((((((((((((((((( WEBREFERENCE UPDATE NEWSLETTER ))))))))))))))))) July 26, 2001
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This week we continue our interview with Fredrick Marckini, author of "Search Engine Positioning." Fredrick is the CEO of iProspect.com, and one of the SEP's pioneers. In Part II we talk about some more specifics, keyword selection, and meta data in general.
New this week on WebReference.com and the Web:
1. INTERVIEW: Fredrick Marckini on Search Engine Positioning, Part II
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>WR: For a typical home page say, what's a reasonable number of phrases to target?
>FM: I don't think there is a such thing as a "typical" home page. For some clients we target several hundred phrases, for others we target a few dozen, and for some clients in broad consumer arenas we've targeted several thousand keywords. It all depends on your industry and how your audience searches. The only way to get at that number is to do the work to understand how your audience is searching.
>WR: In your book you talk about increasing unique keyword phrase occurrence. (TFIDF) How specific should our keyword phrases be?
>FM: The more specific your keyword targets, the more relevant you've helped to make the search engines and the better the experience you've created for the user of that search engine. The ultimate goal is to target keywords that, once the searcher finds your site he/she thinks, "this is exactly what I was looking for!" When you do that, you've ensured that the visitor is more than just another tick on your hit counter, and that the visitor becomes a customer.
Remember, search engines deliver the most qualified traffic of any marketing medium. People who use search engines make five or six separate choices before they ever arrive at your site. They choose to use the Internet to research a problem or find information. They choose one of 15 or so search engines. They choose a keyword or phrase to query. They choose from among 30 search results. If your site is relevant to them based on what they queried, you've found a customer, not a visitor. That's the goal of search engine positioning.
>WR: You're really talking about manipulating meta data to raise your visibility. You seem to like the paid submissions some search engines and directories are charging, as it cuts out the spam pages. Do you think SEP professionals are raising the relevance of the Web as a whole? Are you helping the Web move towards TBL's dream of a Semantic Web?
>FM: iProspect has placed great emphasis on understanding the real meaning of the searcher's query. In this way we are in fact working to more clearly define what the individual is looking for - ensuring that relevant content is visible to the search engine. Not all SEP vendors are working toward this goal - some focus on just getting traffic to the site. We recognize that the searcher is looking for a solution, and we seek to bring qualified traffic to the site to make the same type of connections that are the vision of TBL in the Semantic Web.
Tim Berners-Lee could be called a visionary and a futurist. Watts Wacker, author of the 500-year Delta, is a well known futurist. Walker is fond of saying: "It's not about predicting the future. It's about helping you see what you need to do in the future." Bold, exciting predictions about the future of the Web are fun. And as the Web evolves, we'll see which vision of it will be borne out. But while we need to keep an eye on the horizon to ensure that search engine positioning strategy meets the dynamic search engine landscape, we have a greater problem today. Most corporate Web sites, marketing departments, and designers are unaware of the fact that they have a problem. Their multi-million dollar Web site investments are dead on arrival at the search engines. They've built aesthetically beautiful Web sites that won't attract visitors because they can't be found in the search engines. In business school you're told if you build a better mouse trap the world will beat a path to your door. In practice, I've learned that first you have to convince somebody that they've got mice. Then you have to convince them that this is a bad thing. Only then can you help them to understand why your method is superior. So many search engine positioning guides and companies are busy telling the world why their formulation is superior. It is more important to keep communicating that search engine positioning is a necessary component of a company's online marketing mix. Without it, your Web site is virtually invisible to the millions of people who use search engines every day of the week. So with all respect to Tim Berners-Lee, before we ever get to a semantic Web, I think we need to encourage companies to put something other than "Welcome To Company.com" in their site's TITLE tag.
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>WR: What's your take on the Dublin Core metadata initiative? What role does XML meta data and XHTML play in SEP?
>FM: At this time the SEP focus is on those elements of the Dublin Core that search engines use in their algorithms. As soon as there is a shift, we will, of course, react. At this time we are in a wait-and-see mode.
>WR: How important are keywords in URLs to higher rankings? It seems some search engines give higher relevance to domain names, than URLs with the searched for keyword.
>FM: Relatively important. Other factors play a greater role and have more impact. We try to name pages after keywords when possible but not always. I think it's certainly important that pages or file names are words - not numbers.
>WR: In general, can you rank for us the importance of search engines keyword phrases in the following places? DOMAIN, FILE NAME, TITLE, H1-H6, META DESCRIPTION, META KEYWORDS, BODY, LINKs, ALT, COMMENT.
