As part of our recent MarketingProfs seminar on optimizing Web sites for Google search, my partner Brian Klais and I answered 50 questions from attendees. Here is Part 1 of the resulting Q&A.
Even if you did not attend the seminar, these questions and answers offer a bounty of information on Google search. (Note: if you are a Premium Plus Member, you can view a recording of the seminar by going to the Premium Member Library.)
1. How do you know if your site is search-engine friendly?
If (1) all pages of your site are indexed by the search engine, (2) each page has a unique title and keyword focus, and (3) your site doesn't use frames or Flash, then you're probably on the right track.
2. What is the best way to find out the number of people searching for a specific keyword?
Our preferred tool is Wordtracker. Note that it will give you an estimated number of searches done per day, which is based on the number of searches done over the past 60 days on the search engines Metacrawler and Dogpile. Thus, you are getting an extrapolation, which is not anywhere close to being accurate.
Also bear in mind that it is the number of searches done, not the number of people. So one person could go 10 pages deep into the search results and that would count as 10 searches.
3. Will a splash page block search engines from crawling your site?
Not as long as the splash page has any links on it that lead on to the rest of your site.
4. Isn't the click-through rate from Google's search results highly dependent on the displayed description, which you can't control in Google but can in other search engines?
Indeed, a page with a good search listing will get higher click-through and the description or “snippet” is an important part of your search listing (although I would argue that the page title is more important than the snippet).
With Google, you can't control what's displayed in the “snippet,” but you can influence it. One way to do so is by placing keyword-rich sentences or phrases that include good value propositions and calls to action into (1) the first image alt tag, which is often your logo in the top left corner, (2) the meta description tag, and/or (3) the body copy. When doing so, incorporate the keywords most likely to be used as the search query by the Google user. Google will build the snippet out of occurrences of the user's search keywords on the page, including the alt tags and meta description.
5. If an image is used as the link, does Google consider the alt tag in determining ranking?
Yes, but the impact on rankings is small.
6. You mention that it's bad to participate in “link farms.” How does one identify a link farm?
If you receive an unsolicited email that's (1) offering to submit your site to thousands of directories and search engines for some amount of money, or (2) asking you to reciprocally link with a site you have never heard of, then the risk is high that you'll end up participating in a link farm or other link scheme. We dismiss both types of unsolicited emails out of hand.
7. Are image alt tags useful in Google bombing or is it just text links?
Text links are, by far, the better option in conveying to Google the context of the page being linked to. Alt tags may have an effect, but it's small in comparison to text links.
8. Are link exchanges considered “bad neighborhoods”?
Depends on the link exchange, but I'd steer clear of ALL link exchanges just to be safe.
9. What are the privacy implications of having the Advanced Features (the PageRank meter) option on when installing the Google Toolbar?
10. How do you improve your PageRank score on Google?
By garnering more inbound links from pages that have high PageRank.
11. If I don't use a link farm, how can I get sites to link to mine?
Start by having high quality, valuable content that people find so useful they are compelled to link to it from their sites. If a site isn't link-worthy without trading links, then the site doesn't deserve a top ranking. Syndicate that useful content to other sites (through RSS feeds, for example).
12. What is the effect on ranking and finding of “redirect” pages?
A temporary redirect will not pass on its PageRank score to the redirected page. A “sneaky” redirect—i.e., a redirect done for the purpose of directing Google users to content different from what is fed to Googlebot—will probably get your site penalized or banned by Google.
13. What are the key issues to address with meta tags and meta keywords?
Meta keywords and meta description tags will not have a positive impact on rankings in Google. They could have a negative impact if the meta tags look spammy. The meta description is of some value, though, because it sometimes appears in whole or part in the “snippet” in your search listing. Meta keywords are more for Yahoo's benefit than Google's.
14. With respect to non-spider-friendly characters, does the number character cause a problem?
No it doesn't cause a problem. But everything from the number on in a URL is ignored.
15. Would a doorway or hallway page solve the problem of having query strings within a dynamic site?
No, it wouldn't—because even if it gets the page indexed, it doesn't make all the inbound links count as votes.
16. Please tell us how to avoid dynamic page issues (like the “?” in query strings).
Either install a server module/plug-in that allows you to rewrite your links, or recode your site to embed your variables in the path info instead of the query string; or if you can't or don't want to bog down your IT team, enlist a “dynamic feed” service like GravityStream (www.gravitystream.com).
17. Does the robots.txt file help with the dynamic page issues?
18. Is the “title” attribute (not tag) useful at all?
It's negligible, but doesn't hurt (assuming you're not loading it up with keyword spam).
19. Would it be better to have meta tags at the end of the page and content first to improve keyword prominence?
No, you can't do that. Meta tags must be contained within the HEAD portion of your web page, which is at the top before the BODY.
20. When using text navigation, where do I place the keyword(s) within the hyperlink text? Before/after a “?”...?
Huh? There is no “?” in hyperlink text. For example: <A href=about.html>Ford cars and trucks</a> doesn't have a ? character anywhere. Your keywords can go anywhere in the hyperlink text.
21. Why do dropdown menus pose a problem for Google, if you have the code within the html as opposed to calling out to the code?
22. I've optimized my Web site for Google, got picked up and ranked number one for my keywords in Yahoo, but completely ignored (left out) of Google. Why?
I'd need to see your site to ascertain this. Perhaps you linked to a bad neighborhood but Yahoo doesn't care? Perhaps your dynamic URLs are overly complex but Yahoo didn't mind as much? Could be any number of things.
23. Can the use of style sheets—because they replace bolding, H1, H2 etc., with style sheet references—reduce ranking?
Theoretically, if you're trying to game the search engines. If you're not doing anything spammy, then you have nothing to worry about.
24. A site I use is Tripod-based. Tripod carries Google Advertising. I can't find my site in Google, but they have clearly gone over the site because the ads they serve up are dead on. Why?
Googlebot and the Google AdSense advertising program operate independently. I'd need to see your site to ascertain why you are not getting indexed, but if I had to guess, I'd say that your site's PageRank is too low.
25. You show Sears.com as an example with great text links. But what about the url string with ? and = ?
Sears indeed has search engine unfriendly URLs—a major failing for that site. One consequence is that Google is indexing duplicate pages from Sears.com, which dilutes PageRank scores.
Next week: Part 2
This Q&A is based on a MarketingProfs seminar for Premium members held on April 27, 2004. If you are a Premium Member, you can view the recording of his seminar in the Premium Member Library. If you are a Preferred Member and want to view the recording, contact firstname.lastname@example.org to find out how you can purchase access.