Protecting Your Search Engine Rankings

Your website’s ranking on search engines is a vital elementof your overall marketing campaign, and there are ways toimprove your link popularity through legitimate methods.Unfortunately, the Internet is populated by bands ofdishonest webmasters seeking to improve their link popularity by faking out search engines.

The good news is that search engines have figured this out,and are now on guard for “spam” pages and sites that haveincreased their rankings by artificial methods. When asearch engines tracks down such a site, that site isdemoted in ranking or completely removed from the search engine’s index.

The bad news is that some high quality, completelyabove-board sites are being mistaken for these web pagecriminals. Your page may be in danger of being caught up inthe “spam” net and tossed from a search engine’s index,even though you have done nothing to deserve such harshtreatment. But there are things you can do – and things youshould be sure NOT to do – which will prevent this kind of misperception.

Link popularity is mostly based on the quality of sites youare linked to. Google pioneered this criteria for assigningwebsite ranking, and virtually all search engines on theInternet now use it. There are legitimate ways to go aboutincreasing your link popularity, but at the same time, youmust be scrupulously careful about which sites you chooseto link to. Google frequently imposes penalties on sitesthat have linked to other sites solely for the purpose ofartificially boosting their link popularity. They have actually labeled these links “bad neighborhoods.”

You can raise a toast to the fact that you cannot bepenalized when a bad neighborhood links to your site;penalty happens only when you are the one sending out thelink to a bad neighborhood. But you must check, anddouble-check, all the links that are active on your links page to make sure you haven’t linked to a bad neighborhood.

The first thing to check out is whether or not the pagesyou have linked to have been penalized. The most direct wayto do this is to download the Google toolbar athttp://toolbar.google.com. You will then see that mostpages are given a “Pagerank” which is represented by a sliding green scale on the Google toolbar.

Do not link to any site that shows no green at all on thescale. This is especially important when the scale iscompletely gray. It is more than likely that these pageshave been penalized. If you are linked to these pages, youmay catch their penalty, and like the flu, it may be difficult to recover from the infection.

There is no need to be afraid of linking to sites whosescale shows only a tiny sliver of green on their scale.These sites have not been penalized, and their links maygrow in value and popularity. However, do make sure thatyou closely monitor these kind of links to ascertain thatat some point they do not sustain a penalty once you have linked up to them from your links page.

Another evil trick that illicit webmasters use toartificially boost their link popularity is the use ofhidden text. Search engines usually use the words on webpages as a factor in forming their rankings, which meansthat if the text on your page contains your keywords, youhave more of an opportunity to increase your search engineranking than a page that does not contain text inclusive of keywords.

Some webmasters have gotten around this formula by hidingtheir keywords in such a way so that they are invisible toany visitors to their site. For example, they have used thekeywords but made them the same color as the backgroundcolor of the page, such as a plethora of white keywords ona white background. You cannot see these words with thehuman eye – but the eye of search engine spider can spotthem easily! A spider is the program search engines use toindex web pages, and when it sees these invisible words, it goes back and boosts that page’s link ranking.

Webmasters may be brilliant and sometimes devious, but search engines have figured these tricks out. As soon as a search engine perceive the use of hidden text – splat! the page is penalized.

The downside of this is that sometimes the spider is a bitoverzealous and will penalize a page by mistake. Forexample, if the background color of your page is gray, andyou have placed gray text inside a black box, the spiderwill only take note of the gray text and assume you areemploying hidden text. To avoid any risk of false penalty,simply direct your webmaster not to assign the same color to text as the background color of the page – ever!

Another potential problem that can result in a penalty iscalled “keyword stuffing.” It is important to have yourkeywords appear in the text on your page, but sometimes youcan go a little overboard in your enthusiasm to pleasethose spiders. A search engine uses what is called”Keyphrase Density” to determine if a site is trying toartificially boost their ranking. This is the ratio ofkeywords to the rest of the words on the page. Searchengines assign a limit to the number of times you can use akeyword before it decides you have overdone it and penalizes your site.

This ratio is quite high, so it is difficult to surpasswithout sounding as if you are stuttering – unless yourkeyword is part of your company name. If this is the case,it is easy for keyword density to soar. So, if your keywordis “renters insurance,” be sure you don’t use this phrasein every sentence. Carefully edit the text on your site sothat the copy flows naturally and the keyword is notrepeated incessantly. A good rule of thumb is your keywordshould never appear in more than half the sentences on the page.

The final potential risk factor is known as “cloaking.” Tothose of you who are diligent Trekkies, this concept shouldbe easy to understand. For the rest of you?cloaking is whenthe server directs a visitor to one page and a searchengine spider to a different page. The page the spider seesis “cloaked” because it is invisible to regular traffic,and deliberately set-up to raise the site’s search engineranking. A cloaked page tries to feed the spider everythingit needs to rocket that page’s ranking to the top of the list.

It is natural that search engines have responded to thisact of deception with extreme enmity, imposing steeppenalties on these sites. The problem on your end is thatsometimes pages are cloaked for legitimate reasons, such asprevention against the theft of code, often referred to as”pagejacking.” This kind of shielding is unnecessary thesedays due to the use of “off page” elements, such as link popularity, that cannot be stolen.

To be on the safe side, be sure that your webmaster isaware that absolutely no cloaking is acceptable. Make surethe webmaster understands that cloaking of any kind will put your website at great risk.

Just as you must be diligent in increasing your linkpopularity and your ranking, you must be equally diligentto avoid being unfairly penalized. So be sure to monitoryour site closely and avoid any appearance of artificially boosting your rankings.

About the Author: Charles Preston is President of Click Response a website marketing firm that focuses on better ROI for small businesses and affordable search engine optimization solutions. Search engine optimization and compelling marketing copy is the key to small business success online. Visit http://www.clickresponse.net/Search/default.htm