>FM: The ranking algorithms for the major search engines are so complex that it is not possible to offer blanket ranking criteria. If this was in fact the case all of the rankings would be the same or close to it across all of the search engines.
There are exceptions - the TITLE tag is a clear winner as the most important. This is why it is so important to consider all of the elements that you mention both on the page and off the page - such as links. If I had to add a second clear winner it is links, only because of their importance for key traffic driving engines. For second place I'd put the H1 tag and the most overlooked place to include keywords - the viewable body copy.
>WR: Field length: What are some guidelines for lengths that will work with all search engines/directories? 200/1041 chars for DESCRIPTION/KEYWORDS? No commas? TITLE length?
>FM: In general TITLEs should be 10 words or less and the number of keywords should be 50 or less. Since we think in keywords, not characters, it is simpler to consider this sort of guideline. As stated before, the algorithms have become so complex that it is difficult to give generalizations. Our research is constantly tracking what works better.
>WR: What's the difference between informational, doorway, and hallway pages? What is cloaking?
>FM: Doorway pages are typically external to a Web site and hosted on a separate URL. They gain a ranking on a keyword and then the visitor must take an action, e.g., click on a link, in order to proceed to the destination Web site. Most search engines frown on these and AltaVista in particular will kick your content out of their database when they detect you're using them.
Information or informational pages are typically hosted internal to a Web site. They are merely an actual page of a Web site with content tailored to address a particular product, service or issue. Typically, if you've involved a search engine positioning firm, the design template of the informational page is optimized so that the HTML is simple and easy for the search engine to index and the page is indistinguishable from the rest of the Web site in look and feel.
Hallway pages are merely a site map that links to your other pages - most sites include such a page whether or not they know it's a hallway. Cloaking is the practice of detecting the search engine by its IP address or agent name and serving the search engine spider a page that is in any way different than the one shown to the user. This practice is illegitimate and may result in your site being banned for life by the major search engines.
>WR: Talk about the ethics of SEP. You seem to take pains to separate yourself from unethical "spamdexers." It seems to me there's a place for intelligent keyword phrase targeting so search engines will find your site for the right keywords, but where do you draw the line?
>FM: People are never asked to talk about the ethics of PR, or the ethics of advertising, or the ethics of accounting or the ethics of law firms. They're only asked to talk about the ethics of bad lawyers or unethical accountants. Search engine positioning is simply the practice of assigning the proper meta data to pages of Web sites and understanding the technology of search engines so that it can advise page design then ensuring that those pages are submitted and found in search engines. There is nothing unethical about it. It is only unethical when it is abused - just like any other professional service. There needs to be a line drawn between search engine positioning firms and companies that seek to game the search engine's algorithms. Search engine positioning is not about tricks, it's about assigning relevant keywords to Web documents that are legitimately discussing those topics, advising the site design, and ensuring that the submitted pages attain rankings.
>WR: Isn't the whole premise behind SEP fundamentally flawed? Yes it's possible to raise a page to the top 10-30 rank, but if everybody else is doing the same thing, this is at best a temporary advantage. A zero-sum game. There are only 10 spots on the first page, and countless SEP professionals all claiming they'll get the top spots.
>FM: Ask yourself, how many words are there in the English language? By some accounts there are nearly 300,000 total words with some 600,000 word forms. Now consider that people search using one, two, three, four and even five word combinations (and sometimes more). Now consider that there are 30 top spots in 15 or so major search engines for all of these keywords. That's a lot of available real estate. In our six-year practice we've never targeted the same keyword for two clients. That should illustrate this point.
>WR: Aren't informational pages a subtle form of spamdexing? They are not the actual content pages. Why not optimize the actual content pages themselves?
>FM: We do optimize the majority of the pages that make up our clients' sites. And, though many of these pages talk about different products or services, often it is not sufficient to ensure that the page will attain a ranking on a particular keyword. The fact that the Web site design lacked sufficient content is no reason to simply quit. Web sites evolve and grow. If there is an important product or service discussed in a Web site, why not give it its due?
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>WR: Can you show us an example of your templates?
>FM: I regret that we would prefer to make our competitors work just a bit harder than that :-)
>WR: What are the most useful SEP-related sites?
>FM: There are so many, but start with these:
>WR: Thanks Fredrick. Also see our review of his new book "Search Engine Positioning" and Part I of this interview:
That's it for this week, see you next time.
Scott Clark Managing Editor, WebReference.com email@example.com
Dan Ragle Assistant Editor, WebReference.com firstname.lastname@example.org
Andrew King Newsletter Editor, WebReference.com email@example.com
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