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Bad tips for SEO (search engine optimisation)

Money tree

By Adrian Mallett B.Eng. (Hons)
December 2010

Occasionally we are asked about 'hot tips' for search engine optimisation people have heard about, or worse, paid for. These are usually 'guaranteed' to get them to a top position on the search engine results lists and thereby make them loads of money. After years of successfully getting our clients top placements for carefully selected key terms we know there are no magic short cuts. Search engine optimisation is a careful process of selecting the right keywords to target and carrying out thorough work to produce the best chance of success.

Most of these tricks can be written off by simple logic. If there was a trick or simple technique which would guarantee getting a website to number one on search engines then everyone would be doing it. Since everyone cannot be number one at the same time that puts everyone back in the same boat they were in originally.

An example of this can be found from the very early days of the public Internet. At the time search engines determined the subject of a page from hidden information stored in a page 'keywords meta tag'. At the time one of the most searched terms on the Internet was the word 'sex'. Webmasters started adding it to their website meta keywords regardless of the website content. Ignoring the meta tag and indexing website pages according to their content was what made search engines such as Google so successful today.

Here is a list of some of the corkers we've come across. If anyone advises you that one of these is a great way get your website up the search engine results list then we suggest you talk to someone who actually does know about SEO (search engine optimisation). Hopefully this will save some people time and money on a website equivalent of a 'sure thing'.


“Use Smiths and Co. for your search engine optimisation and we will guarantee to make your website number one.”

This claim is often made on spam emails. The only people who can guarantee you a place on any search engine is the search engine themselves and getting them to do so usually involves a large cost.

Some specialist search engine optimisation firms do make a similar guarantee that if, after all their work, you are not placed where you want to be then they will refund your money. These sorts of firms are few and far between as they take a big risk making the guarantee. Also, unless there is a large budget available, it takes time for a website to climb the results places so obtaining very quick results is beyond the resources of a lot of smaller websites.

When we search engine optimise a website we carry out a process which has been developed over many years and is constantly reviewed and refined as the Internet develops. We carefully select realistic search terms to target chosen to provide the greatest return possible. We then place the terms within the website in positions where they will have most effect. We then monitor the website progress and make adjustments as necessary. We also advise our clients on pay per click advertising if they require it and guide them on how to employ cheap or free methods to help promote their website.


“Have a lot of domain names with copies of your website on each will give you more chances of being listed.”

Search engines do not search the Internet every time you enter a search. To do so would require massive resources resulting in the process becoming prohibitively expensive. Instead they 'crawl' every website submitted to them on a regular basis and index it on a database.

Having all this data on available enables search engines to conduct easy checks for duplicate websites. If a website is found to be too similar to an existing website then it is simply ignored in any results lists. Having too many duplicate could also get the original website black listed.

Having multiple domain names targeting selected search terms is a good technique which works well but each website must have unique, optimised content on it to be correctly indexed. It is also good practice to inter link the websites so long as they have complementary content. The draw back of this technique is that properly generating all that content takes time and money but if you can afford the resources then owning multiple websites can prove very effective.


“Make sure your domain name starts with the letter 'a' or the number '1' then search engines will list you first”

This technique dates back to printed directories of companies such as the Yellow Pages. The technique was used in the Dooms Day book commissioned in 1086 by William the Conqueror. Printed directories use this technique because to present the entries in a different order would require a re-print.

Information in a modern database can be sorted and presented in any order the user wishes and an alphabetical listing is only one such possibility. A modern database can also be searched to produce results which fit very specific criteria. Why would a search engine with a massive amount of functionality handicap itself by only supplying information in alphabetical order?

When choosing a domain name considerations should include such areas as keyword inclusion, ease of spelling, memorability and competitors names. Keyword has an effect on results placements but starting the name with an 'a' or '1' never will.


“Hide masses of keywords on your pages by making the text the same colour as the page. Then only search engines can find them.”

Hidden text on a website page should definitely be avoided. Search engines have huge amounts of resources devoted to their primary aim which is to provide their users with quality information relevant to their needs. 'Tricks' like using hidden text are easily detected and will either result in the page being ignored, or worse, blocked.

Getting the keyword density correct on a website is important but it can be very damaging to get the density too high and hidden blocks of keywords will do exactly that. Putting the right keywords in the right places and in the correct densities is what good search engine optimisation firms do.


“The more images and animation your website has the more visitors you will get.”

Designing a good website is a balance between the needs of the visitor and the needs of the search engines. Over 90% of visitors to a website will find it using a search engine so it is important to ensure your website can be easily and correctly indexed for your target audience. For the visitor, information should be easy to find and the website should provide a clear path for them to follow to the action you ideally wish them to take.

The ideal website for a search engine is a block of text with any graphical elements clearly labelled but such a website would be unlikely to hold a visitors attention for many minutes. The most effective means to convey information to a person is by means of graphical methods such as pictures or video but these are invisible to a search engine.

If your website comprises of mostly pictures and animation then it will probably look great but you will have to spend a fortune on advertising to ensure people can find it. A good website has the right mix of text and graphical elements to ensure a good visitor experience while making it easily found.


“Pictures on your website should be very high quality so that search engines can see them properly.”

Search engines can only 'see' text so any images, pictures or video on a website is invisible to them. The only indication a search engine has as to what a picture contains is from the alternative text or title text for the item if it has been included. One of the key pieces of information used by a search engine to index a picture is the file name but a lot of images on the Internet have names such as 'pic_6578.jpg' and this renders them useless for indexing.

To illustrate this try searching Google images for the search term 'big ben'. A lot of the resulting images show the Big Ben clock tower in London but look further down the results and you start to see pictures which have nothing to do with Big Ben. When I tried this there was a picture of a horse and a skeleton in an army helmet. These pictures have been included in the results because the words big and ben have been included in the picture file name or description. If Google could 'see' pictures then these images would not be there.

Providing poor quality pictures on a website will lose visitors for you but having pictures which have much higher resolutions than required is just as bad. The higher the resolution or size of a picture the longer it will take to load and display and if a visitor has to wait for too long they will simply go elsewhere. Make pictures the size you need them and optimise them for the Internet to minimise the file size.

©2010 Adrian Mallett B.Eng. (Hons), All rights reserved

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