Beginner’s Verse for Search Engine Marketing

September 2, 2010

This is Part I of ROBOT's "Search Engine Folklore: Two Tales of Fact and Fiction".

Myths, legends and lies abound in the Land of Search Engine Marketing. Some of these stories are true (FACTs), but many are false (FICTION). We've compiled the most common tales to help set the record straight.

Designed for the apprentice seeking basic information on search engine optimization (SEO) and pay per click advertising, "Beginner's Verse" is a collection of short stories will enlighten readers with answers to frequently asked questions. Read "Master's Manual" for more advanced topics.

Fiction: There is a formula to getting ranked on search engines.

There is no set formula to SEO that everyone knows about. Every search engine competes to be the best search engine for users, so each has a unique method for ranking - and they don't publish it. Just remember that if a method was published everyone would do it. Marketing companies are always trying to figure out what search engines are up to, and there are some widely accepted best practices. But don't buy into any tales involving the ONE RIGHT WAY unless it's published by search engines directly.

Fiction: Hiring an SEO company will guarantee a #1 ranking.

For organic searches, no legitimate company is going to guarantee placement for a competitive keyword. If your name or product name is unique, you can probably expect to rank for those. For general and competitive search terms, however, you are going to be up against a lot of competitors who are making many of the same efforts. Make sure the company you work with has the right keyword goals in mind. Shooting to rank for slightly less competitive keywords can be a great way to get results. For paid search results, it's an open market, so if you are willing to pay for it, you can get in the top position for any keyword.

Fiction: SEO is all about putting the right keywords in your site.

While you should certainly consider the keywords and search phrases for which you would like to be found, search engines don't put much trust in keywords alone anymore. They want to see that you are providing the information for which users are searching. Your site's navigation, headlines, internal links and other factors help search engines determine the hierarchy of the information on your site and to understand what your site is about. If your information is clear, addressing what users are looking for, keywords will naturally be included in prominent places.

Fact: Website changes are necessary to improve your rankings.

Search Engine Optimization is, at its core, "optimizing" your website to make it search engine-friendly. While there are a number of off-site factors that can affect your search engine rankings (such as incoming links and competition), most websites require changes. These can be as simple as increasing keyword concentration in content or as extensive as restructuring navigation and rewriting content.

Fiction: Results are immediate.

While this statement is true for pay per click campaigns (once you setup your account, your ad will show up almost immediately), the statement is NOT true for organic search engine results. Search engines regularly crawl through the web, indexing sites as they go. It may take as long as 30-60 days before search engines find and update your rankings, and your positions may fluctuate drastically for a few more months before they level off.

Fact: Search Engine Marketing requires regular, ongoing maintenance.

Organic search engine optimization and pay per click search advertising campaigns both require ongoing attention in order to get continued results. On the organic side, search engines are finding new sites everyday, and they are also regularly improving their methods for ranking websites. With sponsored search or pay per click campaigns, your competitors are constantly adjusting their bids to improve their ad positions. A sustained effort by someone who follows the latest trends, monitors your progress and makes necessary recommendations and adjustments can keep you ahead of the curve.

Fact: You will need to hand off access to your accounts if you work with an outside marketing company.

Every search engine marketing company works differently. Some are setup to give you full access and full transparency, charging you separately for their services. Others use their own proprietary systems and/or mark up the cost of the clicks, and these companies generally provide less transparency. Each is a valid way of doing business, but make sure you know what you are getting into and whether you will retain any setup or access if you decide to end your contract.

Fiction: Submitting your site to search engines will help you get ranked.

In the early days of SEO, submitting your site with your primary keywords to search engines was a critical step in the process. Search engines are now less inclined to believe the information you provide in your submission. They crawl the Internet and rank websites based on their own methods. They look closely at your content and what sites are linking to you to decide how your site will be ranked. While it still isn't a bad idea to let search engines know you are there, you should focus on submitting your sitemap (see "Master's Manual").

Fiction: Paying to be ranked high in directories will help you rank better in search engines.

Links to your website from relevant directories can be beneficial for your site because they confirm for search engines that your content is valuable for the item or service in that directory. However, your position on the page in that directory likely has no impact on your position in organic search results. Rather than spending your entire budget on one directory listing, your best bet is to develop an overall link strategy (see "Getting links to my site..." below)

Fact: Getting links to your site from other sites will help your ranking.

Links to your site from a website related to your business work as referrals and legitimize the content on your website to search engines. Not just any link will do! Develop a link strategy that includes paid and free directory listings, links from partner or affiliate websites and any other relevant incoming links you can arrange. Look for links from websites that rank high in search results themselves, and beware of link farms that contain hundreds of links to irrelevant websites. These sites are often blacklisted by search engines, and links from these sites can actually hurt your rankings! Also, the text in the link (known as anchor text) should contain keywords if possible, rather than just your website URL.

Looking for more thrilling tales that will test your skills as a master of SEO? See the "Master's Manual for Search Engine Marketing", which addresses more advanced topics, from programming considerations to social media.