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Thou Shalt Not Spam!

If you're caught "sinning" against a search engine, you run the risk of incurring one of several degrees of punishment...
  1. The page is red-flagged for closer inspection by a human reviewer
  2. The page's ranking is quietly reduced
  3. The offending page is dropped from the engine
  4. The entire site is banned from the engine
To make things interesting, most search engines are vague as to what they consider to BE spam. Furthermore, the rules vary for each engine. You might say what is seen as an acceptable honey-baked ham to one person is seen as a can of spam to another. The extent and intent to which it was used makes a difference as well. Despite rampant ambiguity, we believe we have isolated 12 commandments you should live by.


THE 12 COMMANDMENTS OF SEARCH ENGINE MARKETING:

1. DON'T DUPLICATE: The search engines understandably do not wish to serve duplicate or near-duplicate pages to their visitors. Some unethical Webmasters will flood a search engine with housands of near-duplicate pages in an attempt to dominate every keyword search relating (or not relating) to their site.

So, many engines actively look for content that is very similar and will drop pages or domains they find crossing the line. These "dupe-checkers" unfortunately can catch folks who are not even trying to create duplicate content. Even the famous Amazon.com was accidentally banned by AltaVista at one time. They had so many affiliates with similar pages regarding books that AltaVista's dup-checker dropped them until someone complained.

Many catalog sites will offer similar products with similar descriptions. You may not be trying to spam, but a search engine spider may conclude otherwise. Therefore, be sure to vary your content as much as possible. If you still have concerns that a spider might jump to false conclusions, add a random amount of blank space and other "benign" tags to the page to vary the file size by 100 bytes or more. You can also vary your meta tags, ALT tags, title, etc. Don't misunderstand me though: This is no substitute for failing to create unique content!

If you create custom versions of basically the same page for each search engine, you may attract the unwanted attention of a dup-checker. One option is the use of the robots.txt protocol to prevent indexing of pages intended by Engine A intended for Engine B. For more information see:

http://www.webposition.com/mp-1000.htm#THREE

2. DON'T MISREPRESENT: Perhaps the greatest of all the ommandments, don't misrepresent your site! If you optimize for keywords that have little or nothing to do with what the visitor will see on the page, you're asking for trouble. For help finding the appropriate keywords to target, I highly recommend the WordTracker service:

http://www.wordtracker.com/freetrial.htm

3. DON'T HIDE: Search engines don't trust hidden keywords. Even though some engines like Google will say flatly "don't hide keywords," this, as with many statements, must be tempered with reality. Keywords in meta tags for example will not get you banned or labeled as a spammer even though they are hidden. The same goes with other hidden areas like ALT tags, NOFRAMES, hyperlink URLs, and comments. These are some of the "acceptable" hidden areas so long as you include only relevant keywords and you don't over-do it. Hiding keywords by using the same color text as the background is almost always considered to be spam. Some Webmasters will vary the color codes just a little to avoid detection, but you certainly take a risk using this strategy.

4. DON'T CLOAK: Cloaking takes the "don't hide" concept to the extreme. In simplest terms, cloaking software serves up one page to the search engine, and another page to the visitor. This effectively hides the real page being indexed by the engine from the visitor. If you've ever run across a page that somehow ranked high for no apparent reason, it may have been cloaked. The ethics and the dangers of the practice have been hotly debated in search engine marketing circles for years. Most engines today repeatedly speak out against cloaking. Still, the practice continues to thrive since the engines have traditionally done a poor job of finding and penalizing sites employing the technique. Recent News: Google has issued statements in January that that they have improved their detection of cloaking, so beware.

5. DON'T STUFF: If you stuff too many keywords into your page, you could get in trouble for spamming. Repeating the same word multiple times in a row is the worst offense. However, over-use of your keyword can cause your ranking to drop. What's the magic number? That varies by the area of the page and the search engine. The WebPosition Page Critic will help you stay within the engines preferred ranges.

