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) […]

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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.

Contributing authors are invited to create content for Search Engine Land and are chosen for their expertise and contribution to the search community. Our contributors work under the oversight of the editorial staff and contributions are checked for quality and relevance to our readers. The opinions they express are their own.

About the author

Ian Lurie
Ian Lurie founded Portent, Inc. and is now an independent digital marketing consultant advising clients on SEO, content, analytics, and strategy. You can find him at https://www.ianlurie.com

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