Stakes Get Higher in Search Ranking Game

By Matthew Hicks  |  Posted 2004-11-19 Print this article Print

Reporter's Notebook: Search marketers and the search engines may be friendly with one another, but the tactics and countertactics for top rankings remain alive and well.

LAS VEGAS—A casual observer might not give the rankings of search-engine results a second glance, but the thousands of Webmasters who gathered here this week watch their every move. Figuring out how to legitimately influence those rankings by tweaking site content and technology was the major theme during discussions and sessions at the World Search Conference. Search engine marketers and representatives from major search engines, including Google Inc., Yahoo Inc. and Ask Jeeves Inc., gathered during the three-day event. And it was clear that the cat-and-mouse game between the sites and engines was alive and well.
"As the industry grows theres more at stake, and its getting more sophisticated," Michael Palka, Ask Jeeves director of product management, said about techniques to influence the engines.
Click here to read more about the impact on Webmasters of a major Google index tweak. The conflicting interests of marketers and search engines appeared most visible in discussions of the strategies sites use to boost links from other sites in order to gain in link popularity, one of the factors considered in the rankings of major engines. Search marketers led sessions about developing linking campaigns without going too far into practices such as buying and selling links that search engines consider suspect. Meanwhile, in the small exhibit hall, affiliate marketers and link brokers touted programs to buy and exchange links. One top search-engine marketer steered Webmasters away from centering link campaigns on purchased links or link exchange with any type of site. "Dont think that throwing money at link campaigns is an aggressive solution," said Bruce Clay, president of Bruce Clay Inc., an Internet business consultancy in Moorpark, Calif. Large numbers of links coming from the same IP address raise a red flag to search engines, which could penalize a site because it suspects an orchestrated exchange of links, Clay said. He also warned Webmasters not to judge links solely by their quantity, especially when comparing a site against its competitors. "If another site has 500 sites linking to it, that doesnt mean you need 500 links," Clay said. "You need 40 of the right links." Still, links often can make or break a site, particularly when it is new. Links to and from a site help search engines determine how to index and rank it. "The reality is, especially when starting a new project, you are what your links say you are," said Greg Boser, president of WebGuerrilla LLC, a search marketing company in Valencia, Calif. "And once you get anchor text on the Web established saying youre one thing, its hard to shift that down the road." Next Page: Dealing with search-spam problems.

Matthew Hicks As an online reporter for, Matt Hicks covers the fast-changing developments in Internet technologies. His coverage includes the growing field of Web conferencing software and services. With eight years as a business and technology journalist, Matt has gained insight into the market strategies of IT vendors as well as the needs of enterprise IT managers. He joined Ziff Davis in 1999 as a staff writer for the former Strategies section of eWEEK, where he wrote in-depth features about corporate strategies for e-business and enterprise software. In 2002, he moved to the News department at the magazine as a senior writer specializing in coverage of database software and enterprise networking. Later that year Matt started a yearlong fellowship in Washington, DC, after being awarded an American Political Science Association Congressional Fellowship for Journalist. As a fellow, he spent nine months working on policy issues, including technology policy, in for a Member of the U.S. House of Representatives. He rejoined Ziff Davis in August 2003 as a reporter dedicated to online coverage for Along with Web conferencing, he follows search engines, Web browsers, speech technology and the Internet domain-naming system.

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