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((((((((((((((((( WEBREFERENCE UPDATE NEWSLETTER ))))))))))))))))) July 19, 2001


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This week we follow up our review of "Search Engine Positioning" by interviewing the author, Fredrick Marckini. Fredrick is the CEO of iProspect.com, and one of SEP's pioneers. Fredrick shared so much information with us that we're splitting this interview into two parts. Part II will run next Thursday.

New this week on WebReference.com and the Web:

1. INTERVIEW: Fredrick Marckini on Search Engine Positioning, Pt. I

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~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ 1. INTERVIEW: Fredrick Marckini on Search Engine Positioning

>WR: Search Engine Positioning (SEP) and Optimization (SEO) are all the rage, and your new book demystifies the process. Give us an overview of what you do for a typical client.

http://www.webreference.com/new/010716.html#review (book review)

>FM: Search engine positioning is a process not a project. iProspect's process is predicated on understanding the client's Web site, their visibility and traffic goals and then developing a search engine positioning campaign around that client's specific marketing targets. It is not a one-size-fits-all implementation. Each campaign is different depending on the client's goals. For some clients it's lead generation, for others it's increasing traffic for the purposes of increasing their page-view inventory so that they can sell more banner ads, for others it's increasing transactions on the site. The client's goals create and inform the structure of the campaign.

>WR: In a nutshell it seems you are saying at the very least make sure webmasters have their most important keyword phrases in their TITLE, KEYWORD, DESCRIPTION, and BODY copy. How can webmasters discover the right keyword phrases to target?

>FM: Step one, ask your audience how they're searching. That will always be a great source for choosing keywords and phrases that a site should target. Many of the keyword databases available that people like to look to are skewed by robots and rank checking software. Keywords are not queried by humans with the frequency that you might think, based on looking at sources like GoTo.com's keyword query database - though that's an interesting source that a webmaster should review when starting.

I would advise the do-it-yourselfer to consider the keywords that appear in their body copy first. You'd be amazed at how often someone's Web site copy includes terrific keywords that are overlooked because they focus on a wish list instead. Databases like WordTracker.com are good, and viewing your competitors keyword meta tags is often overlooked. Wouldn't you like to know what keywords your competition thinks are important? Beware though. Often your competitors have made poor choices.

Always relate your final keyword universe back to your audience. Make sure that if someone queries the keyword and your Web site is presented as a search match, that your site satisfies the intent of that search. Otherwise, the visitor will go two or three pages deep into your site and then leave.

>WR: I like your case studies chapter. How do you quantify your progress with SEP? Do you also track the number of backlinks over time? How important are backlinks for driving traffic?

>FM: Backlinks are important, but they're not the panacea some people think. We measure a number of data points for each campaign. Obviously, as you'd expect, we measure rankings and traffic growth. But we also measure different metrics for each client. For some clients we measure site transactions, page impressions, total volume of traffic, etc. Each campaign has a different goal.

In general, the effectiveness of a search engine positioning campaign is measured in visibility and visibility growth. We've taken clients from a few hundred top-10 to top-30 keyword rankings to several thousand rankings. We've increased site traffic by orders of magnitude. But all of that is irrelevant if the client's site goals and marketing goals are not met. What good is an increase of 10,000 visitors per month to 80,000 visitors per month if the increased traffic doesn't cause an increase in sales or leads generated?

Like any other marketing initiative, search engine positioning must be benchmarked against the overall goals of the site. You can increase rankings and traffic without improving a site's outcome. It's a more sophisticated an undertaking than that. We've witnessed situations where an in-house team successfully increased their site's rankings and doubled their traffic but the campaign failed because they targeted the wrong keyword universe. No single data point is an effective success metric, and each campaign must have pre-defined success metrics in order to advise the activity of the search engine positioning firm. No single search engine positioning tactic produces rankings in every engine. Search engine positioning is a process not a project.

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>WR: Loaded question: How do search engines rank pages for relevance?

>FM: They each do it differently. Some place greater emphasis on link popularity, others place greater emphasis on keyword placement. Others, such as Yahoo and Looksmart, consider just the 25 or so words that you submit as your site title and description. To be successful, you must target all the search engines based on how they rank pages. A balanced approach is the goal.

>WR: You talk about how search engines work and index/rank pages, and the importance of putting your important keywords early in the HTML. I've heard that search engines look at the first 3K of information in the source of an HTML page. What are some techniques webmasters can use to ensure their keywords appear early within their HTML?

What about the hidden column trick?

body copy here
left nav column here

>FM: Again, the goal is to expose the content to the search engine and any of the tactics such as the column trick are designed to make the content more readily available - not to make the search engine weed through lines and lines of code to find the content.

I am not a proponent of hiding keywords in tricky HTML. There are myriad ways in which HTML can be used to obscure the actual content that is indexed. That is the domain of cloaking companies and companies who accomplish the same outcome of cloaking using tricky HTML. It is not part of our practice. The true aim of search engine positioning does not have room for "tricking" the search engines. It is to ensure that quality content can be indexed and accepted by search engines and that it contains keywords in the places where search engines are looking.

