• http://www.easynet.co.il Daniel Waisberg

    Hi Jill,

    that’s interesting. I completely agree with you. And this is the same for Web Analytics (although it is a smaller and newer field).

    I think that as of today, most people have understood that everything should be about the bottom line. I have written about it on SEL at http://searchengineland.com/how-to-optimize-for-conversion-in-organic-search-results-19105

    Although many metrics are important and interesting, the main focus should be on conversions, be it on SEO, PPC, or Web Analytics, right?

  • http://searchengineland.com Jonathan Hochman

    Good article! I disagree that XML sitemaps are worthless. They are easy to generate and should not cost much, yet they provide two key values.

    1. Generating a sitemap often helps to identify duplicate content. It’s quite rare to spider a site for the first time and find everything in perfectly good order.

    2. After submitting an XML sitemap to Google, they will report the number of pages submitted and how many of those they have indexed. If I submit 400 pages and they only index 200, that’s something I want to know about and look into.

  • http://www.dotcult.com RyanJones

    Jill. Parts may seem “boondoggleish” but you’re only looking at each part and not the whole.

    Sure, everything you mention may have very little actual SEO value, but combined it makes a difference.

    Take a website, give it huge ugly parameter filled urls, don’t include META keywords or description, make all links images, don’t put H1 tags or bold text or anything, and don’t give it a sitemap. It’s going to rank pretty poorly unless it somehow obtains tons of links.

    Should SEO’s be telling clients that they absolutely have to re-write their URLS if it’s the only problem? no… unless the changes can be done cost effectively, then sure. What if it’s a news site and it wants to be included in news search engines? In that case re-writing URLS is a must.

    You can’t look at SEO this way – as each change by itself. You have to look at the whole. If anything, your article is a better reason why SEOs need to be included during the site design phase – so that all of these things can be done right from the start and not cost extra money later.

  • http://www.highrankings.com/newsletter/ Jill Whalen


    You said:

    “Take a website, give it huge ugly parameter filled urls, don’t include META keywords or description, make all links images, don’t put H1 tags or bold text or anything, and don’t give it a sitemap. It’s going to rank pretty poorly unless it somehow obtains tons of links.”

    I disagree and contend that you won’t see one iota of difference if you do those things you mentioned. The only caveat is the parameter filled URLs. If those weren’t getting properly indexed, then that is certainly a problem. The rest–boondoggle.

  • http://www.jackleblond.com Jack Leblond

    This certainly is an interesting read. For me, this post can be summarized in just one of your sentences “try it yourself”. When it comes to SEO, there are some good rules to follow, a few guidelines and lots of opinions. What is it they say about about opinions? The only way to KNOW for sure what SEO practices will work on any given site is to test everything. Then test it again later to watch for trends.

  • spirituality

    I can understand the not rewriting URL’s when the site has been up for over a year, and keywords metatags are certainly a problem, but not advising clients to make sure there are text links to their categories, or to stress titles with some HTML code (H1, H2, H3, bold whatever) seems overdone. Sure, this is old school SEO, but isn’t the purpose of those codes precisely to show users (using screen readers for instance) and search engines what the most important text on the page is?

    I don’t bother telling clients to highlight every keyword on the page – after all, the first lesson is to work for people, not search engines. But I sure as hell want the title of a page in some type of heading tag, and if I can’t have that – I want it bolded. Worse is when the title is hidden in some image.

    You’re right that I haven’t tested that – but I have seen pages come up in the rankings (admittedly a few years ago) when this common sense advice was implemented.

  • http://www.raisemyrank.com/ Bob Gladstein

    I agree with Jonathan on XML sitemaps. Even on a relatively small site, they can serve some purpose.

    I also remain a fan of proper use of heading tags, although I don’t claim ranking to be among the benefits of their use. I think the structure of a page’s content is important, and it makes sense to me that that should be reflected by both the look of the page and its markup.

    And I have to admit, I’d love to be considered all cutting-edge techie and super-duper Googley. Maybe I can get one of my clients to use that phrase in a testimonial for me.

  • http://www.cmsearchmarketing.com PattiFousek

    Jill, I agree with your statement that the client needs to be willing to help. I once had a client who’s business was in a very competitive market who refused to add fresh content to the website.Then after a year of me pestering her to add content, she said: “my brother said SEO is easy, so why is my site not on the first page on Google?” Needless to say, she’s no longer a client.

