www.RMIUG.org
November 10th, 2002
"Search Engine Optimization Demystified"

11/12/02 RMIUG Meeting Minutes - Search Engine Optimization Demystified

Minutes of the (Tuesday) Nov 12th 2002 Meeting of the Rocky Mountain Internet Users Group (RMIUG) on "Search Engine Optimization Demystified"

The meeting started at about 7:05 pm, and roughly 120 people were in attendance. Dan thanked the RMIUG sponsors for their support:

MicroStaff (www.microstaff.com) generously provides food and beverages at the meetings. The company provides Creative and Technical Talent for Web, Interactive Media, Marketing Communications and Software Development projects.

ONEWARE (http://www.ONEWARE.com) -- a Colorado-based software company that provides semi-custom web-based applications, is the sponsor of the RMIUG meeting minutes.

_________________________________

Announcements:

CEO of Microstaff, Maureen Little (mlittle@microstaff.com): described Microstaff briefly, and related one QA position they're trying to fill. See www.microstaff.com for details.

Dan introduced the RMIUG committee, and thanked volunteer committee member Alek Komarnitsky, who is stepping down, for his many years of dedicated service to RMIUG. Alek has been with RMIUG since Day 1, literally, and has been a huge help to the group. Dan described an April Fool's prank that Alek hatched -- an April 1st RMIUG meeting announcement with Bill Gates and Al Gore as speakers. See http://www.rmiug.org/html/meetings/1996/meet_1996_04_01.html to see the announcement, archived on the RMIUG site.

Dan asked warm up questions; where are people from, and what's your favorite search engine ? Overwhelmingly, Google was the most used by this  group. How many work in search engine optimization? (many) Full time? (few) How many people have used pay per click engines? (few) How may have a top 10 site in Google for some key phrase ? (several) How many have a number one site? (a couple folks)

Dan then introduced the first speaker for tonight: Bob Bandy (bbandy@actis-emarketing.com), Partner of Actis eMarketing.

(slide presentation - available on his web site: www.actis-emarketing.com/presentations)

SEARCH ENGINE OPTIMIZATION

Three years ago it was easier - there were about 10 major engines. Now there are really 3 main players - Google, Yahoo, Inktomi.

[Graph shown on what percent of folks find pages/sites by friends, links, print, etc. Highest percentage is links, and second highest is search engines.]

STATS -

  • SE's are the top way consumers find new sites.
  • Users looking for products are far more likely to use search engines
  • 97 % of Fortune 100's had site architecture problems that made them "unfriendly."

DIRECTORIES -

  • pages indexed by robots/spiders
  • each engine searches differently
  • shotgun submittals are generally ineffective (vs. human effort).
  • current trend toward paid submission models
  • there are different types.

________________

Google's success is partly due to a complex and highly accurate algorithm.

  • Key words are the foundation of good search engine optimization, so do your homework and select them based on research .
  • Use optimized and proper meta tags (however only Inktomi reads them, at this point - so don't spend a lot of time on that).
  • Keep your descriptions relevant to your site -Avoid spamming (read SE guidelines)
  • Submit multiple pages (not just your home page)
  • Get as many links to your site as possible
  • (good links). Google rankings are strongly influenced by links.

(Comments on Google page rank - can you get it without downloading the tool bar? It's how Google rates sites and results.) Page Rank is automatically assigned by Google once they index your site.  The Google Tool Bar is merely a way to see what the Page Rank of any web page is.

Google doesn't like pop up windows - AOL doesn't like them, now, either.

SELECTING KEYWORDS

Research will tell you what keywords are popular -choose two word phrases

  • each page may target different keywords
  • position keywords in strategic places, most importantly FIRST
  • make sure they're on each page
  • monitor competition to see what they're doing
  • use relevant keywords (relevant to your site)
  • use selected words or phrases in strategic areas (body text,titles, tags, URL, etc).

_________

Q - what numbers of keywords are allowed in a file?

A - In what? Metatags? In those, 250 - 1000 characters, probably. The search engines want to see relevant content - with lots of keywords. It's especially important in Google to have certain text as description of a given link.

[Some Discussion on Wordtracker, more discussion on Google giving keyword impressions per month.]

Q - can you put canonical names (sub domain names) in your keyword?

A - Yes, it'll take anything in the domain name into account.

Q - why is it dangerous to use the discount shotgun submittal services?

A - mainly it's ineffective, but can occasionally be dangerous - if they oversubmit you, you might be tagged as a spammer. Google is pretty sensitive to that kind of stuff.

Q - A - Manual link redirects or pop ups are okay - only the automatic pop up windows are being banned.

META TAGS

OPTIMIZATION SUMMARY :

  • key words in title tag
  • description meta tag
  • Keywords Meta tag
  • HTML body Text
  • Alt tag
  • Internal link structure
    [Q - will it work with an anchor tag? A - I don't know]
  • Link popularity

________________

Q - is there a limit to alt tag length?

A - he hasn't seen one

Description of what constitutes spamming: (DON'T DO IT!)

