MarketPosition(tm) Monthly May 1998
Issue Now 35,000 Subscribers and
" ...because submitting
to search engines is just NOT enough."
Techniques for Search Engine
Positioning to Build Site Traffic
IN THIS ISSUE:
Why some pages rank high for no
InfoSeek stacking the Deck?
The Good News
WebPosition 1.20 Released
Newer is Better.
Why some pages rank high for no
We've all been there: You do a
search for a keyword that should be relevant to your Web site
and a page appears near the top of the results for
no logical reason. In many cases, the keyword queried
isn't even on that top ranking page! At best, the keyword
appears just once or twice while your Web site has been
carefully constructed to incorporate that keyword several
times - and it still ranks lower than this mystery page!
Stop banging your head against the wall - there are
reasons. Once you learn them you can combat these
pages. Here are some things that can cause a Web page
to rank higher than yours even when it doesn't appear
to be optimized for a particular keyword or phrase:
1. Out of date pages: A Webmaster
can change a page on their Web site. Unless that changed
page is resubmitted, the search engine may not know to
re-visit the page, spider it and update its index for
quite some time. Even if a Webmaster resubmits their page,
some engines take weeks to re-visit and re-index a
What can you do about this kind
of situation? If this is, in fact, the problem, you can
go to the engine's submit URL page and submit the offending
page's URL for re-indexing. After being re-indexed,
the page should drop in rank. It may take a few
weeks until the site is re-indexed, but taking the initiative
and re-submitting a site should accelerate the process.
Infoseek, AltaVista, and HotBot, will typically re-index
a submitted site within 2-3 days or less.
2. Dynamic Page Substitution:
Some Webmasters create scripts on their Web site's server
that can literally detect the IP addresses or the "browser
name" of a search engine's re-indexing spider visiting
their site. When this script detects a search engine's
spider it "serves" a different Web page than the one
you or I would see after clicking on the link from
the search engine's results! There are a few clues that tell
you this technique is being employed:
A. The page you see does not contain
the words used to describe it in the search engine's
listing. The words used as the site's description in
the search engine's index are *always* taken from the
actual page itself - from the meta tags or actual copy
that makes up the site. If the words found in the search
engine's listing for that site are close, but not an
exact match for any text on that site or in its meta tags,
suspect this technique.
B. The text found in the <TITLE>
tag of the Web site is different than the what the search
engine's listing uses as the site title (usually the text
that is represented as a blue hyperlink to the site).
About half of the major search engines use only the
text found in the site's title as their title for
the site. Or, as above, the text doesn't appear anywhere
on the page - in the <TITLE> tag or elsewhere.
C. You submit the URL for re-indexing
(use InfoSeek to test because it takes only minutes)and,
once re-indexed, the site's position does not change,
AND, the title and description used by the search engine
hasn't changed to reflect what you know is actually
on the page you were viewing.
Typically, the page "served"
or shown to the search engine's spider is a rather unattractive
page. Often these pages are much like any other
doorway page that you might create to secure a top ranking
- they're primarily text, with high keyword frequency,
prominence and weight. The technique they're employing
simply hides these pages from the general public - presumably
because the optimized page isn't all that attractive,
or, so that their "secret techniques"
cannot be copied by others seeking to outrank them.
Sometimes this technique can be
abused and used to hide pages that employ blatant keyword
stuffing, spamming, or other inappropriate techniques.
InfoSeek does not allow the technique and will remove pages
from their index that use it. Personally, I feel the
technique of swapping pages can degrade the search engines,
and should not be used since the results the user
sees are not what the search engine actually considered
That can of worms aside, your problem
is that you need to outrank these hidden pages. To
start with, relax, and recognize that this technique gives
them no magic bullet advantage. They still have to build
a high ranking doorway page to serve to the search
engine's spiders. The difficulty in outranking them
is that you cannot view their HTML source and check their
keyword frequency, weight and so on. You can still
tweak your page's keyword content to out score them.
One trick that most people overlook
is to review the source code of another page that
is ranked higher than one that is hiding the actual doorway
page. After all, if a page outranks one using this
substitution technique it must have higher concentrations
of keywords in the right places. Review this higher
ranking page and base your strategy on that page instead
- problem solved. You can also alert the search engine
by e-mail that a Web site is using this technique and,
depending on how they feel about it, they can verify that
this is the technique being used and remove the page's
listing in their index.
