The Art of SEO

From: Dan

Hi Jill,

As a subscriber to your High Rankings® newsletter, I enjoy reading the
articles and tips presented in each issue. I also take comfort in the
fact that we are not the only business that tends to suffer low
rankings on Google for no apparent reason.

We are a manufacturer and supplier and we’ve had an e-commerce site
for almost two years.  Our site is filled with all of the recognized
SEO bells and whistles, you’d think that we would rank fairly high on
Google under [our main search term], but…we don’t. For about a month
we were hovering around a ranking of 600. Sites with only one mention
of [our phrase], and sites that don’t even sell [our product], were
ranking much higher than us! Now, we are not even listed on the first
100 pages. It’s as if they dropped us completely.

We have been doing our own SEO. We have all of the right Meta tags,
title tags, alt tags, comments, keyword saturation, etc. (I hope).
We’ve established reciprocal links with others in our same industry,
yet those links are not showing up on Google either. We are ranking
fairly high on MSN and Yahoo (it could be a lot better!), and we even
have a fairly large monthly budget for Overture and Google PPC
campaigns (which is the only way people see our site). If it weren’t
for the PPC campaigns, and the eBay auctions we run, our site would be
completely invisible to the outside world.

Why is it that our site, which clearly specializes in a particular
product, does not even rank on Google when others with only one or two
mentions of the phrase rank so high? It doesn’t seem fair. Exactly
what is going on at Google?

Thanks for letting me vent, Jill! I’m sure you get email like this
every day. Our level of frustration with Google is at a breaking
point, as I’m sure it is with so many others. Keep up the great work
on your newsletter!

Best Regards,


++Jill’s Response++

Hi Dan,

Thanks for your email and kind words about the newsletter!

Your situation is definitely not unique, and one that we hear a lot
about in the forum — especially since last November when Google made
major changes to their ranking algorithm.  I have a theory about all
this that I’ve touched upon in previous newsletters and in the forum.

The gist of my theory is that Google does not particularly care for
SEOs, and more importantly, sites that have been SEO’d.  They even
have a page on their site
doesn’t paint SEOs in a very good light.  In fact just the other
day, according to the
Search Engine Lowdown Blog,
a Google representative told the AdTech audience
there is no way to improve your rankings on Google and that any claims
by an SEO company were false.  Wow, that’s news to me!

But it doesn’t surprise me that they’d say that.  After all, think of
all the time, money and energy they spend every day to fight the
tricks and deception by the less-than-scrupulous SEOs of the world.
If all SEOs simply made sites the best they could be for their users,
while also keeping the search engines in mind, the search engines
would have no spam to fight and they could get on with the business of
increasing the relevancy of their search results.  Unfortunately,
that’s never going to happen.  There are too many SEOs who believe it
is their job to get High Rankings® at all costs, without regard to what
the search engines have to say about it.  They say that they are paid
to do a job for their client (get high rankings) and it makes no
difference what methods they use to get them.

Google disagrees, and so do I.  There’s not much I can do about it
other than teach people how to get High Rankings® without the need for
tricks and deception, but there is something Google can do about it,
and they started back in November.  Unfortunately, in their zeal to
fight spam, they seem to have decided that no SEO is good so they’ve
attempted to lower the ranking of any site that has the telltale signs
of SEO work done to them.

So when you tell me that you have your keyword phrases “in all the
right places for SEO” or something to that effect, you’re essentially
telling Google, “Hey look…my site has been SEO’d!”  To which they
reply, “Thanks so much for letting us know…ZAP…see ya later!”
Doesn’t matter if your site is the most relevant (in your mind) to the
search query.  Doesn’t matter that you’ve placed your keyword phrases
strategically throughout the site.  That’s actually the thing that’s
now become your downfall!

Stuff that used to work like a charm for many people has now become a
tip-off that the site has been SEO’d, and it often hurts more than
helps rankings in Google.  Again, this is just a theory, so take this
information with a grain of salt.  I have no proof that Google does
anything like this, and nobody from Google has told me anything.  I’m
not even sure of what would make any given site trigger an SEO “red
flag,” but my guess is that it’s a combination of things.  Like, if
you have a certain number of traditional SEO factors on any given
page, those may trigger a flag (or a filter as some people like to
call it).

Some of the things I’m talking about are the traditional SEO formulaic
elements that we often hear about such as:

o Keyword phrase in the domain name
o Keyword phrase in the file name
o Keyword phrase in the Title tag
o Keyword phrase in the Meta description tag
o Keyword phrase in the Meta keyword tag
o Keyword phrase in the image alt attributes
o Keyword phrase in an H1 tag
o Keyword phrase as the first words on the page
o Keyword phrase in bold and/or italics or a different color
o Keyword phrase used multiple times in the first paragraph or two on
the page
o Keyword phrase in the copy in every single spot on the page where it
might possibly make sense to use it
o Keyword phrase in all the hyperlinks pointing to a page

Pretty much all the things you’ve been hearing you need to do for

Now here’s the tricky part…what to do about this.  Since it’s
difficult to determine how many and which combinations of those things
might trigger an SEO red flag in Google, it’s difficult to make
recommendations as to what to do.  I’ve never really done my SEO work
with any particular formula in mind, and that has helped my sites to
continue to do well for the most part.