    I also agree with Jack Leblond’s point about testing and watching trends.

  • http://www.highrankings.com/newsletter/ Jill Whalen

    @spirituality – you said: “but not advising clients to make sure there are text links to their categories”

    That’s not something I said in the article. In fact, I said, “the descriptive naming of internal anchor text.”

    But you can H1 your headlines all you want and I don’t think you’ll see a noticeable ranking difference.

    Now, as @Bob Gladstein said, it’s certainly a fine thing to do for your page in terms of its overall structure. But if your client is paying more targeted traffic, the structure of a page doesn’t usually provide that.

  • http://www.highrankings.com/newsletter/ Jill Whalen

    Oops, I can’t edit my comment apparently, but I mean to say,

    “In fact, I said, ‘the descriptive naming of internal anchor text.’ IS one of those things that ARE important.”

  • http://www.googleandblog.com/ Michael Martin

    Rand’s presentation at SMX Advanced provided the affirmation many needed to dissuade the SEO old school power of the H1 mentality – http://outspokenmedia.com/internet-marketing-conferences/seo-ranking-factors-in-2009/

    ,Michael Martin

  • http://ninebyblue.com/ Vanessa Fox

    Agree with Jonathan on Sitemaps — in addition to what he mentions, they can help with crawl efficiency, particularly when a site generates new pages. Sitemaps enable you to tell the search engines about those pages right away, rather than waiting for them to be found through links (whether or not the bot will then crawl and index those pages depends on a bunch of other factors, but obviously neither of those steps will happen unless the search engine knows about the pages in the first place).

    They are also used as a signal in canonicalization and I think Michael Gray recently did a post about a test he did that showed that for a brand new site with no links, a Sitemap helps get at least the home page (and perhaps a few more pages) indexed. And while that’s not enough, it’s a good starting point, particularly for a small non-commerce site (like a personal blog).

    As for keywords in URLs, I also generally advice against changing URLs just for this purpose, but if the site is being newly constructed or URLs are changing anyway, keyword-rich URLs can be helpful in getting good anchor text from external links, as well as for overall usability (increased CTR, sharability, etc.)

    I agree that H1s aren’t top priority, but I recommend that sites use semantic HTML when possible. It keeps the structure much cleaner and easier to update and if used properly (for instance, the page doesn’t have 10 H1s on it), it can be a (weak) signal, particularly with search engines such as Microsoft’s.

    Like, Jill, I am also frustrated when someone asked me to evaluate the value of their SEO firm and all I see being done are rankings reports, meta keywords suggestions, and site submission to directories. But I still have faith that this doesn’t represent “most” of SEO.

    SEO should be about things like:
    -understanding your audience through things like search data and web analytics
    -building a strategy that attracts and retains that audience (and compels them through the site to conversion)
    -ensuring the site is architected to be crawlable and the content extractable
    -providing useful content and engaging with the audience so the site is well-linked on the web

  • http://www.highrankings.com/newsletter/ Jill Whalen

    I couldn’t agree more with your 4 bullets at the end as to what SEO should be about.

  • http://www.marketingwords.com Karon Thackston

    Jill, you’re sort of like the Masked Magician that shows everyone how illusionists do their tricks :) This is not just an SEO problem; it’s an SEO copywriting problem, too.

    So many times, website owners think that all SEO copywriting involves is shoving keywords willy-nilly into copy until you reach a set keyword density ratio. Not!

    Vanessa, SEO copywriting is very much the same:

    -understanding your target audience through search data, web analytics and target audience analyses
    -building a strategy that attracts and retains that audience (and compels them through the site to conversion)
    -ensuring site content is optimized for the search engines without destroying the flow
    -providing useful content and engaging with the audience so the site is well-linked to and converts

    Well done, Jill!

  • http://sellitontheweb.com/blog/ Bill Hazelton

    SEO has to become more about engagement – both on page and off. On page optimization is more about understanding where the hash marks are on a football field. You find out where the boundaries are and you stay inside of those hash marks.

    Time wasted on things like \keyword densities\ and other on-page witchcraft is a joke. Learn what the hash marks are, stay in bounds and spend more time trying to engage your audience with content that will keep them engaged. On-page factors are too simple to manipulate and are the least important to ranking, especially for Google.

