Three Search Engine Marketing Questions

From: Clay Horst

Hi Jill,

I have a couple...ok three questions for you.

#1. What do you see in the future of the SEO marketing? My concern is that with everyone seemingly wanting to fatten their wallets with paid inclusion and PPC, that the search engines will drop the regular spidering and go with advertising. This would only make it impossible for the little guy to get good positioning. Will the Internet community "allow" for this to happen and just go along with it?

#2. I have not read anything on your site about keyword stuffing the "Alt" tags in images. I have a competitor at the top of several engines that has stuffed his alt tags with dozens of keywords and it never seems to hurt him. He has not fallen off # 1 in months. I thought that was a no-no?

#3. What is your opinion on link popularity as a whole? I have a hankering to develop a page on my site that lists several dozen of my competitors, some linked back, some not. I have had several people look at me funny for saying it but I thought about including a link at the bottom of my page linked to the words "and," "but," or "the" in a simple statement sentence, that links to this major links page. (So as to make it not all that appealing to click on but the links are there.) I really do not care if they do go to the page as I offer a tremendous amount of freebies that no other site offers.

Sorry if it seems these questions came from all different angles but I have been jotting these thoughts down for a week or two.

Thanks again,

Clay Horst

~~~Jill's Response~~~

Hi Clay, let's take your questions one at a time:

#1. The future of SEO.

Hmm...well, that's a tough one since the search engine landscape changes very quickly.

As long as Google is still around and still focused on relevancy we will never have to worry about engines showing all ads all the time. Even if Google goes public and becomes the next in a long line of greedy search engines to totally screw up their results, another will come along to take its place. So, no, we will never have to worry about there being only paid listings.

Aside from that aspect, I do see a rather bleak future for traditional SEO in many senses. A few years ago, only a fraction of Web sites had even a rudimentary bit of optimization done to them. This made it easy for anyone with the slightest bit of SEO knowledge to come in and obtain some decent results. We also had many more options open to us because there was no one search engine that dominated the searches. If you didn't get high rankings in one engine, it wasn't always the end of the world; you could still get tons of traffic from the other engines.

Today, clients seem to be mostly interested in Google, Yahoo, AOL and MSN. This limits the databases we have to work with. This makes the job of an SEO much harder, and more frustrating. It's just not as easy as it used to be to get high rankings. (I know I'm partly to blame since I've been teaching the average Joe Shmoe how to optimize for years, but deep down I know it's better for the Internet as a whole to have more sites optimized.) On top of that, clients are becoming more demanding because they're tired of spending huge amounts on PPC ad campaigns.

One thing that I know for sure is that client expectations will probably have to be somewhat lowered in the near future, if not already. Optimizing for longer phrases will become the norm, and if you want the most competitive phrases, there's a good chance you're going to have to buy them through ads.

The good news is that due to the difficulty in gaining high rankings these days, many SEOs are also focusing on other aspects of their clients' Web sites. The reasons for this are twofold. Firstly, even if you get high rankings for highly competitive keywords that bring tons of targeted traffic, if your Web site sucks, you still won't make any money off of it. Secondly, when you are required to focus on less general phrases, it forces you to really take a hard look at your site, and make sure it's truly working for you.

SEOs will need to take usability and conversions into consideration when coming up with your search engine marketing campaigns in the future, if they're not already doing this. Therefore, I see there being a much brighter future for those SEOs who are able to make the transition. Whether that means learning all that stuff themselves or partnering with those who do, it's gonna have to get done somehow. Since SEOs are generally the ones "fixing" broken sites, it makes sense for this to become part of their regular job description.

#2. Stuffing Alt Tags.

Alt tags (technically called "image alt attributes") were definitely not designed to be stuffed with keywords. There's a good chance that your competitors may certainly be ranking highly despite their alt tags, as opposed to because of them.

I've recently done some quick tests to see if and when Google actually reads (indexes) the image alt attributes on any given page. Here's a summary of what I concluded:

a. It appears as if Google does *not* index the alt attribute keywords in non-clickable images.

b. Google can and does index the alt attribute words in clickable images, and will pull up the page that the graphic and alt attribute are on, in a search for those keywords.

c. Google *will* rank a page for keywords that *only* appear in an image alt attribute pointing to a specific page. The words don't have to be anywhere on the page that shows up in the search results, just in the alt tag of the image you'd click on to get to that page.

#3 My opinion on link popularity.

Well, since I'm running out of space here, let me just address your specific situation. Putting links *from* your site *to* other sites doesn't help your own link popularity, only the other sites' link popularity. Since it doesn't sound like something you want to do to enhance your visitors' experience on your site, I see it only as a detriment to you, as opposed to something that will help.

Not to mention that (if I remember my "Spam Police" session from the Search Engine Strategies conferences) hiding links in words like "but" or "the" would probably be considered spam by most of the search engines.

Summing up my opinion on link pop. is pretty easy: a) Create a site that is the best in its niche; b) Link to other relevant sites when it makes sense to do so and because your site visitors may be interested in them; and c) Submit your site to relevant, high-quality directories in your space.

Hope this helps!

February 24, 2004

CEO and founder of High Rankings®, Jill Whalen has been performing search engine optimization since 1995 and is the host of the free High Rankings Advisor search engine marketing newsletter, author of "The Nitty-gritty of Writing for the Search Engines" and founder/administrator of the popular High Rankings Search Engine Optimization Forum. In 2006, Jill co-founded SEMNE, a local search engine marketing networking organization for people and companies in New England.

High Rankings is an internationally recognized search engine optimization firm located in Framingham, MA specializing in search engine optimization, SEO consultations, in-house training, site audit reports, search marketing seminars and workshops. High Rankings has a 100% success rate for substantially improving client rankings and targeted traffic.

Jill speaks at national and international conferences and has been writing about SEO and search marketing since 2000. She's been quoted in such publications as The Wall Street Journal, U.S. News & World Report and The Washington Post. Her articles have appeared in numerous print magazines and online websites including CIO Magazine, CMS Focus, The Internet Marketing Report, ClickZ, WorkZ,, Entrepreneur, Lycos Small Business, WebProNews, SiteProNews and others. Jill has also appeared on many online and offline radio programs such as Entrepreneur Magazine's E-Biz Radio Show, SearchEngineRadio and the eMarketing Talkshow.

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