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No Quick Fixes Where Search Engine Optimization is Concerned

By Jill Whalen
Posted Friday, September 17, 2004

Wouldn't it be great if we could simply edit meta tags and get high rankings?

For the past few weeks, I've been reading Stephen R. Covey's "The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People." One thing Covey discusses is the glitter of the "Personality Ethic." He mentions how some people try to find some "quick and easy way to achieve quality of life ... without going through the natural process of work and growth that makes it possible." Then he goes on to say, "The Personality Ethic is illusory and deceptive. And trying to get high quality results with its techniques and quick fixes is just about as effective as trying to get to some place in Chicago using a map of Detroit."

What Covey says is nearly identical to what I've been saying for years regarding search engine optimization: There are simply no quick fixes.

I wish I had a dime for every potential client who came to me and said, "We just need you to fix our META tags so our site will rank high with search engines." These people don't realize that if it were simply a matter of fixing META tags, they could probably do it themselves!

Where Do Search Engine Rankings Come From?

A lot of folks believe that every time a search is made using a search engine that the entire Internet is combed through to find an answer to the search query. Search engines do not search through the entire Internet when someone runs a search query.

When someone looks for a Web site in a search engine, they are searching only through the information the search engine has available in its own unique database. In other words, if they're searching for their friend's personal home page, they will most likely need to know the exact URL (Web site address) to find it.

Although most search engine spiders do crawl through many pages on the Internet when they look for new sites to index, they cannot find all sites on their own. They can find a site if another site in their database links to it, and they can find a site if the site's owner purposely directs them to it via the search engine's "Add URL" form.

Once a search engine spider does find a site, it extracts what it perceives to be the pertinent information from it, and places this data in the search engine's database. Each engine's spiders index and categorize sites based on their own complex formula.

All search engine spiders are programmed to consider the content of the Web site (the actual text on the pages) to be the number one thing to extract and put into their database. If a Web site is lacking three or four easy-to-understand, keyword-specific paragraphs that describe what the site is all about, the search engine spiders will probably be confused by the discrepancy between the content in the META tags and the content in the page itself. They won't calculate that the meta tags are truly relevant to the site if the text on the page doesn't support this. They'll index whatever they can find that seems to be pertinent, such as words that were in the text more than once, words that appeared in headings, and/or words that were within a hyperlink pointing to that site.

This brings us back to Covey's "Personality Ethic."

Sure, someone can edit your META tags quickly and submit your site to the search engines. However, if you haven't invested the time up front to create a Web site with great content that speaks to the reader in plain language that real people use (in other words, without technology buzzwords), you will not get good long-term results.

How to Get Good Long-Term Results

You may achieve one or two high rankings with one or two engines by editing your META tags but, as Covey so aptly put it, these will be illusory and deceptive results at best. As soon as the search engines change their ranking formula, there's a good chance your high rankings will vaporize - and with them goes your traffic.

It's imperative to think of the search engine optimization process as a long-term investment for your site. Here are a few tips to help you invest in the future rankings of your Web site:

* Make sure your site is not made up of graphics alone, as these cannot be "read" by the search engine spiders who come a-crawling. (This is especially true of graphics that look like text — these are often used when a particular font is desired.)
* Be sure to use natural, easy-to-understand language that conveys the message of your Web site, and includes keyword phrases you'd like your site to rank high for.
* Make sure your TITLE tag, META tags, and ALT tags all jibe with the visible content on the page.
* Be patient! The search engine spiders are extremely slow to index new information that they find when crawling Web sites. Don't be discouraged if it takes six months or more to see the fruits of your labor.

Remember, you are working toward the future. Good placement achieved by doing things the right way will almost always get better and better over time with very little additional effort. Like everything in life, if you spend the time and money to do it right to begin with, the long-term results will be impressive.

About the Author
Contact Jill Whalen by e-mail at

Jill Whalen of High Rankings is an internationally recognized search engine optimization consultant and host of the free weekly High Rankings Advisor search engine marketing newsletter.

She specializes in search engine optimization, SEO consultations and seminars. Jill's handbook, "The Nitty-gritty of Writing for the Search Engines" teaches business owners how and where to place relevant keyword phrases on their Web sites so that they make sense to users and gain high rankings in the major search engines.


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