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Could Your Website Be The Problem?

Posted Monday, October 13, 2003

Warren Cowan, Director and SEO Consultant at Greenlight argues that marketers may need to take a harsh look at their own sites if they want to find out what’s really causing their search engine rankings woes.
In the pursuit of qualified traffic you’ve turned to search engines, and found that your ranking is in need of some extra lift. So you look for a solution to your ranking problem, and start trying to work out which one will be best to invest in to give your search rankings that vital boost.

Well before you look to some fancy piece of software or some expensive doorway solution for 10’s or even 100’s of thousands of pounds to fix your search engine ranking problems, you and your SEO partner might want to consider looking more closer to home.

You see, your search engine ranking is not the problem. It’s a symptom.

A symptom of something you can’t quite put your finger on. A symptom of a problem that can run broadly and deeply right the way through your site.

Having pondered that, now ask yourself…do you know what that problem is.

If you don’t, then this is what you need to be talking to your potential SEO hires about, instead of spending hours in pitches thinking “and your doorway pages are different from everyone else’s because???”.

***A typical SEO solution alleviates the symptoms***

The majority of SEO solutions are bolt on. i.e. you get several optimised, specially coded pages/sites/files and …well, bolt them on. Being optimised more closely, the premise is that these pages will ascend the search engine ranks and harvest the traffic for you.

Although this method has its distinct pros & cons, does it really solve the problem? Granted your search traffic woes may be temporarily relieved. But do you have an optimised site? In truth…no youdon’t is the short answer. Your actual website, which is perhaps you greatest asset, is still humming away with the same problems it did before…whatever those were. If those pages begin to slide or fail, or worse still the contract with your SEO company is severed, you could be back to square one with no search engine rankings again.

***Finding that problem to solve***

We all need to go under the hood sometimes, so now might be a good time to start. Here’s a few common, but unfortunately fundamental problems that many websites have, which you can hone in on whilst your up to your arms in WebPages, when deciding what sort of SEO services to buy.

***What it says on the tin***

Sites often convey their proposition in a very marketing-eze sort of way, and it's usually very keyword poor. As a result, search engines looking for keyword specific content to satisfy users leave these sites behind. Ok, so you allow businesses to harness the power of technology to create a better, efficient and more profitable tomorrow. That’s all very well, but Google is looking for an e-Business Consultant for me. Unless your content reflects the language of your user's query, the search engine is likely to pass you by when compiling a SERP (search engine results page) for a user. The reason: search engines are lousy at Generalisation. If you can’t make your point clearly and concisely, especially when several thousand sites have taken the time do so, you will be second pegged. A directory editor cataloguing your website will also write a fairly poor description for you. You’ll need to get your keyword message out explicitly, throughout key areas of your website.

Make sure your SEO partner hones in on this and conducts comprehensive research into what your user's search language is.

***Free the content***

Content is leverage in search engine optimisation, and as a rule of thumb, sites with broader and deeper content on a topic generally do better in rankings. Sites that have 5 pages of content, and want to be the lead in their category, may have a more difficult time stating their case for a top ranking than a 500 page site on the same topic. But all of that can go out of the window unless that content is reachable.

You see, search engine crawlers can only really do 2 things. Follow links and read what they find at the other end. They can’t click on anything, trigger a popup, follow a JavaScript link, mouse over, drop down, search… nothing. They just read the text, and remember the links on the page so they an come back and visit them on another session.

The problem is many larger websites lock all their valuable content up in a database, and generate their navigation behind complex interactive and dynamic systems. Fun for users, but a brick wall for search engines. Put simply, if a page doesn’t have an html link to it from some static point on your website, that page will never be found, however optimised it is. Free your content and you can leverage it to massive potential. Lock it up, and you have a search engine straight jacket on your hands.

A good SEO partner should do everything they can to leverage your content and free it up for access to all search engines. Failure to do this can make the whole effort a waste of time.

***Check yourself…some tests you can do right now***

The best way to get an eye for what you might need to for your Search engine optimisation is of course to look at your site in the eyes of a search engine, and see what it will make of your home page. So that is exactly what we're going to do now.

Step 1
Ready? OK. Go to your website's home page, and press Ctrl + A. This will select everything on the page. Now press Ctrl + C to copy it all to clipboard.

Step 2
Now open Notepad. (yes, that typing programme you’ve never ever really used before)

Step 3
Now press Ctrl + V to paste it all in. And there you go. That is more or less what a search engine sees when it views your home page. Not what you expected to see? Chances are probably not.

OK. That’s the basic version. This one’s a little more interactive...

Search engine spiders are on the base level just basic browsers. So what we're going to do is take a look at your web pages in one such very basic browser. It’s called Lynx, and is text only. No bells, no whistles, no scripts, just the text in the html. This is what your average spider will see, cache, and look for links on so that it can crawl to another page. You’ll be able to follow them to.

Step 1
Go to http//

Step 2
Type in your URL into the field on the page, and click the view page button.

Take a good look: it's your website in a text-only world of search engines.

Go on, have a click around the links and see what the navigation experience is like. Think of it as a search engine usability exercise. You might find it quite enlightening.

I can’t obviously take this article to give a full tutorial into search engine optimisation problem solving, and I haven’t got the space to cover all the bases you and your SEO partner will need to check, but hopefully I’ve managed to shed some light on some basic principles that you should look to when deciding how to fix your ranking problems. You’ll certainly be able to spot the snake oil promises at the very least.


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