Tag Archives: Webmaster

Questions to ask Yourself before Hiring an SEO

Communication is the key to successful SEO. Before you can adequately communicate with others you need to know what your goals are. If you do not have set goals then it is going to be hard for your SEO do to exactly what you want them to.

1. Am I prepared to wait at least a few months to see any return on my investment?

You can see returns from pay per click marketing in as little as a few days, but the feedback loop for SEO (especially in Google) can take many months.

2. Do I realize there is risk in any form of SEO?

Aggressive SEO may return greater results, but also stands a greater chance of being penalized by search engines. In any business venture you should weigh your risk and reward. Most websites do not require the use of techniques that will likely get your website banned from search engines.

Some common aggressive SEO techniques are cloaking, creating doorway pages, and setting up a link farm. If an SEO tells you they are doing something just for spiders (especially if it is hidden from site visitors) then they are likely using aggressive techniques.

Even if a person is not aggressive there still is some risk in any SEO service.

Some of the more common search engine penalties are:

o Filtering out duplicate content. Yahoo! also actively edits their search results to remove low quality websites which lack original useful content.

o Removing sites from the index for exchanging links with link farms.

o Removing sites for using invisible or illegible text.

o Removing sites for using deceptive redirects or cloaking.

o Penalizing sites for using the same inbound link text over and over again.

o Penalizing sites for openly selling PageRank.

o Penalty for using expired domains. Google has penalized some sites for reusing expired domains.

o Since search algorithms can change tomorrow it is impossible to create a complete list of potential penalties. Search engines try hard not to flag false positives. Across the web few sites are penalized, but the more aggressive you are the greater the likelihood you will be penalized.

Different search engines place emphasis on different parts of their algorithms and find spam using different techniques. In most job fields if a person does a bad job you may be forced to buy again. In SEO if a person gets your site penalized you may need to spend to undue what they did and then spend again on new services. Bad SEO services are extremely expensive in terms of time and money.

o Yahoo! actively edits their search results. If an editor flags your website you will likely be required to pay the $99 Overture Site Match program inclusion fees to get your site listed. They will immediately accept payment, but your site errors will need to be corrected before they list your site in search results.

o Google does permanently penalize some websites. Most sites that receive an automated penalty can be relisted in Google within 60 days from removing the problem from their site. Do I have any knowledge about SEO?

3. If not: why shouldn’t I take a few days learning before my investment?

You can learn free at sites like Search Engine Watch & Search Engine Guide. SEO is also an industry filled with slang and jargon. Definitions for some SEO and search engine terms are located here and here.

4.What words or phrases would I expect people tosearch for to find my site? (These words or phrases are called keywords.)

Digital Point’s Keyword Suggestion Tool provides rough search volume traffic estimates. (Please note: Overture traffic estimates on the Digital Point tool run a bit high because Overture lumps together singular and plural traffic and automated bots scour the Overture distribution network.) WordTracker is a more full featured keyword tool that many professional SEOs use, but it too can be off with its search volumes.

The best way to find out search volume is to create an ad on Google AdWords and Overture and bid enough to know your ad will show on every search. Please note this is an expensive technique in many fields.

5. Who is my competition?

If you are uncertain who your competition is search a couple of the various major search engines for some of you primary keywords and take note of the top ranking websites. If you have no idea who your competition is then you have no idea what you are up against.

6. What profit potential exists using my current business model?

If it is a large sum of money then odds are your industry is competitive. You can get a rough estimate of industry competition (and thus profit potential) by using the Digital Point keyword suggestion tool to look at search frequency and view Overture bid prices.

Please note the Overture search volume estimates do often run high (sometimes 10 fold or more on competitive terms) because of automated bots scouring their distribution network. These two tools should give you an idea if there is much competition and perhaps value in your market.

Hiring an SEO is not economically possible for all webmasters, and there are many effective non search engine related ways to promote your site on products over the web.

7. Is my business model original? Is something other than price my unique selling proposition? Does my business idea naturally want to spread?

If your answer is no to these questions: are there ways you can improve your message or business model before investing thousands of dollars into spreading it?

Many webmasters buy SEO services before they are even sure of their business model or unique sales proposition. You should know what message you want to spread before you heavily invest in spreading it.

