Webmasters Gravitate Towards Ethical Website Promotion

Alpharetta, GA (PRWEB) July 30, 2004

Webmasters Gravitate Toward Ethical Website Promotion

Webmasters that previously used unsolicited emailings and questionable search engine optimization tactics to promote their web-based businesses are now turning a new leaf toward ethical site promotion.

For most web-based businesses, a high search engine ranking can mean the difference between profit and loss. With almost 80% of people finding websites by utilizing a search engine, high positioning is critical. But what lengths will a webmaster or small business owner go to get their websites on top and ahead of the competition?

Some website operators are turning to individuals and companies who profess to be experts in Search Engine Optimization, also known as SEO. In short, SEO specialists work with a website in an attempt to make the site rise in the search engine rankings. Does SEO work? Results are varied, and some claims from SEO gurus with “guaranteed #1 search engine placement” are akin to television commercials for full hair regrowth or sales pitches for “like new” used cars.

SEOs employ two main tactics. The first has the SEO expert analyzing the content and structure of the website in question. By making changes to how the website is organized, the placement and wording of text content, and to specific website coding, a qualified SEO specialist works to make a website “search engine friendly.” While the website may be easier read by search engine “spiders” (automated web-surfing robots that gather data) it can often leave website text less than friendly for human site visitors. The strategy adds multiple keywords to homepage text with the belief that the search engine spiders perceive the page as more relevant for a single topic. For example, a website selling automobile parts may have the words “auto parts” placed in its homepage text in a number of places. In many cases, the paragraphs of “optimized” text achieve their search engine goals, but at the expense of the text sounding nonsensical to humans. Another SEO trick is to place large paragraphs of keyword rich text within a website’s homepage, specifically to be picked up by search engine spiders. Good luck finding this text, though. The reason you never see it is because the text is usually hidden – colored the same as the webpage’s background to make the text invisible to human eyes, but still discernible by the search engines.

The second main tactic to search engine optimization is generating reciprocal links. Linking, in particular reciprocal linking, has been around since the beginning of the internet. Hyperlinks that appear on one website and take a visitor to another website when clicked is in essence what the web is all about. In the internet’s infancy, displaying a link to another site was considered a “vote” for the legitimacy and quality of that linked website. In return, many webmasters reciprocated the link, partially as a “thank you” for the vote, and additionally to help drive traffic to the referring site. Over time, search engines determined that these links were an easy and fairly accurate way to calculate the value and prevalence of any given website. Doug McGaughey, analyst for Creative NetVentures, Inc. explains, “The more links that were pointing back to one website, the more legitimate the site and thus, the higher the rank in the search engines. At the time, it made complete sense.”

Over the next year or so, webmasters began to understand the correlation between links and search engine ranking, and the concept of “link popularity” was born. In short, link popularity was defined as the number of links pointing back to your own website. Webmasters then started placing links on their own websites, not for the goal of giving “votes” of confidence to other pages, but rather to acquire reciprocal links back to their own site for the sole purpose of achieving higher search engine rankings. For a while, the websites with the most reciprocal links and the highest link popularity were ranked at the top of the search engines. Any webmaster with some patience and minimal abilities was able to push a website, regardless of its quality, to the top of the search engines.

Link swapping became very important, but was never an easy task. Soon, software that would surf the web looking for email addresses of other webmasters (potential link swap partners) came into being. Programs that automated link swaps offered webmasters a “quick fix” and reduced the human element and thoughtfulness in the process. Within time, the pure and essential nature of linking had been corrupted and utilized for ill gains. Linking was no longer done to give “votes” of confidence to other websites – it was performed simply to rise in search engine rankings.

Since a search engine’s legitimacy goes only as far as the websites it lists, the search engines quickly responded. Search algorithms became less dependent on links to calculate ranking. Instead, they began to employ other variables like meta tags and keyword density to help determine the rank of a website. Linking still played an important part, but its role was rightfully diminished.

Fast forward to 2004. As the search engines got smarter, so did the webmasters. At this point in the game, webmasters are coming to the conclusion that sneaky optimization tactics can be harmful to their websites, alienate their site visitors, and at worst, result in a website being “banned” or de-listed from the search engines altogether.

Today’s website promotion focuses less on the “quick fix” of SEO tactics, and more on long-term relationship building that takes time to craft and implement. The new web promotion strategies are geared toward attracting qualified visitors to a page and giving them a user experience that makes them want to return in the future. Big paragraphs of keyword-stuffed text and links pages that display links to any random website willing to reciprocate are no longer the accepted norm. Instead, webmasters are taking the time to craft their websites to be user friendly, not search engine friendly – definitely a hark back to the web’s early days.

The problem with this more ethical form of web promotion is that it is more laborious to undertake, and the rewards are reaped over time rather than immediately. For the busy small business owner or webmaster, it is tempting to take the “low road” and continue to play games with the search engines in an attempt to achieve faster results. In particular, linking to create quality themed directories is a huge task to undertake, but critical to a website that wants to give their users a complete experience. An online service called LinksManager.com stepped up to the plate in 2001 to help webmasters with the linking process. Unlike the old software that harvested email addresses and gathered irrelevant links automatically, the LinksManager software puts humans in charge to make their own decisions, and steer their own way. President and CEO Joel Lesser explains; “LinksManager is software designed for the webmaster who wants to promote a website in a conscientious way. The only automation in place speeds up processes like page coding, uploads, and dead link checking that take time away from building solid relationships on the web.” The LinksManager software lets webmasters create organized directories of links they manually find on their own. “The human element is inserted in every step of the linking process when using LinksManager. It makes the process fast and easy, yet thoughtful.” states Lesser.

Relevancy seems to be the key to building a website that is both user friendly, and well received by the search engines. Dirk Johnson of LinkStrategy.com spends his days helping clients learn more about linking in an ethical manner. “I have yet to see a case where vigorous and responsible reciprocal linking, combined with proper and ethical site optimization, has not paid excellent dividends.”

The newly recognized best approach to web promotion is to focus on the user’s experience, and disregard what linking does or does not do with regards to search engine ranking. An oft-used quote from an old movie says, “if you build it, they will come.” Although a bit simplistic when regarding web design and promotion, it is basically true. With patience and diligence, building a themed directory of links to other quality websites will pay off in increased traffic to your own site. Are webmasters buying it? They are, and in droves. An anonymous webmaster on a popular net forum confessed to his/her peers, “Clean website promotion is so liberating! My days of spam and trickery are thankfully over!”

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