3 Lies The Search Engines Will Tell You

Google, BingaHoo! just so you know: nothin’ but love from me. You guys rock. Really. We have a good relationship. But most relationships are based on trust, and that means you shouldn’t lie to me. If we’re all going to continue going steady, I need to clear a few things up.

These are the (white) lies you’ll sometimes hear from search reps at conferences. Do not blame the representatives. They can’t stand up at the podium and say “Yeah, you’d better start building links”. Just take what they’re saying with a grain boulder of salt:

Lie #1: Write great content and the links/traffic/rankings will follow

Snort. Let’s just try an example, shall we? Say I’m going to open a store that sells ‘Orc Miniatures’. That’s a pretty narrow niche. So the competition shouldn’t be too bad. Not one page over 2.8 million results:

2.8 million pages for 'orc miniatures'

My point: content alone is not going to boost you into the top 10 for any even remotely relevant phrase. Pick the most obscure niche in your industry, and check out the competition:

  • If you’re a speaking coach, try ‘speaking upside down’ (2.5 million results).
  • If you repair cars in Seattle, try ‘Edsel repair Seattle’ (186,000 results – still a lot).
  • If you run a diner in Terre Haute, try ‘Terre Haute Ostrich Burgers’. Somehow, Google still finds 12,000 results.

Good content is a must; I’m all about writing, and writing well. But even Shakespeare wouldn’t rank for ‘Alas, poor Yorick’ (56,000 results) without a little help. A few ways to boost your site:

  1. Go get some links. You don’t have to buy links, or do anything spammy. Just make sure your business is listed in the obvious places: Your local Chamber of Commerce. The Better Business Bureau. Relevant directories.
  2. Network. Connect with other businesses. You know, like we used to, before the Internet? That will get you links, too. It works especially well if you ask for them.
  3. Expand past your site. If you sell to consumers, get on Facebook. Business to business? Get on LinkedIn. See networking, above. There are other places you can go, too, but start simple.

Lie #2: We’re not competing with you

Cough. Back in the old days, when search engines were just search engines, they weren’t competing with your website. Now, though, search engines are becoming aggregators (publications, even), and as they do so, they’re keeping more eyeballs on their pages. That means fewer coming to yours.

Check out this search result on Bing:

Search result for 'fixed gear bikes seattle'

Between the paid ads, the related searches and the map, you have to look carefully just to find the organic search results. Then, you can get a preview of the site content without even leaving the page.

Search engines are competing with all of us. They make money by generating page views and clicks (on pay per click ads). To get more page views, they need to keep people on their site. To get more clicks on those pay per click ads, they have to get visitors to click those ads, instead of the organic listings. Sounds a little competitive to me.

Here are a few tips that will help you take advantage of this competition:

  1. Write a great description and title tag. Make sure your description and title tags contain fantastic marketing copy. Those two tags typically form your site’s listing in the search results. A well-written description and title can mean more clicks on your listing and fewer on someone’s paid ad.
  2. Put great content up at the top of your page. Bing appears to grab the page preview content from the first paragraph and heading on the page (most of the time). Make sure those first sentences are crystal-clear. Then let the audience decide what to do next.
  3. Make sure your site gets fully indexed. Find, diagnose and fix indexing problems. Read Carrie Hill’s article on the subject.

Lie #3: We are good

Actually, this is a lie that we tell ourselves. Google, Bing and Yahoo! aren’t good. They aren’t evil, either. They’re profit-seeking enterprises. If they make more money, they’re happy. If they make less, they’re sad.

Delivering relevant results is a core part of search engines’ search for more profit. Relevant results make their users happy. Happy users bring other users. And happy users search more often. That generates pageviews and pay-per-click traffic (see Lie #2, above).

That’s the lesson, really. I’m not suggesting that search engine representatives deliberately lie to us. Not a chance. There are simply things they cannot tell us without exposing their algorithms to all sorts of spammy practices. That would screw up their quest for the most relevant results.

Luckily, their need for money involves helping folks find your business when your business is relevant.