It is far easier to build link popularity into non commercial sites than it is with completely commercial sites. Providing useful information builds trust and can help build your link popularity.

8. Does my site look attractive compared to that of my competition? Is my site as functional as my competitors sites are?

If not perhaps you should have redesign done before or during the SEO process. It is far easier to spread your message if your site looks good.

Also SEO is a numbers game. If your site is not focused on conversion and your competitors are they will easily be able to reinvest profits and take market share from you.

9. Do I need pay per click marketing, organic SEO or both?

It may make sense to do both or just either one. They are slightly different skill sets though. Both have different setbacks and benefits. You may want to use pay per click marketing first to iron out conversion issues before investing heavily into SEO.

It may be worth doing both types of marketing concurrently if you have a great idea and know you have found a great SEO firm.

10. Is my site indexed by the major search engines?

You should check to see if your site is already in the search engine indexes and see how many pages are indexed. If only part of your site is indexed you may be able to make a few quick changes to make your site more search engine friendly.

You can search most major search engines for site:www.mysite.com and see how many pages are indexed.

11. What do the search engines say about the SEO firm I want to hire?

I would not recommend buying SEO from a firm because they rank well, but the search engines can tell you a decent amount about an SEO firm.

Some SEO firms do not rank well because they get most of their business from referrals and spend little time promoting their sites. If the SEO firm has a site it should show up when you search for their URL. If an SEO firm does not show up in search results when you search for their URL then likely they are being penalized. If their site is being penalized the odds are good that your site may get penalized. To see if their site is in the Google index search Google for cache:www.TheirWebsite.com.

You may also want to look through the search results of various search engines to see what other people are saying about your prospective SEO firm. Obviously the SEO field has many marketers in it. Some stuff that is posted might not be true, but if you have seen dozens of websites saying how awful an SEO firm is that is certainly a reason to use caution.

You may also want to check the backlinks of the SEO firm. Likely you should see some links from other SEO type websites or webmaster resources in their backlinks. If they have a large quantity of inbound links from casino, drug, and other high margin off topic sites and have no other links from SEO type websites then that would likely raise a flag in my mind.

12. This SEO firm called me with a great deal!!!

Quality SEOs do not have enough time to call people out of the blue. Quality SEOs work off referrals and from inquiries. If a firmcalls you out of the blue they do not understand the power of reverse broadcast networks and are likely lousy at their job.

13. Should I buy the cheapest SEO?

Small SEO investments are likely a waste of money for multiple reasons.

Almost any quality SEO can create a topical site about their interests which produces hundreds to thousands of dollars of automated income a month without needing to worry about customers.

If you are only paying a few hundred dollars for SEO you should ask yourself “Why are they willing to work for me so cheap? Are they going to do anything, or are they just taking my money?”

If you are spending fewer than $500 you must realize that anyone else will likely be able to spend around what you are spending or spend a small amount more and steal your market position.

As long as your business model is functional it is a good idea to overspend to protect your position. The web grows with or without you so it does not hurt to overspend to ensure you will maintain your position for a decent amount of time.

If you are in a high margin field such as credit, prescription drugs, porn, or casinos you should expect to pay at least 5 figures and some ongoing fee.

How SEO Works

This is an extremely brief introduction to SEO. It aims to inform you what SEO is, but not to teach you how to become an SEO expert. Much of the SEO process is just hard work and learning from your errors.
If you do your own SEO you will still likely want to chat in SEO forums and read books on the topic before starting. Many of the print books can go quickly out of date, but if you ask around there will likely be at least a couple good guides which are commonly recommended.

What is SEO?

SEO is the art or science of gaining top search engine placement for relevant keyword phrases through making search engines believe your site is more relevant than your competition’s websites.

What are Keywords?

Keywords are terms or (more often) phrases you would expect someone to search for to find your website. With SEO you pick your keywords and create pages focused on them. You can only focus each page on a specific keyword phrase or few specific keywords. One of the best tricks to SEO is to gain traffic using many pages focused on specific terms vice focusing on broad single word terms. Specific terms are usually easier to rank well for and often have a higher conversion rate (since a longer query is often associated with greater searcher intent).