6. DON'T REDIRECT: Some Webmasters will try to hide "ugly" content designed for a search engine. As soon as a human-visitor arrives, they are redirected to the real page via a meta refresh tag, java script, or other trick. Basically this is the "poor man's" version of cloaking. If an engine determines your intent was to trick the engine, you may find your page banned. However, since there are also many legitimate reasons to redirect a page, such as when a page is moved, engines tend to avoid harsher punishments. Instead, they will usually try to index only the page to which the user is being redirected.

7. DON'T PAGE JACK: Most companies will try to mimic the basic elements that make up a top ranking page to boost their own rank. This is a perfectly acceptable strategy. However, unethical Web marketers will copy the entire text and HTML of a top ranking page from one of their competitors. They'll then place it on their own site and submit it. To avoid being caught, they will then cloak it so their own company information appears. Before you start thinking "what a brilliant idea," bear in mind that it breaks the copyright laws of most countries!

The best way to detect page-theft from your own site is to setup WebPosition to check for a unique phrase or other string found on your pages that would not be found elsewhere on the Web. A quick check of WebPosition's detail report will show any pages found matching the query, and thereby bring out a page-jacking suspect.

8. DON'T BUILD BAD DOORWAYS: Ask any search engine what they think of doorway pages, and their first reaction will often be negative. If they think you're optimizing your page, the immediate fear is whether you're going to go too far, or do something to hurt the search experience for their visitors. Therefore, it's a good idea to avoid the use of the term doorway page, gateway page, or any of half a dozen other terms when communicating to a search engine.

We have always referred to a doorway page as any page designed to rank well on a search engine, thus acting as a doorway or entrance to your site. When it comes right down to it, every single page an engine displays in its search results is acting like a doorway to that site, whether on purpose or by accident! Obviously all these pages are not spam are they? What it really boils down to is not what you call the page, but what type of content the page contains and how you choose to promote it. Because of the negative stereotype put on the doorway page term, you'll find that I prefer to encourage the building of "search engine friendly" pages rather than doorways. That way you minimize the chances for misunderstandings.

9. DON'T FAIL TO CROSS-LINK: You should create links that travel from your home page to all other pages you wish to be indexed. If your optimized page has only outbound links and no inbound links, you run the risk of a search engine penalizing it for smelling like a one-directional doorway or entrance page. Although this is not likely to get your site banned, it may prevent the page from being indexed, or ranked highly.

10. DON'T LINK FARM: Reciprocal links are great for improving your rankings. However, be careful of joining "link farm" services designed to artificially inflate your link popularity. Google and to a lesser extent other engines are now said to be blacklisting link farm sites. If you're caught linking TO one of these sites, you're found guilty through association.

11. DON'T OVER-SUBMIT: It won't do you any good to submit your URL multiple times a day. While most search engines are thought to be reluctant to ban a site for over-submission, they will gladly ignore submissions from sites that exceed their limits. Unfortunately, they don't often tell you what the limits are or warn you when you exceed them. For this reason, WebPosition Gold's submitter maintains a database of safe submission limits and warns you if you attempt to exceed those limits.

12. DON'T BUILD JUNK: Search engines hate pages with "little or no useful content" since they diminish the search experience for their patrons. Too often Web marketers focus so much on optimizing their rankings that they forget about things like aesthetics, rich-content, and user-friendliness. While the search engines don't have a magic bullet to filter "junk" pages, this is one commandment we should all desire to follow. What good does it do to bring a visitor to your site only to have them click away in disinterest?

For tips on improving your Web site quality, see... "How To Create High Quality Content While Improving Your Rankings" http://www.webposition.com/mp-0401.htm#ONE


About the author:
Brent Winters is author of the prestigious MarketPosition newsletter and President of FirstPlace Software Inc. FirstPlace Software produces several products, including WebPosition, the first software program to report your search positions on the major search engines and to help you improve those positions. You may download a FREE trial of WebPosition from here: http://www.webposition.com




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