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Sunday, April 29, 2001

Searching for Search - Search Engine Optimization and Why SEO is Critical for Every Webmaster Seeking to Drive Traffic Home
By Dan Burnstein,
w. 617-738-9300
h. 617-734-3307

Hundreds prowled the halls of the Boston Marriott Copley Place at the recent Search Engine Strategies 2001 conference, March 20-21st, primarily looking for ways to drive traffic to their websites. And, some came to discover ways to more efficiently find things on the web.

London based, Danny Sullivan, search guru has been running these forums for 15 months in diverse locations including San Francisco, Dallas, London as well as Boston. When he is not running a Search Engines Strategies conference he publishes the irreverent, a haven for search mavens and sends out the Search Engine Report to some 165,000 fans.

Sullivan who beams at strangers with a leprechaun's grin amidst the dot.bomb funerals is surprisingly optimistic about the state of the search industry. In a soft brogue, he told Digital Industry that the engines are "getting better everyday" and that there is a "startling new and growing mutual appreciation" between webmasters and search engine companies - a point supported by Michael Palmer, PhD, a speaker and CTO of Inktomi of Foster City, CA. Sullivan has also seen a growth in user sophistication and turnout at his conferences since the first one in 1999. Ultimately, Sullivan thinks there will be better niche search engines that understand where a user is 'coming from' and gets him or her only hits in that industry or topics sector.

Who goes to a search engine conference? There were representatives of the big search companies, in-house consultants for larger and smaller companies and independent experts. What did they learn? Carolyn Griffin of Carat Interactive of Boston, MA told Digital Industry, "Search engine optimization (SEO) is no joke! It's strategic, technical and ever changing. An in-depth understanding of the clients marketing objectives, site architecture and current search position is imperative to ensuring strategic rank. However, there are many obstacles currently in the way of optimizing, following are just a few: Flash sites, dynamic content such as ASP pages, frames, excessive nested tables, internal linking structure, JavaScript redirects, doorway pages and more. The challenge for search engines is to find honest sites with relevant content. So much spamming occurs with adult and casino sites that search engines are weary of all. Spam can include repeating a word more than once or twice, hidden text, competitor names, and unrelated keywords. There is a constant challenge for webmasters to get seen amidst the din."

Dayna Kirk of Leo Burnett came to the conference from Chicago as an experienced web designer and promoter on behalf of the Corporate Affairs of her large advertising agency, Leo Burnett. When asked what she found as 'take-aways' for her Dayna told Digital Industry she was very happy to have learned:

1. Title and Description tags are substantially more important than Meta tags
2. Sub domains, rather than subdirectories are probably a better way to organize a site's directory structure to move up a word you want to
(replace www of your URL address with a keyword or phrase such as instead of
3. 90% of search engines' non-recognition of a site is in how the site is built, not in the failure to get the right Keywords in the Title, Meta, and Image tags;
4.Site content is less likely to get indexed properly when it is displayed in excessively nested tables (more than 3 layers deep).
5. most search engines do not index PDF files - however Google is an exception.
6. Expect the rules of thumb to change!
Kirk added, "I inferred that there is a great opportunity to meld search engine optimization initiatives into media strategy and hence overall brand building campaigns. It may take a while to persuade traditional brand builders of this, but that's one reason I have a job."

Bonnie Fernald Fontayne, at, based in Port Richey, FL, specializes in building websites for the travel industry including the Hong Kong Tourist Association and she too was happy with what she learned at the conference. Bonnie noted that a hot topic these days is the issue of 'buying your way in' to search engines and directory listings. "Two years ago you could submit for free. One of the first (if not the first) search engines to offer a pay per click model was Now in order to be listed in Yahoo! or LookSmart, you must pay to be considered for a listing. After attending the conference, I better understand how one would go about selecting keywords and bidding on those, for example, GoTo. This matter was brought up during break times as well so I learned other peers' experience with this." Bonnie and others learned that every word is not equal in the world of search, but if you go to and put in what you think are the key words and it will tell you what people are actually using as search terms. This helps when you are trying to find 'affordable' words to bid on for the pay-for-click search sites.

Fontayne also mentioned that "At this point we recommend to clients that they pay the submission fee to get listed in Yahoo!, LookSmart directories as well as Inktomi. This will not only give them coverage in the respective directories but also those who are partners." Bonnie notes that "LookSmart claims to get your site 'in front of more than 64 billion prospects..." and that listing in LookSmart also gets you listed in the search results of AltaVista, Excite, MSN, iWon, and others reaching a claimed 83% of U.S. Internet Users. Michele A. Hlewicki, is a marketing manager at The Independent Traveler in Pennington, PA, enjoyed networking with other people facing the same challenges.

And then there are people who live, eat and breathe search engine placements. Danny Sullivan is one. Marshall Simmonds is another. Marshall is the Director of Search for in New York City, and he told Digital Industry that there are a number of resources he uses other than, such as: for information, of Ashland, MA, on writing for SEO, and PlanetOcean a project of Digital-Marketing of Captain Cook, HI to peruse their view their aggressive tactics. Darren Rogers of Beacon Technologies in Greensboro, NC spends many hours each week on tracking changes at search engines as an independent consultant.

Lincoln Jackson or Terra Lycos of Waltham, MA, George Nimeh of iWon located in Irvington, NY, and Bill Bliss of MSN search, based in Seattle, WA spoke on one panel. They all agreed that a key trend was that the future of search lay in implementing better ways to do vertical or niche searching - of course they disagreed on how to best achieve this goal.

Of course there are differences of opinion on the art of driving traffic to your website. Both Fontayne, Rogers and Simmonds think that it is very easy to go over the line with cloaking and hallway entrance pages, whereas Jeff Greenfield of PositionSolutions thinks that these are great tools in the hands of careful professionals who work with search engines full-time.

Darren Rogers believes that doorway pages - a page designed only for the purpose of getting higher ranking - is not as useful as an informational page with meaningful content. A hallway page is a site map to all of your informational pages. Doorway pages can be generated by software and contain only meta and title tags and immediately direct the viewer to a normal URL using a redirection command - this has given doorway pages a bad reputation and search engines try to treat these pages as spam and ignore them. Some people like to play it risky and cloak or hide these pages by putting them on different URLs. Rogers thinks any technique can be abused or overdone.

Conclusions after attending this type of conference ranged from: I didn't realize how much I didn't know to appreciation for how many nuggets were handed out that were worth the price of admission. Ultimately, the searchers for search engine wisdom left sated and re-energized to 'drive traffic' another day. And while there is greater sophistication needed there are also more tools for webmasters there was basic agreement with Jill Whalen of RankWrite who stated that "if you create great content and navigational links, the traffic will follow.

Resources Mentioned:

Search Engine Resources info for newbies and experts what phrases can you use in your meta tags and pay for click lists the popular websites range of tools for webmasters at low cost tools for submitting and tracking SEO tips on how to write great content - helps with SEO article on SEO pricing newsletter on search article on manual vs. automated submissions Planet Ocean's view on aggressive SEO SEO ideas of Dr. Jerry Perrich submission/personalization with cloaking and hallways

Paid Submissions of Web Pages

Consultants' Websites