Using the Correct Domain Name

Acquiring links is important to rank well for competitive terms. When possible you want the links pointing at you to use your keywords in them. Other sites (especially directories) are more inclined to link to you with your keywords in the link text if they are also in your official site name or domain name. It is usually a good idea to use your keywords in
your domain name when possible.

SEO Feedback Time Frame

When you search a search engine you are not searching the web. You are searching their cache of the web. It takes search engines some finite amount of time to find and properly index new links and pages.
If you are new to SEO (or are just beginning to do SEO on your website) it may take up to six months or more to gain a top ranking for a competitive phrase. If you work hard enough you can usually rank well for less competitive phrases in as little as a couple months.

Gaining Top Rankings can take a Long Time

Some of your biggest competitors have likely been around for a long time and have many links built up over time. You can view their linksby:
o Searching Yahoo! for linkdomain:www.CompetingWebsite.com.
o Searching Google for link: www.CompetingWebsite.com.
o Yahoo! usually shows more links to your site than Google does, and each search engine will likely show some    links the other is not showing.
Search engines know of and evaluate many more links than they show using a backlink check. Even though all links do not display, checking backlink can help you estimate the popularity of a site.

How to Build Links

o Register your site in major directories such as the Yahoo! Directory
and DMOZ. I also register my clients websites in many of the
smaller directories and niche specific directories. Search engines
often do not count links that go through redirects, so before
spending money on a listing you will want to check if the directories
provide static links. Business.com and the Yahoo! Directory are two
directories which provide static links and show tracking URLs in the
status bar when you hover over the links. Most other directories
that show tracking URLs do not provide links that are
evaluated by search engines.
o Write press releases and articles and syndicate them on other sites.
Link back to your site (using your keywords when possible) in the
article signature block.    o Ask friends, product manufacturers, product distributors, and other
business partners to link to you.
o Sponsor sites and get them to link to you.
o Buy advertising from related websites.

How Much Should SEO Cost?

Quality SEO is time-consuming and usually requires an investment of at least 4 figures if you are paying someone else to do your SEO for you. You may be able to find a cheaper SEO service if you are in a niche field and have your keywords in the domain name. I would suggest setting aside at least a thousand or few thousand dollars for SEO if you are hiring an SEO.
Some SEO steps are time-consuming and expensive. Long-term link building requires significant expense in both time and money. The cost of effective SEO can sometimes be as low as $500 to $1,000 and it can cost $10,000 a moth depending on how niche or competitive your field is.
The price of SEO is typically market driven. Niche fields do not cost much, but if you are in a business that can make thousands of dollars per day then you should expect to be paying thousands of dollars per month.
It may be worth it to hire someone in-house to do SEO. If you do your own SEO services make sure you account for the time you spend when figuring out how much it is costing you.

How PPC Marketing Works

There is a big difference between pay per click marketing and SEO. Neither of these sections are intended to be a complete how to guide, but are designed just to give you a brief intro into both topics.

What is PPC?

Pay per click ads usually appear in a colored box on search results pages and are separated from the regular search results on most major search engines and portals. Some portals (such as Ask Jeeves and AOL) are not clearly separating the ads from the regular search results. Many of the larger PPC networks have many search partners and broad sweeping contextual advertising networks.

Who Owns the Largest PPC Networks?

This is a rough estimate, but between 10% and 30% of purchases which originate from search come from pay per click ads. Currently Google AdWords and Overture are the two largest pay per click search engines.

Risk Involved with PPC?

Pay per click search engine marketing has no risk involved other than the money you are spending buying the clicks. This means that you do not need to worry about your site getting banned from a search engine for PPC services.
The recurring costs for PPC marketing can be expensive since you pay for every click. Some competitors may click on your ads to cost you money (this is more prevalent in high margin industries). It is important to track your ads and report suspicious behavior.

How PPC Works

With pay per click marketing you buy search engine traffic based on relevant keywords bought in an auction model. (Some smaller pay per click engines charge by category.) You pay for every click so targeting is important. You can view Overture click costs for your primary keyword phrases using the Overture view bid tool. Google hides bid prices and factors ad clickthrough rate into click cost.

Why Should I use Big PPC Networks?

