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Protecting Your Search Engine Rankings

===================================================

Protecting Your Search Engine Rankings

===================================================



Your website's ranking on search engines is a vital element

of your overall marketing campaign, and there are ways to

improve your link popularity through legitimate methods.

Unfortunately, the Internet is populated by bands of

dishonest webmasters seeking to improve their link

popularity by faking out search engines.



The good news is that search engines have figured this out,

and are now on guard for "spam" pages and sites that have

increased their rankings by artificial methods. When a

search engines tracks down such a site, that site is

demoted in ranking or completely removed from the search

engine's index.



The bad news is that some high quality, completely

above-board sites are being mistaken for these web page

criminals. Your page may be in danger of being caught up in

the "spam" net and tossed from a search engine's index,

even though you have done nothing to deserve such harsh

treatment. But there are things you can do - and things you

should be sure NOT to do - which will prevent this kind of

misperception.



Link popularity is mostly based on the quality of sites you

are linked to. Google pioneered this criteria for assigning

website ranking, and virtually all search engines on the

Internet now use it. There are legitimate ways to go about

increasing your link popularity, but at the same time, you

must be scrupulously careful about which sites you choose

to link to. Google frequently imposes penalties on sites

that have linked to other sites solely for the purpose of

artificially boosting their link popularity. They have

actually labeled these links "bad neighborhoods."



You can raise a toast to the fact that you cannot be

penalized when a bad neighborhood links to your site;

penalty happens only when you are the one sending out the

link to a bad neighborhood. But you must check, and

double-check, all the links that are active on your links

page to make sure you haven't linked to a bad neighborhood.



The first thing to check out is whether or not the pages

you have linked to have been penalized. The most direct way

to do this is to download the Google toolbar at

http://toolbar.google.com. You will then see that most

pages are given a "Pagerank" which is represented by a

sliding green scale on the Google toolbar.



Do not link to any site that shows no green at all on the

scale. This is especially important when the scale is

completely gray. It is more than likely that these pages

have been penalized. If you are linked to these pages, you

may catch their penalty, and like the flu, it may be

difficult to recover from the infection.



There is no need to be afraid of linking to sites whose

scale shows only a tiny sliver of green on their scale.

These sites have not been penalized, and their links may

grow in value and popularity. However, do make sure that

you closely monitor these kind of links to ascertain that

at some point they do not sustain a penalty once you have

linked up to them from your links page.



Another evil trick that illicit webmasters use to

artificially boost their link popularity is the use of

hidden text. Search engines usually use the words on web

pages as a factor in forming their rankings, which means

that if the text on your page contains your keywords, you

have more of an opportunity to increase your search engine

ranking than a page that does not contain text inclusive of

keywords.



Some webmasters have gotten around this formula by hiding

their keywords in such a way so that they are invisible to

any visitors to their site. For example, they have used the

keywords but made them the same color as the background

color of the page, such as a plethora of white keywords on

a white background. You cannot see these words with the

human eye - but the eye of search engine spider can spot

them easily! A spider is the program search engines use to

index web pages, and when it sees these invisible words, it

goes back and boosts that page's link ranking.



Webmasters may be brilliant and sometimes devious, but

search engines have figured these tricks out. As soon as a

search engine perceive the use of hidden text - splat! the

page is penalized.



The downside of this is that sometimes the spider is a bit

overzealous and will penalize a page by mistake. For

example, if the background color of your page is gray, and

you have placed gray text inside a black box, the spider

will only take note of the gray text and assume you are

employing hidden text. To avoid any risk of false penalty,

simply direct your webmaster not to assign the same color

to text as the background color of the page - ever!



Another potential problem that can result in a penalty is

called "keyword stuffing." It is important to have your

keywords appear in the text on your page, but sometimes you

can go a little overboard in your enthusiasm to please

those spiders. A search engine uses what is called

"Keyphrase Density" to determine if a site is trying to

artificially boost their ranking. This is the ratio of

keywords to the rest of the words on the page. Search

engines assign a limit to the number of times you can use a

keyword before it decides you have overdone it and

penalizes your site.



This ratio is quite high, so it is difficult to surpass

without sounding as if you are stuttering - unless your

keyword is part of your company name. If this is the case,

it is easy for keyword density to soar. So, if your keyword

is "renters insurance," be sure you don't use this phrase

in every sentence. Carefully edit the text on your site so

that the copy flows naturally and the keyword is not

repeated incessantly. A good rule of thumb is your keyword

should never appear in more than half the sentences on the

page.



The final potential risk factor is known as "cloaking." To

those of you who are diligent Trekkies, this concept should

be easy to understand. For the rest of you?cloaking is when

the server directs a visitor to one page and a search

engine spider to a different page. The page the spider sees

is "cloaked" because it is invisible to regular traffic,

and deliberately set-up to raise the site's search engine

ranking. A cloaked page tries to feed the spider everything

it needs to rocket that page's ranking to the top of the

list.



It is natural that search engines have responded to this

act of deception with extreme enmity, imposing steep

penalties on these sites. The problem on your end is that

sometimes pages are cloaked for legitimate reasons, such as

prevention against the theft of code, often referred to as

"pagejacking." This kind of shielding is unnecessary these

days due to the use of "off page" elements, such as link

popularity, that cannot be stolen.



To be on the safe side, be sure that your webmaster is

aware that absolutely no cloaking is acceptable. Make sure

the webmaster understands that cloaking of any kind will

put your website at great risk.



Just as you must be diligent in increasing your link

popularity and your ranking, you must be equally diligent

to avoid being unfairly penalized. So be sure to monitor

your site closely and avoid any appearance of artificially

boosting your rankings.


About the Author: Charles Preston is President of Click Response a website marketing firm that focuses on better ROI for small businesses and affordable search engine optimization solutions. Search engine optimization and compelling marketing copy is the key to small business success online. Visit http://www.clickresponse.net/Search/default.htm




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