3. The "Ol' Switcheroo"
technique: This technique involves building a page optimized
to earn a top ranking and then swapping it out for your
"real page" once the site has been indexed. This is
a sleazy technique - but easily addressed. Like the page
substitution technique described above, you detect that
this technique is being employed by looking at the listing
in the search engine and then comparing it against what
you see on the Web site. If the two don't match, e.g.,
the title or site description are not found on the
actual Web site, chances are this technique was probably
used. Unlike the dynamic page substitution technique, when
you re-submit the URL to the search engine it will likely
drop in rank and the new listing will include copy found
on the actual Web page. Resubmitting pages you find
using this technique usually causes them to tumble down
the search results to a position that doesn't compete
4. New ranking algorithm: Search
engines change their ranking algorithm from time to time.
Techniques that worked well last month, may not
be as effective today. Search engines can take some time
before they apply a new algorithm to their entire index.
Until this happens, some older pages may continue to
rank high, even though your submission modeled after their
success don't score well.
The solution again: submit the page.
This should cause the search engine to apply the "new"
rules to the page such that it is measured under the
same relevancy system as your page. Once this has occurred,
you will find out the "true" rank of the
page in question, and you can be certain you are modeling your page
after pages that are ranking well under current page
5. Page Popularity: Another reason
pages that don't seem particularly optimized for a given
keyword rank well is that hundreds or even thousands
of other Web sites have established links to them. Some
search engines consider "page popularity," or,
how many other Web sites have linked to a particular page in determining
how relevant the page is.
To determine if this measure is
keeping another page ahead of yours in search results,
you'll need to do a "Links to URL" search.
A number of engines support a "Links
to URL" search on their "Advanced" search
options page. If not, some allow you to type the word "link:"
and then your URL into the search field to return a list of
sites that the search engine has recorded as linking to
yours. If you have WebPosition with our "Secrets
to Achieving a Top 10 Position" guide, you can look
up the syntax for each engine. The guide also details
which engines are believed to use popularity in their
The popularity measure is another
reason to spend part of your marketing effort soliciting
links from other sites. I'm not entirely certain if the
search engines differentiate between links to your
root domain page as opposed to internal pages. I suspect
they only consider the number of links to a specific
page. If you have an opinion about this, let me know.
6. Search Engine Bugs: Yes, even
the big commercial search engines have bugs. Since
they are continually trying to fine tune their system
to provide better results, or to beat back the spammers,
software glitches or "bugs" can easily make
their way into the database. Sometimes it will be corrected quickly
but in other cases it may score pages incorrectly or
poorly for quite some time.
About all you can do in this situation
is to alert the search engine that xyz pages rank
high on xyz search, and that they really are not relevant
to that particular keyword search. The "smart"
search engines will listen and look into why the search results
were poor. When people don't find documents they
feel are relevant to keywords they queried, they frequently
try again on another engine. Search engines
don't want that because they make their money on advertising
to those visitors.
7. The page is simply well optimized:
Often the reason a page ranks high is it simply fits
the criteria that a search engine is looking for.
The search engine's algorithms are
fairly sophisticated so sometimes it takes a second look
to understand why a page is positioned where it is.
A number of factors affect search relevancy including
keyword "weight", "prominence", "frequency",
and avoiding techniques like repeating keywords too many times
- a.k.a "spam." All these issues are discussed in simple,
easy to understand language in past issues of this
newsletter, as well as in our comprehensive 110 page report.
This report is included FREE when you purchase
If you would like to review this
intense report in all its glory, simply order WebPosition
for $99. If you aren't completely satisfied with
the product, you can return it and keep the report for
FREE. You won't beat that kind of guarantee anywhere!
8. Reviewed Pages: The final reason
a page can rank in the top 10 to 30 matches for no
apparent reason is that a human being put it there. Simply
put, some search engines have employees whose job
it is to review Web pages and pre-list them in their
top rankings just so their search engine has more "good
stuff" near the top - where most users look. See the
next article for a case example.
Infoseek Loading the Deck
The first time I heard about this
from a close associate at the end of February, I thought
it to be just a rumor. However, I got confirmation from
a second associate that it was true in mid-March.
Apparently, Infoseek, in their quest
to make relevant sites appear higher for popular
keyword searches, are "stacking the deck".
At least for some popular keywords they employ "editors"
to look for pages of reasonable quality that seem relevant to a
given topic. They then force these sites to the top of
search results for the appropriate keywords, or at a minimum,
assign extra "weight" to those pages.