Repeating words everywhere - repeat submitting same or similar pages, or duplicate pages.

Search engines can detect such things, and will:

  • downgrade site listing
  • ban site listings

Story about Google lawsuit - guy in Oklahoma was selling ads on high Page Rank sites. Google down rated his site and Page Rank.

With Google it takes 30 days to see what happens -

SUBMIT PAGES - how to

  • do it manually
  • read tips and tricks
  • check listings & resubmit if needed
  • consider outsourcing to experts who stay on top of the rapidly changing rules of search engine optimization, etc.

The main problem with SEO is not that it's difficult, but that it's time consuming and takes continuous updates to be on top of it.

STUMBLING BLOCKS

  • Avoid 100% flash on important pages
  • Avoid use of frames
  • Spiders can't read what's in a graphic - so put text links at the bottom
  • Pages created dynamically are difficult for engines to read; can have a mix
  • Password protection also keeps spiders out
  • Avoid duplicate sites

Q - How does the search engine know it's dynamic? From the URL?

A - It can tell from the query string or use of '?'

LINK POPULARITY

  • some engines weigh this in rankings
  • locate other websites with associated interests
  • create the link, then ask the other site to reciprocate
  • build good directory listings

Google does not like automatic redirects. Manual redirects okay, but Javascript etc., it doesn't like.

[Graph of % of US web users visiting site during month. Top down is MSN, YH, GG, and AOL, then Ask Jeeves.]

The top two are influenced by their "default" status

BUYING YOUR WAY IN

  • banner ads on search sites
  • paid placement
  • Paid inclusion

MAJOR DIRECTORIES

  • Yahoo
  • Open Directory

You must pay for Yahoo unless you're a non profit.

Be cautious about guarantees, pay for position pricing, use of IP delivery or cloaking, use of auto submission software, and make sure your SEO company doesn't host your optimized pages.

SUMMARY:

Understand how the engines feed results to each other - this helps you to see where to focus your effort.

_______________

Q - when Dept. of Justice or Treasury hits my site, for example, is Google ranking them that way?

A - Google doesn't track traffic, he doesn't think - but rather tracks Referral link. [Ranking] probably not via Google.

________________

Dan then introduced the next speaker: Les Reaves(LesR@rtp.com) - President of Pyramid Media

Les has run many web campaigns, and he manages the entire online advertising presence for Vail resorts-many other clients, some ski areas.

Les spoke on Pay Per Click (PPC) search engine marketing, who the players are, and how they work.

He calls it searchengine positioning, now. He described how if you have 2500 - 10,000 dollars to spend a year, you can get your listing on between 95-97 % of domestic searches.

Using Overture and Google adwords .. You might not hit Magellan and Looksmart.com, however -

He's had overture yield fewer clicks than looksmart claims to. Find WHAT second to Overture.

Kanoodle --Blowfish - don't use Kanoodle Espotting -- the Overture of Britain.

Overture feeds into top 4 rankings on Yahoo, top 3 rankings for MSN

(Yahoo, Google, MSN, AOL are ranks 1-4)

Lycos takes top three from Overture - but he doesn't recommend Lycos. Keep it simple, keep with Overture and Google. Alta Vista also has boxes on the side, which are 4 - 8 from Overture.

Excite - - its top three come from Overture, most of the time.

He likes Google first for just info, Overture second - for products, especially from well financed good companies.

Yahoo probably has 12000 clients. But Overture has 67000 clients, because of small businesses advertising online these days, instead of larger, older ones.

Go.com = complete mirror site. It's a mirror of Overture.

If you stay in the top three for Overture you show up on AOL, Compuserve, Ask.com, and Earthlink.

He talks about the bidding mentality - it's like Ebay, but goes up and down. The top three bids are the most valuable in terms of traffic generation - so you're covered if you're in the top three.

It just takes 2-3 days with Overture. Google is immediate, but the ones it's related to take days

Word tracker is good, but he suggested just signing up for the trial for 3 days and don't pay the $200.00).

Overture's tool is great - the words being jumbled now, though, is an equalizer (for word order)

Third is the hardest place to keep. Overtures' autobidding feature causes bidding wars to happen. You want to bid right below, if you want a lot of traffic for the cheapest amount possible. You only pay when someone VISITS the site.

Google's links into your site and your page title are important, he thinks.

For sixth months (?), if you get into link pools, you'll rank higher in Google - but it's best to just write good content, rather than try to fool the engines. And don't use a word over 6 times.

Sponsored listings: (if you don't mind cheating a bit ..)

Q - Google's default scrollbox -- have you heard anything about Them upgrading to an advanced key word scheme?

A - put quotes around it, in the search box.

Q - does Overture refuse keywords? A - it changes all the time - now it's automated.

A - keyword research in Overture .. do you do it in Google? A - no

Market research - if you have a tag line that's being developed, put each one in the Google ads, and see what the highest click rate is - and there's your tag line. And voila, free market research.