It’s hard to describe the difference between what I do and the formula
approach.  I’ve always had it in the back of my mind that I wouldn’t
want to tip off the engines that my sites were SEO’d.  This is one of
the reasons I’ve never used keyword-rich domain names or file names.
That’s probably the most obvious SEO thing you can do.

The main tip I can tell you that works for me is to just be creative.
Don’t worry too much about the specifics of putting keyword phrases
here and there, and over there.  Not every page needs an H1 header
with keyword phrases in it.  If your page isn’t designed to use H1
headers, you don’t need to change it to use one just for SEO purposes.
And most images don’t really and truly make sense with a keyword
phrase in their alt attribute (alt tag).  Don’t force one to be there
just for the search engines.

Most importantly, for Google (and for your users), when it comes to
your page copy and how you use your visible keyword phrases, less is
definitely more.  Please don’t read my Nitty-gritty report and then
put the same keyword phrase in every single available spot on your
page that you can find.  My report is to help you think about a few
places you may have missed because you weren’t thinking about being
descriptive when you originally wrote the copy.  But I’m finding more
and more pages out there where the concepts I’ve promoted for writing
for the search engines are being “abused.”  You can definitely have
too much of a good thing.

A first paragraph on a page that has, say, 4 sentences should not have
10 instances of your keyword phrase.  It will look and sound dumb.  I
know that I have stressed this in my report and in my seminars, but no
matter how many times I say this, people don’t quite grasp how serious
I am about this.  If it reads poorly to a human, and does not come
across as natural professional copywriting, the search engines won’t
like it either.  Don’t ask me how they do it, I don’t know and quite
frankly I don’t care.  I just know that they definitely do it (more so
Google than the other engines at this time).

That all said, I did happen to take a look at Dan’s home page, and
just as I suspected, it’s completely riddled with one keyword phrase
EVERYWHERE!  If you highlighted the phrase, the page would light up
like a gaudy Christmas tree!  Less is more.  If you remove about 2/3
or even more instances of that keyword phrase, you might find that
your rankings improve.  Again…less is more.  You think you’re making
your page “more relevant” than the next guy’s, but to Google you’re
saying, “Look at me, I’m a Christmas tree.” 😉

I didn’t look at your code, but if you’re using Header tags, try not
using them.  I’ve found no evidence to show that they actually
increase rankings in Google, and again it’s simply shining a spotlight
on the fact that you think you know how to optimize a page.  If you’ve
forced keywords into images where you really knew in your gut they
shouldn’t have been, take ’em out.  If every link pointing to your
page has that very same keyword phrase in it, have them changed.  If
you’ve used comment tags for keyword phrases, take ’em out.  That’s
the biggest rookie mistake of all and it’s like slapping an “I’ve been
SEO’d” sign on your site’s “forehead.”  Comment tags have never had a
place in SEO other than to separate those that know SEO from those
that think they do.

Part of the problem is trying to optimize a page (and sometimes a
whole site) for just ONE keyword phrase.  I strongly believe that no
natural page on earth focuses completely on one phrase.  Just because
the engines could never pick this up before doesn’t mean it was a good
strategy.  When you do SEO, you don’t follow a guidebook.  Think like
a search engine and consider all the possible things they might have
to combat both now and in the future.  Always optimize for 2 or 3
phrases and spread them out throughout the entire page.  Never, ever,
ever think that it’s the first paragraph that matters and stuff ’em
all in there.  There should be an equal distribution throughout the
page, and you should never use the phrases so much that you hear them
constantly when you read it.  (Sorry Dan, but your home page is the
epitome of this!)

If you’ve done it right, an everyday user should not have any idea
that a page has been SEO’d.  A trained SEO should be able to spot what
your keyword phrases are, but it shouldn’t be glaringly obvious.
Last, but not least, I cannot stress enough the importance of hiring a
professional copywriter to work on the important pages of your site.
This is the single most important investment you can make for your
site and your business.  Even if you don’t want to hire an SEO, you
absolutely MUST hire a professional copywriter.  Not just someone who
thinks they can write, either; you need someone who really and truly
understands target audiences and how to speak to them about the
benefits of what you offer.  Do not skimp on this.  Just because you
can type or write emails doesn’t mean you can write the copy for your
site.  Most people can’t.  There’s no shame in that.  Copywriters are
not that expensive and are worth every penny.

Hope this helps and gives you some ideas on how you might get out of
formula-SEO mode and start doing more creative SEO.  In my opinion,
SEO is much more of an art than a science.  The science is only a
small portion of it.

Good luck!



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