If companies simply incorporate their keywords into the site's actual body copy and meta data, they're doing more than 95% of all Web sites out there and they will achieve higher rankings and more traffic. If they want to get aggressive, they need to engage the services of a search engine positioning firm to gain the knowledge and insight that many years of learning and study can bring.

>WR: With the move towards standards-compliant code and CSS for layout, we're seeing simpler pages with more CSS in the HEAD. Does this extra HEAD text lower relevance? Should we use external style sheets and JavaScripts instead?

>FM: Use external style sheets and skip the JavaScripts simply because anything that gets in the way of the search engine is in fact going to push the content out of the way. Just think of the task as making the content, not the code, more visible. Anything that gets in the way is a hindrance to search engine visibility.

>WR: You discourage spamdexing, but on your home page (http:www.iprospect.com) you use a commented H1. Does this work?

>FM: Sorry, no clever trick just an enthusiastic in-house site designer. We commented out headlines that looked unattractive. Really really unattractive. I will not pursue rankings at the expense of our brand image no matter the cost.

>WR: You talk about the increasingly sophisticated on and off- the-page factors that search engines are using to raise relevance. Explain the concept/importance of weaving a keyword "theme" through your page/site and how numeric "term vectors" work.

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>FM: You ask about the importance of themes and I would like to give you an example - two sites, both with apples as a keyword, the theme of the site is clearly to differentiate whether the page and site is for Apple computers or for apple orchards. The theme helps to disambiguate the keywords and the site content.

>WR: What are the newest techniques search engine companies are working on?

>FM: To give you what the newest techniques that we are working on would be to disclose our current research interests and thus tip our hand to our competitors; however, let me note that our research continues to focus on improving our understanding of how Web searchers use language. The Web is language-based, and we can never know too much about how language is used and interpreted. I cannot speak to what other search engine companies are doing.

>WR: Doesn't the increasing use of off-the-page factors like link popularity to raise relevance (google.com's PageRank etc.) diminish the importance of SEP? How can you raise link popularity?

>FM: There are only a few true search engines left. While Google is most widely recognized as leveraging link popularity, most consider it as a component of their algorithm. Most search engines today are true hybrids. Their search results are derived from a human-edited directory, popularity-based services (e.g., DirectHit), and supplemented by spider-based search engines. Link popularity, then, is certainly important. However, Yahoo drives more traffic to most Web sites than any other search engine/ directory. What good is your campaign if it overlooks or undervalues Yahoo or the other human-edited directories?

As for increasing link popularity, there are myriad ways for a Webmaster to increase their inbound link count. The obvious one for the do-it-yourselfer is to identify sites in the same industry and simply request the link. If you want to be more aggressive ask your vendors and partners to link to you as well.

>WR: After taking Danny Sullivan's "Search Engine Bootcamp," a private course for Internet.com employees (and applying it to WebReference.com and JavaScript.com's home pages), we did see some gains in overall traffic. I'm constantly amazed how many companies don't even include keyword phrases in their home page TITLEs, META tags, etc. What kind of traffic boost are they missing?

>FM: I would argue that the site's TITLE tag is the most overlooked place to include keywords. I can't tell you how many sites I've visited where the TITLE tag said only, "Welcome to company.com." Great, if you want a ranking on searches for "welcome" or "to." We're speaking to hands-on audience who "gets this." Most marketing departments at large companies still don't understand the importance of being found in search engines. They eventually do when their CEO calls and tells them that their competitor is showing up for a search on their product or brand name. But by then the damage is done, and then they're playing catch up. "Welcome to the unemployment office" should follow a site title that doesn't include any targeted keywords. An increase of just 1,000 visitors a month becomes 12,000 visitors over a year. The opportunity cost can be significant. What have employees cost their company in lost opportunity by ignoring search engine positioning....?

>WR: What are your top ten SEP dos and don'ts?

>FM: In no particular order:


1. Do your research and pick your keywords carefully 2. Do include keywords in the TITLE tag 3. Do include keywords in the body copy 4. Do consider the implications for search engines before you design your site 5. Do consider the relative importance of each search engines as you plan your strategy 6. Do submit your Web site to each search engine by hand 7. Do include a meta description tag that includes a compelling reason why someone should visit your Web site 8. Do remember to target misspelled words 9. Do perform rank checks to measure your performance 10. Do perform your directory submissions carefully and with great care - once you're in, you're stuck with your listing - get it right.


1. Do not use someone else's meta tags 2. Do not put your competitors' branded or trademarked words in your meta data 3. Do not build machine generated pages 4. Do not use cloaking - ever. 5. Do not employ the services of a company that employs cloaking 6. Do not base your campaign around one strategy (e.g., Yahoo alone is not search engine positioning) 7. Do not use a bulk submitter 8. Do not use a bulk submission service 9. Never, ever, allow someone to submit your site to Yahoo unless they know what they're doing - and even then read my chapter on Yahoo and double check their work - you get one shot at Yahoo - get it right. Yahoo will drive 50% of a site's traffic. It's too important to do haphazardly. 10. Don't hide your text content in graphics - search engines can't optically character recognize the text in a graphic.

We'll continue part II of our interview next Thursday.


That's it for this week, see you next time.


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