There are many smaller pay per click networks, but I recommend starting off with the two largest to ensure you are buying quality traffic and that your business model is sustainable. Using these networks will also provide your business with a rapid feedback loop.

Overture VS. Google AdWords

The trick to doing well in Google AdWords is encouraging a high clickthrough rate which will lower click costs. Google created a free PDF report offering tips on how to use AdWords effectively. Overture also recently created a free “how to” PDF. The trick to doing well in Overture is to use many different variations of your keywords since they place exact match listings before broad match listings. This means if you bid on the exact term someone is searching for and someone else bids on a different variation of a similar term your ad will appear before theirs, even if your bid is significantly cheaper. Some people will do better with Overture and other industries are better using Google AdWords. I recommend trying both.


Pay per click marketing may provide a quick cheap alternative to investing in a full service SEO program. This will help you test your business model before investing into quality SEO services. Over time good SEO is likely going to be cheaper than most pay per click marketing, though the value of each depends on a market. A person selling a report about using Google AdWords would find Google AdWords  as a great place to market their product.

Many PPC Ads Lose Money

Like anything else there is a learning cycle associated with PPC marketing. Many people who use pay per click marketing lose money, so you should not assume your competitors know what they are doing (especially if they are a large corporation like Wal-Mart). Many business models cannot support pay per click marketing, while others rely on PPC marketing. Many successful marketers and webmasters use both PPC and SEO with each other. The only way to be sure of the value provided by each is to test and track the results.

SEO Barriers

Just as there are steps you can take to improve your site’s search engine performance, there are also things that can hurt your chances at optimal rankings—below are some major culprits…….

Avoid Frames
Sites utilizing frames typically separate the content of the page from the frameset, making it
virtually impossible for search engines to find, let alone index and produce, the content of the
framed pages in their results. If you have framed pages that you want to optimize for search
engines, your best bet is to convert them to standard non-framed pages so that search engines
can see what they have to offer for content display them properly.

Dynamic URLs
Dynamic URLs (e.g. containing “?” or “ID=”) have traditionally been difficult for many search
engines to crawl and index properly, although they are getting better at it. To play it safe,
monitor your dynamically generated pages to assess whether or not the major search engines
are finding them and, if necessary, create non-dynamic, search engine-friendly, versions of
those pages on your site (e.g. yourorganization.com/about/default.asp).

Images vs. Text
Web developers will often utilize images to display text for page headings and navigation
elements to enhance the design and/or control the layout of site pages, as opposed to utilizing
HTML “true text” (in general, if you can highlight the text with your mouse, you will know it is
true text). While there is nothing inherently wrong with this practice from a web development
standpoint, it is important to know that search engines are not able to view text that is
presented as images. Therefore, if words that you want search engines to find are embedded
in site graphics, you should consider transitioning those images to actual text. Minimally, you’ll
want to use ALT text to indicate the words that are displayed in site graphics not only so that
search engines can read them, but also as a usability enhancement for visitors who may not be
able to view the images.

Flash animation and video may look cool to site visitors, but search engines cannot read or
index the content embedded within multimedia objects. That is not to say that you shouldn’t
use multimedia where appropriate, but be aware that it is not search engine-friendly. Inserting
Flash components as individual page elements (amongst HTML) to achieve the effects you
seek is a much better option than building entire pages in Flash if you want search engines to
find the pages.

The Top 10 Worst SEO Tactics

I think it is fair to say that Internet users love change, in fact I imagine that many of them embrace the
concept wholeheartedly. After all, there are not many mediums guaranteed to keep you engaged and on
the tip of your toes learning new things on a daily basis.
The changes that have occurred on the search engines since 1997 have been remarkable and very characteristic of the ever-changing environment that the Internet embodies. In keeping with such change, it stands to reason that the techniques required to achieve top search engine placements will change as well. The prerogative of search engines has been and always will be to advance their technology in an effort to provide better and more effective search results for their users. Such effective search results require the identification and ultimately the complete eradication of manipulative SEO tactics often equivalent to Spam. This quest for the Holy Grail of search results necessarily requires that search engine marketing tactics change and grow with the new technology. Unfortunately there are many SEO strategies still being used by webmasters that were put to bed a long time ago. In many cases, these SEO strategies are not only ineffective but are now considered Spam which often has dire consequences for rankings. The following is a listing of what I consider to be the