    IBL’s are obviously important but those will follow if you can actively engage influencers in your category with authoritative content. You can’t put the cart before the horse.

    Engagement is far more important because it’s a remarkable proxy for relevance, which Google appreciates somewhat ;-) The more engaged that you can get your audience with your content the better you will rank. If users are engaged, they’ll read the post/article, leave a comment and maybe even spend more time looking for more good articles/posts, even subscribe to your feed. They’ll Tweet it and link back to it as well.

    Google pays attention to that kind of post click user behavior because what people do after they click on search results matters even more for the next iteration of ranking, so on and so forth. All things being equal, the site that engages it’s audience more effectively with it’s content will outrank competing sites for a given term over the long haul.

    If you spend more time trying to engage your audience, increasing the avg. time spent and pages viewed per visit, reducing your bounce rates, building out your comment threads, growing your feed subscriber list, and your tweet counts, and the authority links and defensible ranking will surely follow. It never works in reverse people.

    Now, enough with this meta keyword and site submission crap. Complete hogwash.

    Engage your audience meaningfully and your rankings will come.

  • http://jozsoft.com Joe Hall

    Awesome article Jill! Sometimes, during in depth SEO discussions, or testing, I often find myself asking, “does this really matter?” And the vast majority of the times the answer is “no, no it doesn’t matter.” But, understanding this doesn’t stop me from starting up another seemingly useless discussion or test. Why? you might ask? Its because for some really crazy reason i have come to love search technology! And because of this the obviously pointless discussions become more of a curious fascination/obsession than anything with tangible results!

    So in the end, I am crazy like all the other search enthusiast!

  • http://www.juretic.com rhymeface

    Nice one, Jill Whalen! Hitting the nail on the head, as per usual.

    Seriously, all this pagerank scuplying tosh has been getting on my wick over the last couple of years.

    It seems so obvious that something like the nofollow attribute that Google itself brought to the table, can’t be used either as a long-spam technique for chancers, or as a supposedly legit way to bump your rankings.

    Also, I remember the reading about the H1s of little to no use with regards to on-page factors when Rand did that review of ranking factors (which I recall Jill participated in). It was news to me then so I tried it on website I was working. As predicted then, the website’s rankings didn’t move.

    Also, Bill Hazleton knows the score. Word to you, Bill.

  • http://www.brickmarketing.com nickstamoulis

    Hi Jill,
    This is a great (and often times funny post!)…you are right on the money throughout…

    I think the most powerful statement is right at the end…clients NEED TO get involved, it is essential otherwise they will not understand the basics or the long term strategy. Also, by not understanding why things are being completed, and the process/approach these types of hands off or non-responsive clients tend to loose interest and flake out…

    Anyway I am glad this was not an SEO is dead post! :o)

  • drenzul

    Meh, while in general I agree with you many of the specific points you raise are just wrong!

    Example, a client’s site (internal page) was appearing on page 3 of the search results for Google. All we did was go through and add H1, H2s e.t.c. to the page in place of the previous headings(same words, just changed the tags to tags) and bang, as soon as the site was crawled it was on the 1st half of page one for the same keyword. Thats more than a slight difference.

    Many other SEO techniques only make a ‘small’ amount of difference on their own however its the combined affect that is important. Neglecting one because the difference on it’s own isn’t huge isn’t a good plan. SEO should be the complete package of making the site better for search engine, not neglecting any factor.

    I do agree that many SEO techniques are a worthless smokescreen for bad SEO companies, its a bad idea to ignore factors that are known to have some affect. Perhaps there is simply a threshold on some things like H1, where after a particualar keyword has been repeated X number of times it no longer has an affect on your site?

  • drenzul

    meh, it picked up the tags and I can’t edit it! :)

  • http://run100miles.com surftrip

    “boondoggle” is the only cool thing about this article – but being a wordsmith, I suppose we should expect interesting nomenclature coming from you…

    But the rest of this article is, once again, same old crap.

    Dude’s article about local search: http://searchengineland.com/local-search-marketing-more-than-just-google-22252 is a great example of some ah-ha!-type writing with regards to utilizing SEO in a web 2.0 and beyond landscape.