________________

The different keyword research does give different numbers - it extrapolates, so it depends on which source the data's coming from

__________________

Dan then introduced Eric Kallgren (eric@mondocode.com) President of Mondo Code. Eric spoke about designing web systems from the ground up with emphasis on good site design and content, vs. attempting to "cheat" the engines.

MondoTimes.com, the worldwide media guide.

(Trivia Question for prize: What was the full name of the band that performed intro and outro?? A - Bonzo Dog Doodah Band)

He said there's no point in fooling with optimization unless you start with the proper web site structure. It will give you a huge advantage.

[And bear in mind that search engine optimization is partly a numbers game, in that the more pages you have the more listing opportunities you have. A site with lots of pages is almost always a dynamic, database-driven site. If you are using a web scripting language (PHP, JSP, ASP, Coldfusion, etc.) to manage your site, and have control of the server configuration, you can use indexable URLs and URL redirection to make sure all of your pages get indexed.]

Heart: indexable URLS and URL redirection.

But first, basics that have already been covered:

  • title tag - must be descriptive
  • be nice to Google, Google is your friend.
  • Content, content, content

Yahoo is now presenting Google results.

Creating great sites is important. But it doesn't do any good to have a mediocre product and then push the hell out of it. Create a great site, and optimize the page accordingly.

INDEXABLE URLS

Danny Sulllivan - "... search engines choke on question marks " So you need a solution that doesn't use operators such as "?".

Q - can you use dot separators?

A - yes, but forward slashes are most common.

URL REDIRECTION

Strip out the operators in the strings after the .com, leaving the variables separated by forward slashes. The variables then look like directories although they are not.

You are stripping out the junk, then using a URL redirect (set in the server configuration file) to regenerate the variables and send them to the appropriate script which will generate the page. As a result you get a page that the search engines will index.

Indexable URLS and URL redirection is not something you hear about everywhere - but this stuff happens first, so do it right, and THEN go spend the money to promote what you do.

His company is called Mondo Code because Mondo is Italian for world, and he develops services that are worldwide in scope.

Denver media search in Google, a million results - Mondo times ranks 4 and 5. Dallas, he comes up number 1 and 2 - he uses this example to illustrate the effectiveness of INDEXABLE URLS and URL REDIRECTION. It's also about content management and the technology, etc, and putting it together, but these things sit on top of that, and so they're very important in his view.

His point is: have a good site with good content FIRST, use a dynamic system (PHP, JSP, etc.), don't work without marketing/content people, and THEN use INDEXABLE URLS and URL REDIRECTION

_____________

PANEL Questions

Q - What else needs to be avoided? Drop downs?

A - if you create a strong hierarchical service (NOT in Flash), he hasn't found it to be an issue.

Q - are "html includes" considered dynamic?

A - those work fine because they happen on the back end, on the server side.

Q - how are mouseovers looked at?

A - it shouldn't be an issue, because it's not a graphic

Q - if you have pages that you don't want indexed, do metatags work?

A - it can work, but don't count on it. Protect it, because there are bots out there. "This is not an environment of trust!"

Q - to optimize, do number of pages on your site affect page rank? -- where do you want the best page?

A - no, it's per page.

A - (Bob) - It's possible.  Google likes content, so a large site with lots of content could get a better rank.   Second part - depends on what you're talking about.

Dan - offered discussion of PageRank formula/determinants/calculations

[Dan mentioned a free report on the Net ("PageRank Uncovered") that gives an in-depth explanation of Google's PageRank algorithm, for those who want a deeper look into this. It's a 56-page .pdf file with both an overview and a deeper, advanced description of the algorithm. Information at: http://www.supportforums.org/article81.html and it can be downloaded at: http://www.supportforums.org/PageRank.pdf

Q - thoughts on Overture's "guarantees"?

A - he's never had a client ask for a refund.

Comment on Overture - if you share a click URL all over the place, Overture notices.

Q - are you concerned about the growing dominance of Google? A - yes, he [Bob] thinks it's another Microsoft in the making.

A - [Eric] he thinks Google does a great job - used to be dominant.

Q - how do bots determine content?

A - they look for keywords - titles, and yes, [Dan comment] a certain amount of complex proprietary processing - Google thought to have around 100 variables it takes into account.

Dan commented further on how IP addresses can affect your ranking.

Q - what might be the potential liability of copyright infringement on keywords?

A - He [Les?] owns Sun Microsystems - ! HP wants Hewlett Packard - and it's expensive.

Dan [to Eric] - has Overture ever rejected you for using a trademark?

A - no.

Q - Are site maps important? A - no, the engines don't need it. But avoid image maps. They can't be indexed. Q - but you can put alt tags on them, right?

A - yes

Trivia question (for Softpro Books gift certificate http://www.softpro.com) Q - What did Overture used to be called?

A - GoTo.com

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Please note that the January and March RMIUG meetings will be cancelled due to NCAR construction and we will resume meetings in May. RMIUG (http://www.rmiug.org/) appreciates the sponsorship of MicroStaff (www.microstaff.com) and ONEWARE (http://www.ONEWARE.com).

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