Top10 worst search engine optimization tactics:

#1: Doorway Pages (aka Gateway Pages, Leader Pages, etc.)
Definition: Create multiple web pages that are devoid of useful content but heavily optimized for search engine rankings. Each page is optimized for a variation of a keyword phrase or for completely different keyword targets. The essence of this concept was to fool the search engines into thinking that these pages were highly relevant and provide top rankings for them under their targeted phrase. When a surfer stumbled on the page they were often shown a “ Click Here to Visit Joe’ Pizza” link that the surfer had to click on to actually arrive at the legitimate website.

Once among the most popular methods of attaining multiple search engine placements, doorway pages were widely used until 2000 by many webmasters. Since then, Doorway pages have become the most obvious form of Spam that a search engine can find and the repercussions are dire if such a tactic is employed. Unfortunately, I have seen many sites still employing this tactic and occasionally we even get calls from potential customers wondering why they have dropped off the search engines for using this technique. We also continue to receive requests to perform this tactic on a daily basis.

#2: Invisible Text
Definition: Invisible text is implemented in a variety of ways in an effort to increase the frequency of keywords in the body text of a web page. Some of the implementation methods are: making text the same color as the background of the web page, hiding text behind layers, placing text at the very bottom of over-sized pages, etc.

This tactic is perilously old and obvious to search engine spiders. It constantly amazes me when a web site utilizes these methods for placement. Invariably, placements are the last thing that a webmaster will get when using this tactic. Invisible text had its heyday from 1995 to 1999. This not to say that invisible text didn’work after 1999 but the majority of web sites were not using it by this time as the search engines began implementing automated methods of detection and penalization.

#3: Content Misrepresentation
Definition: Misleading search engines into believing your webpage is about topic ‘A’ when it is in fact about ‘B’ . This tactic was used primarily for the promotion of adult, gambling, and other extremely competitive search markets.

Unfortunately this tactic is still in use; you likely find one or two every time you search! The fact is that this tactic is the simplest for a search engine to identify and the result will be swift and complete; banishment from the search engine index indefinitely. The worst offense in the realm of the search engines is to try to fool them.

#4: Redirects
Definition: Redirects have some innocent uses (practical, legal, etc.) but they are also used nefariously to
mislead search engines by making them believe that the page they have indexed is about ‘A’. When a
surfer visits the page, however, they are redirected to an entirely different site about ‘B’ .

In most cases search engines have advanced enough to see this technique a mile away. In fact they usually ignore any page with a redirect (assuming correctly that the content is useless) while spidering the redirect destination. Redirects, unless blatantly Spam-related do not directly result in intentional ranking penalties, however, they have no positive effect either.

#5: Heading Tag Duplication
Definition: Heading Tags, by definition, were created to highlight page headings in order of importance. Thus the Heading Tags that are available: H1, H2, H3, etc. This duplication technique involves implementing more than one H1 tag into a webpage in order to enhance a particular keyword or phrase.

This tactic is still very prevalent and likely still works on some search engines; however, none of the major search engines will respond well to this technique as it has been identified as a common manipulation.

#6: Alt Tag Stuffing
Definition: Alt Tag stuffing is the act of adding unnecessary or repetitive keywords into the Alt Tag (or alternative tag –shown by words that appear when you hover over an image with you mouse pointer).

The Alt Tag is meant to be a textual description of the image it is attached to. There is nothing wrong with tailoring the Alt tag to meet your keyword goals IF the tag is still understandable and if the change still appropriately describes the image. The offense occurs when an Alt tag has obvious keyword repetition/filler which a search engine can key in on as Spam.

#7: Comment Tag Stuffing
Definition: Comment Tags are used to include useful design comments in the background source code (html) when creating a webpage. These are suppose to be used only for adding technical instructions or reminders; however, in times past these tags were used to artificially increase the keyword count for targeted phrases.

At one time there was some argument that this technique worked, but it has always been a “ Black Hat” SEO technique which even then could result in placement penalties. Nowadays this technique will not help an SEO campaign, if anything it will be ignored or produce a negative result.

