The Donald Rumsfeld Manifesto and Search Engine Optimization

For those of you who know me, you understand that I hate politics… especially in the real world. That is probably one of the reasons why I hide behind this ergonomic keyboard, safe from getting annoyed, digusted, or gawdforbid, into a heated discussion with a friend or neighbor. As usual, I will use the mortgage industry as an example here, but it applies to anyone doing business on the net.


When clients ask my partner Robert about search engine optimization (SEO), he likes to quote former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, who Robert claims is highly relevant to search engine marketing. Mr. Rumsfeld was quoted as saying, “There are known knowns; there are things we know we know. We also know there are known unknowns, that is to say we know there are some things we do not know. But there are also unknown unknowns – the ones we don’t know we don’t know.”

Then he tells the client that is how SEO works, whether Google, Yahoo!, MSN or any other engine. Search engines seem to more closely to the world of TV Star Trek than the real world. The engines have nonlinear boundaries, appear to operate in multiple dimensions, somehow contain all the information known to man and have unwritten rules that frequently change, without warning.


Here is what we know… If you want to be found on the internet you need to be found in the databases of Google, Yahoo! and MSN. Other engines are nice to be found in as well, but these three will account for 98% of traffic.


Matt Cutts is a Google employee who states on his web site “Hi, I joined Google as a software engineer in January 2000. I’m currently the head of the Google’s Webspam team. I sometimes blog about things, but please bear in mind my disclaimer that the views expressed on these pages are mine alone and not those of my employer.”

Here are some comments from on some “known unknowns” about Google and ranking.

URL NAMING: Using dashes over underscores to delimit words in URLs is better. In example, is better than

SPAM STRATEGY: Overall Google’s strategy is to not spend time on correcting individual spam cases, but to concentrate on creating a better algorithm which takes into account spamming. Having said that, Google will take action on specific cases of spam.

SITE MAPS: A site map won’t necessarily get your site crawled. It is more important to have good quality links to your site to achieve a higher degree of full site indexing.

SELLING LINKS: In order to artificially create a sense of high quality links, many sites buy links to their own sites. If you sell links, you should mark them with the nofollow tag. Not doing so can affect your reputation in Google. Earned-links are earned and given by choice. Google does consider buying text links for PageRank purposes to be outside our quality guidelines. Google’s is against selling/buying links, and Matt indicates they are good at spotting them – both algorithmically and manually. Sites that sell links can lose their trust in search engines.

EGO AND SPLASH PAGES: It’s not only Googlebot who doesn’t watch a 20 second video load before the home page comes into view. A lot of users don’t either. Splash pages can negatively impact your Google indexing.

FLASH VS. HTML: If you use Flash, you create a HTML version as well. HTML is easier to index and improves your chances of getting indexed.

META TITLES: Each pages should have its own unique and descriptive < title > tag and headings for every page. In example, if your company is called Mortgage Promote, then Mortgage Promote should not be the meta title on every page. Titles should reflect the page substance. If you page is about San Diego Home Loans, then that should be the meta title.

SAY WHAT YOU MEAN: If your site is about “San Diego home loans” but the visible content of your site says “Get your mortgage loan with us,” you won’t be found for San Diego home loans” because those words aren’t visible to the visitor.


RANKING PARAMETERS: Factors such as “Page Rank (Google tool bar)” and “inbound links (more is better)” and “trusted sites (colleges and major corporations)” and “age of domain (older is better)” and “keywords embedded in URL (ie vs” and “ownership (do you own too many similar type domains?)” and a plethora of other unknown unknowns all impact where your site appears in the Google rankings.

GOOGLE UPDATES: Google updates everything all at the same time, typically every three or six months. This is what causes massive changes in rankings.

CLICK FRAUD: Many people want to know how Google prevents click fraud, but Google isn’t telling. Google’s priority is to protect advertisers, so that means not disclosing any proprietary methods which would allow click fraud perpetrators to reverse-engineer our systems.


Achieving success is not about doing a few things 100% right, it is about doing hundreds of things, many of which you don’t even know, 100% right. As you can see, Rumsfeld was in a can’t win situation. He had do everything right, he even had to be right in things he didn’t know about. He couldn’t and that is how he lost his top ranking.

Maybe we should update Rumsfeld’s quote to reflect the uncertainty of the search engines. “There are right rights; there are things we know we do right. We also know there are wrong rights, that is to say we know there are some things we should not do if they are not right. But there are also unknown right and wrongs – the ones we don’t know we don’t know if they are right, or wrong.”

Now if that makes sense… you can do the right thing and get your site highly ranked in the search engines.

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