Direct Marketing Article
Appeasing the Search Engine Gods
Does your site need to be listed as number 1? Should you even care?
By Marc Gordon
On January 19, the web site for Performance Diesel Injection went live. A
new business located in Markham, Performance Diesel services a very specific
segment of the automotive industry. With over 20 years of personal
experience in the industry, owner Giles Gallie felt that having a web site
"There are a lot of competitors out there." says Giles. "I felt it was
important to be ranked at least on the first page of a Google search. I
would say that our site is a big part of our marketing efforts."
This view is common among many business of all sizes and industries. Even
individuals who want to be known for their books, accomplishments, or
personal ideas believe that their ultimate success lies in the results of
This fixation with search engine rankings has lead to an entire industry of
companies, self proclaimed gurus, and consultants eager to show anyone
willing to pay their fees how to not only be listed as number one, but
perhaps even one through ten.
To fully understand where this obsession started, let's rewind a few years.
In the mid 1990's, html pages started pouring into the what was then called
the world wide web. Search engines such as Yahoo, AltaVista and Lycos
scoured the web with crawlers, mini programs that gathered data and sent it
back to the search engines for indexing. Yahoo, in addition to using web
crawlers, also manually indexed data which many users felt provided more
relevant search results. (Yahoo ceased manual indexing in 2002, choosing
instead to work with Google's automated indexing methods.)
These crawlers looked for specific items such as links, photos, text and
meta tags. Entering certain words in a search engine would bring up a list
of sites that the engines felt most closely matched the search criteria.
By 1997 web developers had begun to realize the importance of search
rankings. While pay-per-click advertising was still years away, getting high
rankings was seen as a key element to the success of a site solely from a
marketing perspective. At the time, it was hard enough to convince many
businesses to invest in a web site, less so if no one would actually see it.
The use of meta tags quickly developed into the tool of choice. As more
search engines developed algorithms to sort and process site by relevance,
the key words contained within the meta tags began to play a more
influential role. Developers had the power to strongly influence how their
sites would be listed in search results.
Key words that were not reflective of the actual content often resulted in
skewed search results. Deceptive meta tags resulted in sites that quickly
became a thorn in the side of every search engine who relied on effective
results to attract visitors.
In 1998, Larry Page and Sergey Brin founded Google, a search engine that
relied on a new set of algorithms. The result was listings that
mathematically rated sites by relevance rather than solely on developer's
During this time, developers discovered that sites with links generally
ranked higher than sites without. This resulted in the next "tool" to
increase rankings. The creation of link farms provided an opportunity to
have sites linked to dozens of other "sites".
Companies would sell links to bogus or virtual sites and have other sites
link back to you. Like the key words that were so effective in the past, the
search engines got fooled again.
But search engines never rest. With their survival dependent on reliable,
relevant and accurate results, their highly secretive algorithms were, and
continue to be, modified and updated.
So that brings us to today. A population of web developers, users, and
marketers hungrier than ever to reach that status of number one in search
results. And with that a new set of tools and companies that promise to do
The question is, are these legitimate tools that truly add to the
effectiveness of search engines, or just another set of tricks for the
purpose of creating Google food?
A growing trend in achieving higher rankings is through the use of social
networking sites, commonly referred to as Web 2.0. Sites such as You Tube,
Facebook and LinkedIn receive millions of combined visitors per day. Many of
them are filled with rich content such as video, links, contact information,
and personal and corporate profiles, all appealing to web crawlers.
Tricia Ryan of The Marketing Chefs, a marketing strategy company located in
Mississauga, strongly believes that her contributions to social networking
sites as been a big factor to her online success.
"Each day I spend some time posting material to a different networking
site." says Tricia. "My ranking has improved substantially from this."
Tricia combines social network postings with search engine registrations,
blogs, key words and links. She also does a great deal of offline
advertising directing people to her site where she sells training materials
This is a very different business model from Performance Diesel Injection.
As mentioned earlier, it caters to a very specific market and sells nothing
online. For its owner Giles, drawing traffic has been done through industry
forums rather than general interest social sites.
"I regularly contribute to all the automotive performance forums. People
find me through those." says Giles. "I also refer new clients to the site
when they call. It's a nice selling tool that answers a lot of their
questions while freeing up my time here at the shop."
While from two different industries, both Marketing Chefs and Performance
Diesel use a form of web networking to draw traffic with fair success.
So is social networking on the web really the "honest" approach or just
another trick soon to be made obsolete by updated algorithms?
Michael Koenigs the CEO of trafficgeyser.com says posting to social network
sites for the purpose of driving visitors to your site is like playing a
game the search engines wrote the rules for.
"We’re ahead of the game." says Michael. "The search engines know that half
the traffic is video based, so they are keen to focus their efforts on it.
We simply make it easier for site owners to take advantage of this new and
Trafficgeyser.com is an online service that will submit your video, podcasts
and blogs to over 35 social networking, blog, bookmarking services and video
sharing sites with the click of a mouse. According to Michael, the concept
is simple and effective: Posting blogs and videos, with key words, links and
descriptions attached, to as many social networking sites as possible will
result in higher search rankings.
