Wading Through the Search Engine Myths
By Scott Buresh - April 28, 2003
There is an abundance of search engine information available on the web- some of it valuable, much of it contradictory. Throughout the years, some prevailing search engine myths have developed. Some of these myths are actively encouraged by companies with a financial interest in their continued existence. Others are based upon techniques that were effective years ago but no longer work. Still others come from simple misunderstandings that inevitably come with a relatively new medium. What follows is a few of the most prevalent search engine myths, followed by the facts as I understand them.
Myth: Using a program or service to "Submit your site to 10,000 Search Engines" is a good idea.
Fact: There aren't 10,000 search engines. In fact, the top 10 search engines account for the vast majority of search traffic (studies vary from between 85 and 98 percent). Most of the sites that these programs or services list as "search engines" are called FFA (Free For All) sites. These sites will agree to place a link to your site on their site, which is usually just a collection of links. Your link will usually only appear for a short time, since as new links are added, the older ones are pushed off the page. Almost no traffic can be expected from such links- but you can expect a lot of unsolicited mail to the email address that you provide them. In fact, these pages are set up largely to collect email addresses to which spam can be sent (and you can get spam for free!). In addition, engines do not like submissions done by computer programs (because of the excessive use of resources and the general low quality of the pages they usually receive in this manner), and many of the most popular have taken steps to make automated submission impossible. This means that these programs or services will not even get you listed in many of the top engines.
Myth: Using a program or service to "Submit your site to 10,000 Search Engines" or listing your site on FFA pages can get your site penalized.
Fact: Search engines are very careful not to penalize sites for issues that are outside of the webmaster’s control. For example, if it were possible for a site to be penalized for using one of these scam submission services, it would then be fairly easy to get your competition penalized for a nominal fee by simply submitting their site. If a link to a site from an FFA page were all that it took for penalization, it would not cost anything to get your competition penalized, save for the time it took to submit their link. Your site will not be penalized for incoming links, period, even if they come from less than desirable sources. You can, however, be heavily penalized if you choose to link OUT to bad pages. The difference, of course, is that you have full control over the sites you wish to link to, whereas you have very little control over who decides to link to you.
Myth: Using software to check your search engine positions will get your site penalized.
Fact: This belief is still widespread today, even among many respected industry professionals. Since Google states in their terms of service that ranking software should not be used to check rankings, many people interpret this to mean that Google will penalize the sites that are being checked. However, for largely the same reasons described in the previous myth, this just wouldn’t make sense. The ability to get your competitors penalized by repeatedly running software to check their search engine positions would be a very powerful (and unfair) weapon, and Google realizes this. What they will do, however, is penalize the IP address of the machine that is running the software. This can make for uncomfortable moments when you have to explain why everybody sharing your office T1 line is denied access to Google, but this won’t get your site penalized.
Myth: Meta tags are the most important factor in search engine rankings.
Fact: Many search engines (most notably Google) largely ignore meta tags due to constant abuse by webmasters. The only importance placed on meta tags these days is actually the meta description tag, which will appear as the description for the corresponding page on engines that use inktomi data (such as MSN). Meta tags are virtually irrelevant in the ranking algorithms of the top engines- but many people continue to believe that they are the only optimization strategy that they need.
Myth: It's impossible to do search engine optimization in-house.
Fact: It often is done in house, and done effectively. This is typically when a large corporation hires in-house talent that is devoted exclusively to promoting the website. However, it is unrealistic to expect someone with many other job functions to do a credible job of SEO. Much of the skills are acquired through experience- and it isn't usually desirable to have someone "experimenting" with the company website (especially considering that certain techniques can get sites penalized on engines or banned outright). SEO isn't rocket science, but it also isn't something that can be learned overnight. When deciding whether to outsource SEO or do it in house, it is important to consider the actual costs involved. Often, when the necessary hours it takes to pay someone to learn on the job are taken into account, it is cheaper to outsource (and, if you've chosen your vendor wisely, the results are almost always better). Only a careful evaluation of your goals and resources can determine the best course of action for your company.
Myth: Sites must be constantly resubmitted to retain rankings.
Fact: This is a scare tactic popularized by various submission services and software companies. In fact, it is a waste of money to pay to have your site resubmitted once it is already listed in an engine's database. It will not hurt your rankings to resubmit (or else people would constantly submit their competitor's sites to get them penalized), but it will not help, either.
Myth: Search engine optimization is not as effective as "traditional" marketing.
Fact: In many ways, it is more effective. Companies often spend countless dollars on direct mail, television and radio advertising, and bulk email without a second thought. The common thread with each of these strategies is that the prospect is "approached" by the company, and that the company must reach a great number of people to find a few motivated prospects. On the other hand, search engines can deliver highly motivated prospects directly to your website- people who have already demonstrated, through their use of particular keyphrases, an interest in your products or services.
These are only a handful of the numerous search engine myths currently in existence. Even if these particular myths were to be universally dispelled tomorrow, a new batch would surely arise to take their place- and the motivations behind some of them would be just as dubious. With search engine marketing, as with anything else, it is important to treat everything with a healthy dose of skepticism (including this article!).
Scott Buresh is managing partner of Medium Blue Internet Marketing. His articles have appeared in numerous publications, including ZDNet, WebProNews, MarketingProfs, DarwinMag, SiteProNews, PromotionData, and Search Engine Guide. Medium Blue is an Atlanta search engine optimization company that works with clients all over the country.
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