In my opinion, looking at reviewed
sites are great for many types of searches. However,
these artificially elevated pages should be identified
as such in the index and remain in the "sidebar"
area of the results page. Most engines do this with "channel"
or "category" areas. This combination offers the best
of both worlds in my humble opinion.
Sneaking Web pages into actual keyword/phrase
search results, without at least highlighting
them as "reviewed" or putting them in a sidebar area,
will simply confuse people. It seems a poor substitute
for improving the search logic, something most people
For the average Web site owner,
this means pages for some keywords, at least on Infoseek,
may rank in the top 10 to 30 positions, even though the actual
frequency and use of a keyword doesn't necessarily justify
it's rank. You might be thinking, if this is true,
how can I get my site reviewed so that it can get an artificial
boost?!?! First, make sure your site looks
PROFESSIONAL, and then suggest that your site be added
to the appropriate channel category by visiting this
If they choose to put you in a category,
you may get additional weight in the regular
searches as well.
The Good News
Despite the various problems and
issues with achieving a high ranking, the good news is that
high rankings are still very achievable. There are
literally 1000's of keywords and keyword combinations
being queried, some being queried thousands of times
a day. There are probably dozens of phrases relevant
to your site. Only a handful of those keywords fall into
the "high interest" category, subject to editorial "review"
and being artificially elevated or given a
nudge up. Chances are, unless you're targeting a single,
very general keyword like "travel" or "computer,"
you won't have to compete against listings that can't be beat.
In addition, most engines are reviewing sites only
in their separate "channel" areas, and not
for the general search results.
Your efforts to draw waves of new
traffic to your site by improving your search positions
is still a *very* effective use of your marketing
time and an achievable goal. Most pages that rank high
are optimized pages, or pages that just happen to follow
all the rules. However, you must know the proper techniques,
and, have the right tools to do it efficiently and to
give yourself a chance to be found. Search engines are
one of the last level playing fields left where both small
and large sites alike can compete.
For people with an entrepreneurial
spirit, this spells: o-p-p-o-r-t-u-n-i-t-y. To be successful,
you first have to be found. The most common way
people go looking for a particular kind of Web site or topic
is by using search engines. The only realistic way
to make it into the top positions is to optimize your pages;
check your rank with WebPosition; then optimize those
pages again to climb higher. You'll then see targeted
visitors coming to your site everyday that are looking for
your product or service.
WebPosition 1.20 Released
FirstPlace Software is proud to
announce the release of an incremental upgrade to WebPosition
Analyzer. The 1.20 update, which is free to all current
users, adds two major search engines, NorthernLight
Additionally, the update discontinues
tracking positions in the OpenText engine which no
longer accepts submissions from Web sites. URL
searching in WebCrawler is now supported by WebPosition
as well as several other enhancements and fixes.
WebPosition now supports 11 search
engines, which combined probably make up 95% of
all search engine traffic. Existing users can download
the update from:
If you don't currently have WebPosition
installed but wish to try the new version for
FREE, you can download a free trial copy here:
Newer is Better
Here's a simple tip to help your
page get a little extra "boost" up the ladder.
Several engines are known to score newly submitted pages a little
better. Therefore, if you need a little extra boost,
try re-submitting the page. You might make a slight change
such as changing a "Last Revision" date at
the bottom of the page, so the content looks "new" to
the search engine's spider. This tip alone won't move you to the
top, but it can help when combined with other accepted techniques.
Last month I talked about several
important topics including:- AltaVista Returns Random Results- Warning About Double Title Tag- New Rules at Infoseek & AltaVista- HotBot Tips
If you missed these or other key
discussions, you can find the back issues at:
LET ME KNOW WHAT YOU THINK
I certainly hope you find this newsletter
of value in your marketing efforts. If you
have any suggestions, tips, or other comments, just REPLY
to this e-mail.
ABOUT THE AUTHORS
MarketPosition is written by Brent
Winters, President of FirstPlace Software, with editing
and contributions by Frederick Marckini, President of
Response Direct, 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 in improving those positions.
You may download a FREE trial of
You may call us at 1-800-962-4855
if you have questions not addressed on our site. You
will also find an array of additional tips and techniques
for improving your search positions in both the WebPosition
Help File and the Reports it generates.
FirstPlace Software also offers
a complete report on search engine positioning entitled
"Secrets to Achieving a Top 10 Position". This 110+
page report compiles all the latest information about the
major search engines and how you can improve your positions
in each. Currently, as a special bonus offer, this $79
report is included FREE with your purchase of WebPosition.
To subscribe to MarketPosition,
simply e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
(c) copyright 1998 FirstPlace Software,