    You’re still talking about METAs – even if to beat them up – and what exactly is your goal here? To call out other shops for still using the technique? To drive more people to believe they need expensive copywriters?


    You need to go back to your own forums and read some of the garbage there – tons and tons of old school crap floating around there too, so do you also fall into this category of legacy shop fallacy?

    Nope, I suppose you think more content, more content – so you leave that garbage live. It’s ok to edit and archive down forums you know…

    H1 editing is important. Period. Why? because, if done correctly, like a TITLE element, it provides descriptive text regarding the copy to be presented. If the element matches the H1, matches the copy, you’ve got a nice formula there and a good foundation for quality ranking and attracting links.

    As a copywriter, I’d think you’d totally get that.

    Sitemaps? sorry, but disagree there too – but I suppose we are entitled to our own opinions.

    The big picture problem is that folks like you in our industry have been writing articles so long, about the same ol’ stuff, it’s becoming more and more obvious you are running out of topics.

    Geee, kids, META Keywords are useless – there’s some cutting-edge perspective for ya.

    Sorry to be so negative. I love our industry and I have developed a career that far surpasses what I ever thought I’d be able to develop as an Internet Marketer, but we have GOT TO STEP UP the quality of content in our own house.

    We always to clients to create unique, useful content —- maybe the talking heads should follow that same advice.

  • http://www.highrankings.com/newsletter/ Jill Whalen

    @surftrip thanks for your comments, even if you disagree.

    Bottom line for me is that I’ll stop talking about this crap when companies stop wasting their client’s money on performing said crap.

    Oh, and for the record, I am not now, nor have I ever been a copywriter. Although I have the utmost respect and admiration for the rare good ones as it’s a much harder job than SEO.

    @drenzul are you sure the only thing you did was change your headings to H tags? No title tag tweaking going on at the same time, perhaps? Most people don’t just do H1’s without doing something else.

  • alexbennert

    Jill you are well-respected and widely read so I hope that my competitor’s SEOs are reading your gospel. :-) For news search, the H1 is rather mighty. And a sitemap will save your ass while you’re working on a relaunch or trying to sort out your client’s architecture issues. One-size-fits-all SEO is a much more egregious problem IMO. These tactics are simply tools. Depending on the circumstances, the tool that you rarely pick up may be the most crucial on you need at some point.

  • http://www.google.com/profiles/sweigold Sean Weigold Ferguson

    I definitely agree with the emphasis on integrating client, user, and search engine into the SEO process. Focusing too narrowly on one of the three is usually at the expense of at least one of the other two.

    In the spirit of this perhaps we should rename the field: Decision Engine Optimization (DEO). Terrible idea, great acronym ;-)

  • http://www.brentdpayne.com BrentDPayne

    Hindsight is always 20/20 isn’t Jill? But where were you and the naysayers when it was working well? When those of us that acted quickly saw the differences and gain an advantage for some period of time (albeit shorter than we expected)?

    Yes, utmost respect but your drum beating about how pointless PageRank sculpting was simply because the algo changed is getting old. Congrats! You were right in the long run but what if you weren’t? Plus, I don’t recall SEOs ripping on you for choosing not to do it.

    Putting PageRank Sculpting up there with ‘submitting a site’ is just wildly dramatic. I know we all have to work our angles and take whatever wins we can but this just seems . . . well a bit exhausting at this point.

  • http://www.totaltravel.com/ webtones

    Nice one Jill as I too get sick of the crap out there. We never wasted time or believed in PageRank sculpting & hence didn’t go into a panic like others. Same with sitemaps, we have one site with & one without which receives up to 80,000 visitors a day. The one without has no problems with new content being indexed quickly. Don’t know what a Boondoggle is but the word seems to sum it all up.

  • http://andybeard.eu AndyBeard

    Jill if you know PageRank sculpting has no effect, please tell us exactly what Google does with juice that evaporates from nofollow links, or dangling pages.

    I agree on sitemaps.

    I have seen removing an out of date minimal sitemap increase indexation by a factor of 10.
    It would be ideal to have the resources necessary to keep a sitemap up to date for millions of pages, but often engineering focus is better spent elsewhere.

  • stuartpturner

    Totally with Brent on this one.