The theory is that as the web crawlers scan the web for video content and
blog submissions, they will continuously come upon your name and site. This
will result in higher rankings as your information will be "calculated" as
being more relevant. In one online demonstration for the service, a new site
was listed as number one on a Google search within 10 minutes of going live.
So do the search engines view this process as just another form of link
farming? Or is this a truly legitimate and effective way to bring traffic to
your site and get higher search rankings?
When I put these questions to trafficgeyser.com's Michael, he answer was
quick and to the point. "We follow the rules set out by the video and blog
sites. Their own users decide if the content is poor. And that content is
created by the site developer (our clients), not us. The search engines are
just being fed content by us. They're looking for it. We just get caught up
in the stream of providing them relevant and useful information."
Tricia from The Marketing Chef agrees. "While I have used some submission
services, I still do a large number of blog and podcast submissions
manually. I have found them to help draw traffic either by improving my
search result rankings or through direct links to my site."
However not everyone agrees with the effectiveness of this new traffic
producing technique. When I contacted Google directly about this new trend,
they were scratching their heads.
"A web site receiving first place ranking within 10 minutes of being
uploaded?" a spokesperson for Google asked. "I don’t see how that could be
Google’s formal position on increasing web traffic is based on relevant
content first and foremost, both on the site itself and any blogs, video
postings and podcasts.
"Many owners of high quality sites can and do get their site listed well in
Google's search results without any outside help. Most often, some basic,
relatively simple tweaks go much farther than any secret 'tricks'; for
instance, using a journalistic mindset to write page titles - concisely
answering who, what, where - can be of great help to both users and search
engines." says Google’s spokesperson.
"Understandably, some site owners prefer to have someone else check and
optimize their site, and for these folks we've published some guidelines
relating to evaluating SEO companies." explains Google's spokesperson.
"In order to deliver the best search results to users, Google frequently
crawls the web in search of new content. Every time Google crawls the web,
10-20% of the internet is new. By submitting your website to Google, you
help with the process of finding your site and adding it to the search
index. However, we strongly encourage webmasters to pay very close attention
to the 'Quality Guidelines', which outline some of the illicit practices
that may lead to a site being removed entirely from the Google index or
Among Google’s guidelines: "Avoid tricks intended to improve search engine
rankings." and "Don't participate in link schemes designed to increase your
site's ranking or PageRank."
Since guidelines similar to Google's can be found on other search engine's
sites, does this mean that posting to social networking sites is actually
pointless or even harmful?
"I don’t think it's pointless." says Joseph Fung, CEO of Lewis Media, a web
design firm in Waterloo whose clients include RIM and Scotiabank. "It's not
a bad way to spend your time. Just maybe not the best way."
The fact is that while social networking and blog sites might attract the
short term attention of the search engines, their content tends to be time
sensitive. As new submissions are posted, previous ones will drop lower on
the list, getting less page views, and eventually falling off the search
engine's radar. All this can happen in a matter of days.
"Long term success means building a relationship with the search engines."
says Joseph. Posting to established industry-based site will add legitimate
credibility to you because the search engines hold those types of sites in
higher regard for your field than generic social sites. Posting to sites
that are recognized as relevant to your industry will give you the best
return for your time. And keep you on the good side of the search engines."
So what is a site owner to do in order to drive traffic to their site? And
should they even be that preoccupied with it?
For some, who's entire business model involves selling over the internet,
such as Amazon and EBay, the answer is yes. And yet these companies have
chosen to not get swept up in the trend of social marketing. Instead they
have combine traditional and proven methods such as external links, banner
ads and relevant content with strong offline advertising campaigns.
"In 2007 our online and offline advertising was split 50/50." says Joseph.
"For 2008 we plan on allocating 80% to offline marketing. We've found that
offline media reaches our audience in a way that allows us to convey certain
messages more effectively."
Where is all this going you ask? What is the future of search engine
optimization? The truth is that not even the search engines know.
"Search is still in its early days of development and it remains at the core
of everything Google does." says Google's spokesperson. "We are aware of new
trends and technology and are focused on leveraging it to provide relevant
and useful results."
"Search engines will become smarter." says Joseph. "I believe we'll see
higher levels of analysis, voice processing of video content, and drawing
meaning out of content. I think the search engines are chasing two targets,
the human element (understanding relevance) and the people coming up with
the next set of tricks.
Most experts would argue that a web site is just one more spoke in the
marketing wheel. And regardless of how many visitors you get, if your
products and services are of poor quality, your business will not succeed.
"If you produce high quality products at fair prices, people will buy from
you." says Fred Gleeck, an internet marketing consultant based in Las Vegas.
"In many situations, offline marketing is more powerful than online
marketing because people are bombarded with so many banner ads and spam
messages. They don’t even notice them anymore. If you market yourself
properly and give people quality, they will seek you out."
Its interesting to note that EBay, the world’s largest online auction site,
came up as number 8 for a recent search for "online auctions" on Google.
Amazon was listed as number 2 when "online bookstore" was entered in Google,
just behind Chapters/Indigo, which paid for their listing.
About the Author:
Marc Gordon is a professional speaker and marketing consultant based in
Toronto, Ontario. His firm, Fourword Marketing, specializes in helping
businesses create a brand identity and developing effective marketing
campaigns. Marc can be reached at (416) 238-7811 or visit