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Search Engine Mythology 101
By Eric Lander - August 28, 2001

As an industry professional, it's often assumed that every facet of the search engine business and related fields are all well known facts - almost second nature even.

But often I find myself too involved with SEO and optimization to understand some of the myths and fallacies that are abundant in the minds of organizations looking to acquire and implement an SEO campaign.

So, I wanted to take a few hours this week to help clarify a lot of the things that we, as webmasters and 'net geeks often overlook. Misunderstandings of SEO.

Myth 1: Where Searchers Go
Yahoo! is one of the most well known online directories in the world. Right alongside this powerhouse portal can be found sites like HotBot, Lycos and Infoseek. And, while these sites do offer a wide array of valuable content-enriched websites - they are still proprietary directories. What is the difference? Well, users query the search functions of these sites and access their directory results; not web results in entirety.

Even the largest of online directories or search indexes contain listings and information pertaining to a mere fraction of the Internet's contents. Inktomi and AltaVista reportedly have found and indexed over 1.5 billion online documents, while their respective portals only allow you to search a high-end estimated 500 million of those documents. Point here? You are probably searching information within respective databases more often than not. You are not able to just search the entire "web". There is far too much SPAM out there that can clutter results, and no, I'm not referring to that canned spiced ham…

Myth 2: "Search Engine X is just like…"
While many of the most popular searching indexes and portals that have become the most popular have similar appearances and contents, they are NOT alike! Each engine will come through and spider, crawl, or index a document online based upon it's own desires and requirements.

Granted, such directories like GoTo.com do in fact supply listings to other search engines. But, it is important to note that no two searches will be alike on any two engines. Number one on GoTo could be an 18th ranking on Excite. You can simply never know… See each site and index as it's own, and treat it that way. In essence, you are asking a very specific question to an automated system that could have no idea what you meant. It is very important to realize when approaching SEO that no two engines are alike - and cannot be.

Myth 3: Guarantees
To make this very often-debated topic quite clear and short; if you or anyone you know can guarantee rankings of any sort - I hereby offer you the throne of the SEO kingdom. Why you ask? Search engines change, their algorithms change, and their business structures change. Yes, someone may have developed a great technique that acquires decent ranking results - but times change and so does the technology that powers search engines. So do not be surprised when things end up some way other than expected. It happens.

Myth 4: The Search Engine Giant is Yahoo!
If you think that Yahoo! is a search engine, please read above. If you think that Yahoo! is the biggest. Think again. Yahoo! is well known, well marketed, and well publicized. While the business leaders at Yahoo! would love for you to think that they are the biggest and best thing since sliced bread, you should be aware that Yahoo! is now a paid directory. The results you get from Yahoo! are all websites who have (in most cases) paid their way to be listed. Again, you are not searching the entire web, and many sites cannot afford to be listed in Yahoo! at all. Yahoo! is not the biggest - but often is the most used by a particular audience… That is that.

Myth 5: #1 Today, #1 Forever!
You search for widget X because that is what your website is all about. Where in the list are you? Number 1? GREAT! Now wait until next month and try again. Chances are, you are no longer up at top, right? Rankings change periodically. They can change even as often as hourly, and I have heard many stories in complete refusal of this. But, there is a reason why search engines' spiders, bots, and crawlers all come back. They want to check the site they visit to see where they are at, and often, some other sites can become better suited for search queries in the mind of the Search Engines'. So, if you find yourself at the top now, praise your efforts and try to capitalize on that. With thousands of documents being created and submitted daily, chances are the time of your stay on top will be short lived.

Myth 6: Search Engines See Everything

This is the last of the myths that I will cover this week, and I have saved this for last because I find it to be one of the most important aspects of SEO that can be ignored. Search Engines' send out agents to review a website's documents for information. But, they cannot look through an entire document's contents.

The reason for this, I believe, is from the porn-induced search engine bombardment from a few years back. Amazingly, pages upon pages of results for nearly any keyword could pop up an adult-related website with hundreds upon hundreds of links at the footer of each page. Since SPAM'ming the engines has caught on amongst the immoral of SEO applicators (note, NOT professionals!), search engines needed to establish limitations of the amount of content they can review. That is why information that is relevant to a page should be prioritized in the top of the document. If your homepage has 18K of CSS and Jscript going on before any relevant content is listed, you are shooting yourself in the foot from the start of the race.

Some of the best search engine agents will only review about 40K of data per page, including images and ALL coding. So be on the lookout, prioritize your information, and know that not all content on the page will or can be seen and indexed. Unfortunately, things just cannot be that easy.