about web standards. You pages just have to be indexable.

Navigation must be text links, not images. Engines have been able to follow image links since image links have existed. Use the alt attribute for anchor text.

Don’t use Flash. Half-right, half-wrong. It true that you shouldn’t make make your whole site in Flash, because it’ll either be non-indexable or indexed poorly.

Linking and PageRank Myths

Google’s link: command is useful for finding out who links to you No! Ignore it! It often returns no results for pages with plenty of incoming links. Use Google Webmaster tools or Yahoo! Site Explorer to see who links to you instead.

Pages rank in PageRank order. “Toolbar pagerank” — the PageRank that the toolbars display for a site — doesn’t mean a whole lot.

Your site will get ranked higher if it’s in a directory like DMOZ/ODP or Yahoo! Directory. No.


Don’ts (Lyndsay Walker, Web Analytics and SEO Coordinator, WestJet)

Big red button labelled \"Do NOT push this button!!!\"

Between the <head> Tags

Don’t use the same <title> tags on every page. Make the page’s <title> tag content relate to the page. You have about 65 characters to work with weith <title> tag content before the search engine stops reading it.

Don’t overuse <meta>. The one that really counts is the description tag. It may not help with your ranking, but it may be used as the description of your site in the Google results.

You don’t need to specify GOOGLEBOT=index,follow in the robots meta tag. That’s the default behaviour.

Don’t stuff keywords in meta tags: they’re not really factored in.

Don’t use hidden text (text with the same colour as its background). They know this trick.

Don’t use doorway pages (landing page strictly for search engines).

When someone tells you to make a page for engines that doesn’t match your content, that’s a warning sign.

Google treats subdomains as completely separate sites. example.com, www.example.com and blog.example.com are treated as three separate sites by Google.

Don’t publish before you’re ready.

Don’t bury your links in JavaScript.

Don’t use too many parameters in your URLs. Use mod_rewrite if necessary.

Don’t stuff keywords into alt attributes. If this practice continues, alt might get weighted less by search engines, and that would be a loss for everyone.

Don’t use images when CSS will do.

If you want to use specific fonts for things like headlines, try sIFR!

Don’t use inline CSS.

Don’t use Flash to replace content. Engines can’t read it.

Links

Don’t attempt to get hundreds or thousands of links at once, especially paid or automated. Search engines “know” about this type of scam. The rule of thumb is that “Natural is good”.

Don’t engage in non-relevant link exchanges.

Don’t participate in link directories. Why would you want to put your link in a page that has just a bunch of other links on it? The links that you want are on pages relevant to your content.

Don’t participate in link farms. It won’t help.

Don’t focus all your links on landing on the home page. Put SEO on every page.

Don’t register lots of domains using fake names and addresses.

Don’t get “green pixel envy” — don’t obsess over PageRank. PageRank covers only link input/output and only updated once every couple of months

Behind the Scenes

Don’t guess what you should do with robots.txt. Use Google Webmaster tools for help!

Don’t have multiple URL variations pointing to the home page. Remember, Google considers “www.homepage.com” and “homepage.com” to be two different sites. Use a 301 redirect to clarify what your preferred domain is.

The Boss Wants It!

When the boss or your client insists on doing something that’s “black hat”, it can pose a dilemma. Remember that they hired you to be the expert — they should trust your judgement. Taking a risk means risking your job.

Do it right the first time. Follow the webmaster guidelines. Fight the good fight. Resist the temptation to go to the dark side.

Be patient. It can take months to get good rankings, but they last!

Build your brand — don’t gamble with it!

Get ahead of the search engine algorithm updates — chances are, if you’re following the guidelines, you’ll be okay.

Who are you optimizing for? For the engines? No! The users!

Don’t forget to communicate with your development team. Be good to them, and they’ll do what you ask!


Scams (Amanda Watlington, Owner, Searching for Profit)

Scam artist wearing a black hood carrying a wad of bills.

Watch for SEO firms that guarantee #1 rankings. How can they make such a claim? They don’t own the search engines nor maintain them. You have to wonder what keywords might they be able to do this for.

Watch for firms that present proof of achieved #1 rankings. These #1 spots were achieved for very long-tail keyword combinations and non-competitive keywords and phrases. “It’s just fancy footwork.”

When an SEO firm suggests creating entry pages, doorway pages, hallway pages that don’t link to your navigation and may be hosted on other domains, run!

Beware of claims of “secret sauces” or when they say “we can’t tell you how we do it”. That’s a good indicator that they’re black hat SEO. Remember, it’s your site and your business’ reputation!

Watch out for claims of special relationships with insiders at search engine companies — “Oh, I know Matt Cutts!” Matt Cutts is a friendly, gregarious guy, and lots of people have at least met him. Google doesn’t have relationships with SEOs and neither do the other serious search engine companies.

Another warning sign: Linking schemes or things that sound like them. These require you to link to other clients of the same SEO as well as the SEO’s site. They may also offer paid link programs, which have recently come under fire. They promise lots of links via submissions to fake or obscure search engines, focusing on creating lots of links through “free for all” link pages. They claim to automatically get you links from blogs or social media sites. They’re scams!

If a firm claims to advertise for “hundreds of clients”, yet has only been around a very few years and has only a handful of employees, be wary.

Also be wary if the SEO doesn’t outline how they’ll spend your money. These people typically use it on paid ads and try to pass them off as organic search results.

Social media is a new can of worms — black hat SEOs view them as new toys to play with.

Remember, if it extracts value through trickery, it’s a scam. Fake content is a scam and fake blogs are scams.

“I’m a real believer in litmus tests.”

Flash intro pages: bad idea. Why are you putting “skip intro” on your landing page, the most valuable piece of real estate? (Try Googling for “skip intro” or “download flash”) Put indexable content on your landing page!

{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

David Sky June 19, 2008 at 6:43 pm

Thanks for the summary, Joey. The content, though seems pretty much like the same-old-same-old, in a way. I guess people need to hear again and again “write for users, not for spiders”. I assume these talks were focusing on traditional search engines?

Was there much talk about future search technologies and how to prepare for them? Semantic search? Micro-blog search ( I’m amazed at how useful Summize can be for breaking news searches.)

David – @seemsArtless on Twitter

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