John Andrews is a Competitive Webmaster and Search Engine Optimization Consultant in Seattle, Washington. This is John Andrews blog on issues of interest to the SEO community and competitive webmasters. Want to know more?

johnon.com  Competitive Web & SEO
September 23rd, 2007 by john andrews

Amazing Seattle Hotel – not in Seattle, 3 star at best, but Ranks #1

In case you missed it, title tags are important. Check out the SERP for “Amazing Seattle Hotel” and you’ll see the power for yourself. A Marriott Courtyard property (business class hotel), in Federal Way (between SeaTac and Tacoma, quite a ways from downtown Seattle), ranks #1. Even if it’s fabulous for a Courtyard property (I choose Courtyard myself for business travel, by the way), it will never be “amazing”.

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September 20th, 2007 by john andrews

I Double Dog Dare You

KOMarketing has a fun post comparing Black Hat SEO to the recent incident in the National Football League (NFL) involving illegal video taping of on-field signals. It’s a fun, and if you’re competitive, an interesting comparison. Not sure I agree completely, however.

The NFL coach was caught (allegedly) video taping the New Jersey Jets signals, after being specifically told not to do that, and while it was illegal to do so under league rules. Important aspects: he was a member of a league, there was a clear “law” on the issue, and an advance, specific warning.

When you join a league you abide by league rules because they enable to league to exist and thus your team to play. No league = no opportunity to play. It’s a financial consideration.

SEO (even Black Hat SEO) does not involve any such league membership, does not violate any such league laws, and the guidelines which exist do not support a league and enable the teams but rather they support a company (the search engine) and arguable the “fans” (users of Google). In many ways it can be argued that the company and community benefit at the expense of the web publishers (teams), which makes it even worse to be a player but not a winner. Second place is the first loser.

One can argue that we all need to support the fans to maintain an opportunity to play, but search is a business market so that’s hogwash. Were Google to fail, the users would still have plenty of opportunity to play. Except for sites added during the past 2 years, most web sites did not start publishing in order to serve ads. They serve ads to enable them to publish, and they publish for other reasons.
If Bill Belichick did tape those signals on purpose, then he was cheating at NFL football . I dare you to name a Black hat SEO tactic and describe why it is cheating. Go ahead. I double dog dare you. Comments are open.

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September 19th, 2007 by john andrews

More SEO Noise

I doubt there has ever been as much noise in the SEO space as there is now. I’m not complaining about the noise, because I strongly support the idea of individuals hanging shingles and going into business for themselves. There are plenty of clients looking to educate new SEOs. But I will complain about the failure of the search engines and filters to produce quality SERPs and editorial reviews on the SEO space.

The days of “SEO is bad so ignore it” are long gone. If Google is such a great search engine, why can’t it figure out the good SEO stuff and promote it, while suppressing the noise? And if SearchEngineLand/SearchEngineWatch/SearchEngineRoundTable/SearchEngineWhatever is really a “resource” for people looking for information on SEO, why do they promote so much SEO noise?

I think SEO is way too political these days. I wonder how that can be, given that it is so accountable as well. You either have search referrals or you don’t. You either did what was best or you didn’t. You either add value to the conversation (whether private with a client or public via an “SEO blog”) or you don’t.
I know, it’s all about community (again). Just like the first bubble was all about eyeballs, this one is all about “members”. More is better. Quality doesn’t matter. Please the masses, because they count more.

And so we get SEO articles listed in supposedly editorial reviews that lazily hand-wave through SEO topics like alt tags, saying little more than off-hand conjecture on the topic. Three hundred and thirteen words on alt tags in the context of SEO, including such gems as:

The Alt Tag provides very marginal if any boost in SEO. It certainly is a best practice to use Alt tags, but, I wouldn’t rely on them to provide a noticable SEO value.

This is from a member of SEMPO, which is probably meant to suggest he’s got expertise, so I ask myself, why wouldn’t you rely on them? Why is it “best practice” to use them, but they don’t offer substantial value and you won’t rely on them? I guess I have to wait for some other article, because it isn’t offered here.

Then I read this part:

The most important Alt tag is on the logo.

Really? The logo? isn’t the logo usually in the masthead? Hasn’t Google been properly parsing page templates for centuries now? I thought Google was very good at identifying a masthead as secondary content, but maybe I am missing something. I haven’t been involved in SEMPO, so perhaps I am out of the loop? But I’m not sure, because that statement stands alone. No facts; no support. Despite how, to me, it seems completely wrong.

The the “article” continues to say (bold added):

In my opinion, the most important Alt tags are on sitewide images. Think about it. It’s just logical. Google must place more importance on a sitewide image over a single page image. So, sitewide images get more weight, not just logos.

and I think to myself “ahah! An opinion! Something of value! Cool….” and then the content registers and I react harshly. WTF. A sitewide image, probably one of the most recognizably templatic objects on a web site, “gets more weight” ? How is that,exactly? At least the last line of that paragraph clarifies my earlier question about “if it’s of no value, why use it?”:

All things being equal between 2 sites, the Alt tags properly written could push 1 site over the top.

So with all this noise, where is the signal? Are alt tags good? Worthwhile? Bad? And if good/bad, why? Should we use them? How should we use them? How do we know all of that?

To summarize,it seems they are not useful, except perhaps marginally, or if everything else is equal they may help you beat out your competitor. Huh? So, that means…. they are a good important part of SEO, right?

To summarize more, it says logos are the most important part of your website to tag with an alt tag, and that the alt tag should say “logo. Huh? Is “logo” a Google keyword? Are we trying to rank for “IBM logo”? I wasn’t aware. I can see a site wide masthead image being interpreted (properly) as indicative of site ownership or meaning, like an IBM logo tagged “IBM logo” at the top of every freaking page probably is understood by Google to support the idea that the site is, indeed, owned by IBM, the owners of the domain (IBM.com). But didn’t Google already know that? Wouldn’t it just be flagged as superfluous? Sure it would.

And site wides images: tag ‘em cause they are most important. Heh. Sure, why not. And tag em all the same while you’re at it. That should help Google parse the pages even better, throwing out everything but the meat for page ranking purposes.

The end of the article is equally fulfilling:

So, as far as Google being able to differentiate your logo from the rest of your images, they can’t. Google cannot OCR (optical character recognition) the whole web – thats why even links labeled sponsored links, Google can’t spot. The web is just too big for them to crawl and read all the graphics.

I stand corrected. I’ve been wrong before, so perhaps now, too. Perhaps Google can’t actually index the web’s images. Perhaps Google can’t actually surmize from image URLs, site architecture, filenames, and page structure when an image is in-context (relevance-supporting) or site specific (ownership and placement supporting). (sarc) I have no idea what “OCR” is (/sarc) but that last bit about “The web is just too big for them to crawl and read all the graphics.” I have to agree – that’s why we do SEO and get our stuff a seat on the bus before it fills up. Using alt tags. Right. Now I get it.

That was a lot of work. Hey SearchEngineWatch editors – no donuts for you today!

Sensitivity Disclaimer: I don’t know the author of that SEMPO-supported blog, and I bear no ill-will towards him. He didn’t ask me to read his blog, SearchEngineWatch did. And despite the in-your-face SEMPO banner, I don’t see him proclaiming expertise really. Hell, I’ll even bet he’s a nice guy. Best of luck to him. And to you.

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