A Pit Opens for Incautious Online Marketers

The news that major corporations are putting search engines such as Google and Yahoo! at the forefront of their marketing strategies could herald huge problems for incautious optimisers. We've already seen several significant players in the Car Insurance market fall victim to the dangers of over optimisation. Having reviewed the penalties, the companies involved are believed to have been black-listed by Google for search engine optimisation activities that don't comply with the webmaster guidelines. The important consideration here is that the companies were not necessarily doing anything wrong, they are playing Google's game, although a little too aggressively.

In the past companies would disappeared from Google's listings because of attempts to deliberately fool the search engine to get traffic the site didn't deserve, but now it's possible for brands to lose their position in the results simply by doing their optimisation too enthusiastically." Google has, for some years, judged a site's authority by assessing the links pointing to it from other Websites.This has given rise to an industry wherein companies sell link-building programmes to artificially raise a site's perceived authority. Google doesn't like to be manipulated.

Internet search is a three-way deal: if I'm looking to buy car insurance, and you sell car insurance, I want to find your site. Google wants to give me what I'm looking for. But, given that there are a lot of competing sites, Google has to decide who to show first. If other sites point at yours, this suggests that your site is worth looking at- if they're related in some way to car insurance. A link from a site about artists' supplies isn't logical, and suggests that this is just part of a numbers-building campaign.

By looking carefully at the relevancy and context of links, as well as their rate of growth, Google has significantly raised the stakes for companies looking to optimise their search engine position: do it carelessly and you could disappear from the radar faster than a reclusive stealth bomber. The future is clear- as Google gets ever better at detecting the tricks that optimisers pull, the only option left will be to do the job properly. Doing it properly consists of giving Google what it wants. Incoming links should be built by attracting interest, propagating news and information coherently and systematically throughout the Internet community. If your site's worth visiting, it should be possible to attract links from related and interested organisations by providing content that enhances their own proposition. That could be industry news, market observations, research, even humour.

There's no doubt that we're seeing a significant shift in Google's attitude to inbound links. A site might be number one for a given search term with, say, 50 or 60 links, while the entry at number two has 500- 600. Why? Because 50 or 60 relevant, logical links outweigh all those arbitrary entries that were placed to build up the numbers. The underlying message appears to be that any company that relies strongly on Internet traffic needs to be looking carefully at its optimisation strategies to avoid the pit that has already begun to swallow some major players.

XSEO's MD, Matt Paines, has been involved in the internet since 1995 and has been actively involved in search engine optimisation (SEO) since 1997. He was the only UK SEO invited to participate in the Microsoft Search Engine Champs project, which was first run in 2004. Online Marketers

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