#8: Over Reliance on Meta Tags
Definition: Meta Tags is a broad term for descriptive tags that appear in the <Head></Head> of most webpages and are used to provide search engines with a concept of the page topic. The most common tags are the description and keyword tags.

At one time, extinct search engines such as Infoseek relied a great deal on Meta Tags and many took advantage of this factor to manipulate rankings with relative ease. In today’s far more advanced climate the search engines place cautious weight on Meta Tags and when considering rankings Metas play only a fractional role. Some webmasters still consider Meta Tags the ‘end-all and be-all’ of ranking producers and forget to optimize the rest of their webpage for the search engines. With this line of thinking they miss that the search engines place far more importance on the body text (or visible text) of the webpage. This is a critical error that will ultimately lead to low or insignificant rankings.

Note: An extremely common example of Meta Tag over-reliance are web sites that have been designed totally graphically and are devoid (or nearly so) of html text that a search engine can read. A webpage such as this will have no body text to index and may only provide a small amount of relevance to the webpage which ultimately leads to poor rankings. Over reliance on Meta Tags does not produce intentional search engine penalties, however, the simple act
of ignoring other ranking principles often means a lower ranking.

#9: Duplicate Content
Definition: This tactic is blatant Spam that is very common today. Essentially the webmaster will create a web site and then create duplicates of each page and optimize them differently in order to obtain varying placements. By doing this you are saturating the search engine databases with content that is essentially eating valuable bandwidth and hard drive space.

Duplicate content is a dangerous game often played by full-time marketers accustomed to trying to attain placements in aggressive markets. Avoid this tactic like the plague unless you are willing to sustain serious ranking damages if you get caught –which you likely will.

#10: Automatic Submission and Page Creation
– Automatic Submission is the use of automated software to submit a website to the search engines automatically and often repeatedly.
– Automatic Page Creation is using software to create pages ‘on the fly’ using predefined content (body text, keywords, images etc) to create “optimized” webpages to target specific keyword rankings on the search engines.

At StepForth the word ‘automated’ is an abomination when used in reference to SEO. The fact is that
automated SEO campaigns are not as effective as manual (by hand) optimization techniques AND such techniques often require the use of doorway pages to lead search engine users to polished marketing pages at the true destination page. In this case this is a double-offense by using the banned doorwaypage technique. My strong prejudices aside, lets take a short logical look at both tactics noted here:
a) Automatic Submission
Search engines make the majority of their profit from surfers like you viewing their
advertising. Do you think that allowing automated submission tools to submit a web site
(which bypasses SE advertisements) is in the search engines best interest? No, in fact the
submission companies have had to upgrade their software repeatedly to try and subvert the
search engines’ latest effort to stop their programs. There are also concerns about bandwidth
because automated tools have been known to repeatedly submit sites and sometimes each
individual page within a site.
All-in-all, this leaves the submitter in an unstable position where they may or may not have
their submission ignored. This is not even considering the fact that automated tools claim to
submit a website once a day or a week or a month! The cardinal rule of search engines…
submit ONCE and it may take a while but the site will get spidered at some point (up to 2 or 3
months later –max). If within a few months a site is not listed, then resubmit. If a search
engine is submitted to too often that it is Spam and frankly the website being submitted will
not fair well. As for the major engines like Google… be patient and definitely don’t submit more
than once if you can help it.
b) Automatic Page Creation
If a page is automatically created will it have the kind of quality content that search engines
require for their index? Also, if the page is automatically created, will it not be using repetitive
content? There may be a few incidences where there are some variable answers to these
questions, however, I imagine the answer will be ‘No’ 99% of the time which instantly
illustrates a poor and dangerous search engine optimization technique.
In summary, I am desperately hoping that this Top10 listing prompted a “DUH” from you because
variations of this Top10 list have been repeated to exhaustion in many introductory SEO forums and
articles. Unfortunately, I know there are still many that have fallen into the trap of using such dated and
dangerous techniques, and for them I hope this article prompts a rapid change in SEO policy.
Finally, be extremely wary of any search engine optimization company that suggests any of these tactics.
Sure, there may be a small chance that a few of the tactics will work in the short term; however, that
outcome is not only rare it is also a great way to get banned from the major search engines completely.
If you want to keep up on the latest search engine news, keep reading this blog