So, I’ve only got one tip here: Learn what the search engines want. Give it to them. Just be sure you look out for your own interests, too. And don’t believe everything they tell you.

And all you search engines out there? The key to a good relationship is understanding when little white lies are good for everyone. So try not to giggle when we tell you we don’t buy links. Not that I ever have, of course.

Opinions expressed in the article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land.

Related Topics: All Things SEO Column | Channel: SEO


About The Author: is Chief Marketing Curmudgeon and President at Portent, Inc, a firm he started in 1995. Portent is a full-service internet marketing company whose services include SEO, SEM and strategic consulting.

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  • http://www.search-usability.com/ Shari Thurow

    Hi Ian-

    Brilliant article headline! Even more brilliant content on search engine spin doctoring. Even white hats don’t always agree with search engine spin doctoring or the crawl team’s or Webmaster Central’s guidelines and advice.

    I’d add duplicate content filtering to the list. I think there is vast room for improvement in that area.

    I support the search engines in many, many ways. I don’t always agree with many of their decisions. We SEOs are not that stupid…and I love that you wrote this as a reminder to Google and others that we are not search engine patsies — we are not blind, and we are not stupid.

    Kudos Ian!

  • http://www.rimmkaufman.com George Michie

    Kudos, Ian. Chief Marketing Curmudgeon…dang, I wish that was my title!

  • http://ninebyblue.com/ Vanessa Fox

    Well, as a former search engine representative, I want to clarify “lie” #1: “Write great content and the links/traffic/rankings will follow”. I said that a lot (and still say it a lot), but I never have said it in the context that if you write good content, links and rankings will just magically come to you. Obviously, you have to raise awareness of that great content so people know it exists and will in turn link to it. The Google Webmaster Central blog, Matt Cutts (in his Twitter account and blog), and all the reps at conferences have talked at length about ways to raise awareness.

    So, I think it’s a bit indigenous to present that statement as something search engine reps say as an end all be all.

    And Shari, I wrote the initial version of nearly all of the content on Webmaster Central and I can tell you absolutely without a doubt that I wrote it with zero spin and all of the guidelines and advice were based on what actually is effective based on how Google’s crawling, indexing, and ranking worked at the time. And my assumption is that’s still the case.

    It’s disheartening to read you imply that we spent all of that time and energy putting together Webmaster Central and the supporting tools, going to conferences, answering questions in discussion forums, and more with the assumption that SEOs are stupid and blind. Google doesn’t need a reminder that content owners aren’t search engine patsies. They would never for a second think that. If they did, they’d never invest so many resources in making so much information available.

    Sure, search engine reps can only provide so many details about how the algorithms work, but honestly, they don’t have to provide *any* information. And yet they provide substantial details on not only the overall process but on site-specific issues and continually take time to answer questions in their spare time.

  • http://www.irisemedia.com irisemedia

    Content is still king. Besides networking with other businesses and cross-linking, there are other ways to tweak your pages and blog posts to maximize the potential amount of ROI of your website, laid out here: http://www.irisemedia.com/blog/2010/07/16/blog-strategies-how-to-make-the-most-out-of-blog-writing.html

  • http://www.ncsearchengineacademy.com Michael Marshall


    I’m glad you have taken the time to correct the “If you build it, they will come” mentality many people of have about writing good content. That needs to be done.


    I’m glad you’ve jumped in to comment with a Google’s insider perspective. I teach courses on search engine technology at the U.S. Patent Office and so have a bit of a feel for how difficult the task is for search engines technically. They definitely have to keep many things close to the vest and I have always had an appreciation for the fact that they tell us anything at all.

    I also understand from a business perspective that they would indeed have a vested interest in providing useful information, because the more they encourage people to create quality content and raise awareness about it by acquiring quality and authoritative links, the better the search engine will be able to provide results to searchers. Without that, they can’t get the eyeballs they need to make money off of paid search.

    But they also have to protect the quality of the SERPs by implementing procedures to combat spammers, etc.

    It is a difficult line to walk indeed, an unavoidable love-hate relationship. All of this is most likely obvious but it really does need to be kept in mind when assumptions are made about the motives on either side.


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