    This kind of sensationalist writing just serves to fuel confusion and mistrust of of people who are actual professional SEOs and internet marketeers, as well as undermine their hard work.

    Aside from the fact that Aaron Wall already covered this in much more pithy detail over on SEObook last month.

    The fact that you suggest using a sitemap is a waste of time is quite astounding considering the difference it makes to crawl speed (here’s one example of many)

  • http://www.4walls.us ellenthompson

    Unfortunately, a lot of people believe what they read online, and a lot of the SEO articles out there are filled with inaccurate information, e.g. you need to fix your keywords.

    We believe it’s all about content. We get great SEO results where we have good to great content and bad SEO where we do the same “SEO stuff” but don’t have the content to back it up.

  • http://sellitontheweb.com/blog/ Bill Hazelton

    Google’s algorithm is far too sophisticated to be impacted by a simple change in an H1 tag left in a vacuum.

    How do you think Google could more meaningfully measure relevance on a page in a way that couldn’t easily be manipulated by on-page factors? How easy is it to change an H1 tag and does that legitimately change the value or improve the relevance of the document all other things left unchanged? How does a change to an H1 tag improve relevance if the other page elements are left alone?

    If changing the H1 tag results in increased post-click activity from SERPS, ie more time spent on the page, additional page views per visit, a reduced bounce rate, then YES changing the H1 tag can improve your rankings.

    Changing an H1 tag by itself with all other things left unchanged won’t do diddly for Google’s rankings.

    Getting your audience to pay more attention by improving the relevance of the H1 tag for any given query and getting them more engaged in your content WILL improve your rankings.

    In the SEO community, far too little attention is paid to post-SERPs click behavior.

    Of the 3 items below, what is both the hardest factor to manipulate and simultaneously the strongest indication for relevancy for a given search?

    -Post-Click Behavior?
    -Off-Page Factors?
    -On-Page Factors?

  • http://twitter.com/Pose83 JoDarby

    I completely agree that the client needs to get involved. Our poor SEO agency is having a really hard time convincing us that anything they’re doing for our generic SEO is making an impact. We’re a big brand and therefore most of our search terms contain the brand name, which natural comes near the top of natural listings.

    I feel we’d be better off sacking off the agency and using the abundant knowledge and resource we have in-house to optimise our 90s website better.

  • spirituality

    Alright – you’ve convinced me on the on the headings (h1 etc). I do think in my example the title tags were changed too. I guess it’s the sort of thing that just doesn’t matter much to my day to day practice: I will still be building websites with h1, h2, h3 etc. tags, because it just makes sense to do it that way from an accessibility perspective (and they’re great handles for CSS purposes). But it isn’t surprising google has found ways to figure out what the most important text on a page is without those.

    It’s the disadvantage of doing a lot of things – glad to see people specializing enough to test this sort of thing. I’ll go back to focusing on content now :)

  • smnmnmndman

    I’m a recent member here, but I generally make my rounds and stop by once a week for a quick-read.

    You’re incorrect about a few things.

    One example of a page I optimized was for a menu website. Adding H1 tags to the header section of each paragraph which contained the keyword phrase I was vying for, got me a number 3 ranking in Google SERPS; that has been consistent ever since. I did this many weeks after optimizing the page other ways. It was the H1 tags that threw it over the top, several weeks later.

    I’m not sure if this is your Jerry MaGuire-esque attempt at separating yourself from other SEO’s, so you can tell your clients that you’re better than the rest, but I hope your clients understand why they don’t get the traffic they’re looking for after your attempt to do things your “tried and true way.”

    Meta Keywords work too…and not just in specialized, tiny search engines. I’ve optimized a page and only used this particular keyword phrase in the Meta Keywords to see if I could possibly get it to rank in Google’s SERPS for it, and alas, it did. It’s the only place that keyword phrase is found in the entire site.

    Maybe you should come down from your cloud, and start actually trying a few of these techniques, because it appears that you’re spending too much time at a “high-level” view and, well to put it simply, you’re bsing your way through SEO-talk. You sound like a salesperson to me.

    I hope whichever potential clients out there, researching the hype of SEO and find this page, read this comment. From someone that does SEO a lot, and pushes the envelope, some things that are negated here, do work. There are people that will take the mechanic approach, and try to bs their way into your pocketbook, but that’s not all of us.