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What to look for in a search engine optimization specialist
By Shari Thurow and Detlev Johnson - March 05, 2001

Search engines are the primary way most people find websites, but website designers forget to think of this when they create their sites. Often, site designers will make the mistake of building the website first and then contacting a search engine optimization (SEO) specialist to make that site search-engine friendly.

What most site owners do not realize is that a search engine optimization specialist should be brought into the design process early, not after the site has been built. It is disconcerting to find out that you are a dollar short and a day late.

Most so-called search engine optimization specialists are people who slap keywords and keyword phrases inside of HTML tags without considering an overall online marketing strategy. On the other hand, there are people who can write for the search engines, analyze site statistics, have a thorough knowledge of spider-friendly HTML, have considerable experience with SEO in multiple industries, and stay up-to-date on search engine happenings. These are the true search engine experts.

This article addresses five important points to consider when looking for an SEO specialist to work on your site.

Search Engine vs. Directory

A true search engine optimization specialist knows the difference between a search engine and a directory, and will keep the two types of websites separate in their promotion strategies. The strategies for being listed well in search engines are completely different from the strategies for being listed well in directories.

Search engine optimization is designing, writing, and coding (in HTML) a website or some of its pages so that there is a good chance that these web pages will appear at the top of search engine results for selected keywords and key phrases. Factors that affect search engine rankings include keyword concentration, keyword placement, link popularity, and so forth.

Directory enhancement is the process of selecting the most appropriate categories for a website and writing descriptions that concisely and accurately describe the content of the site or a web page without keyword stacking. Factors that affect directory placement are selecting the right category and writing a good description.

Reconsider hiring an SEO specialist who consistently refers to directories (Yahoo!, LookSmart, Open Directory, NBCi, etc.) as search engines.

Keyword Research

A majority of an SEO specialist's time should be spent on researching the keywords your target audience is most likely to type in a search query and incorporating these words and phrases into your web pages. You will undoubtedly be surprised to find what your audience is typing in.

The most important tags in an SEO specialist's arsenal are title tags and the main body text. Meta tags, alternative text, and comment tags are supplemental; having extra keywords in these tags alone will not give long-term results.


No one should guarantee a search engine ranking. Search engines regularly change their algorithms. What works one day might not work the next day. Search engines want to differentiate their results from one another. They want "fresh" results from their spidering efforts to appear when ready, and to flush their index of spam whenever possible. It is for these reasons that they tweak algorithms.


Programmers who make software that steals other sites' content to generate gateway pages are not search engine experts. Companies whose sole business is generating gateway pages are not search engine experts. (We have yet to see a gateway page get good link popularity.) You can spot these companies by learning whether they host the pages themselves and "redirect" the user to your domain.

To get the best long-term results, a website should be constructed with quality content and a navigation scheme that search engines can spider. Software cannot generate this type of website.

Cloaking and Gateway/Doorway Pages

Search engines have made it very clear that the web page delivered to the search engine spider and the web page delivered to the end user should be the same. If not, the search engines consider it spam and will have the site promptly removed from the search engine database.

Many search engine optimization companies use scare tactics to convince people that cloaking is necessary. They will tell you that others can figure out your online marketing strategy just by looking at your web pages. ("Stealing your meta tags" is a common scare tactic used.) This is not an accurate characterization of the situation at all. In fact, we outlined above that meta-tags alone are simply not effective.

If the content of your page is stolen, then it is copyright infringement. Cloaking can hide copyright infringement behind the stealth script. This is one of the many reasons why search engines dislike cloaking and eventually may ban its use. Other reasons might be that search engines lose control over where they direct users. If a stealth marketer swipes code for a top position of "flowers" and then redirects the searcher to a furniture outlet store, it harms both the engine and its users.

Stay safe. If the search engines ever decide to ban cloaking, stealth or IP delivery, you will be safe if you never used it.

In conclusion, to get the best long-term results in both the search engines and the directories, build a good website. Make your pages easy to read. Give the search engines and your end users a navigation scheme that they can easily follow.

Learn to write your content using the words and phrases your target audience will type into a search query. By giving your target audience exactly what they are searching for via a search engine query, you are not only giving your target audience what they are searching for. You are also adding value to the search engines.

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