It takes careful design to convince search engines to "find" your site.
If people know about your Web site, they will most likely get there by typing in the URL or by following a bookmark. But if they don't know about it--which is probably the case unless you're a very well known brand with an intuitive URL or have spent a mint on banner campaigns--they may only find your site by default, either through a random link from another site or from a search engine query.
While you can't count on random links driving an audience to your site, search engines offer a real opportunity for exposure. According to a July study by PC-Meter, approximately 68.7% of Web users surveyed visited at least one search engine during the month of July.
When you submit your URL to a search engine, it will send out a spider to index your site according to one or more of the following criteria:
When someone types a keyword into a search engine, it will return a certain percentage of the results, ranked according to how closely each page or site matches the search engines indexing criteria. Therefore, unless you rank within, say, the top 20, your site may as well be number 437,950. To complicate matters, all the search engines index sites according to different criteria.
Inevitably, people have invented certain tricks to ensure their site ranks at the top of a results page when particular keywords are submitted for a query. However, primitive methods, like pasting the same word over and over at the top of the page, fail for several reasons. Most search engines include an abstract as part of the result -- usually the first chunk of text that appears on the page. An abstract that simply says DISCOUNT twenty-five times may not be descriptive enough to get clicked on. A similar trick that hides the repeated word from the end-user behind a background of the same color fails because the search engines are getting smart -- repeated words, as well as unpunctuated sentences, are completely ignored by some of the search engines.
The best approach is the straightforward one, especially as the spiders become more and more intelligent. The following guidelines will help boost your rank across most of the popular search engines.
META tags live in the <HEAD> element of the page, are invisible to the end-user, and function as name-value containers that allow you to add a description and keywords to your page.
Again, be as straightforward and coherent as possible, because you'll want your description to not only read cleanly should it show up on a results page, but also be so precise that it provokes a click. Repeat words only in context. For example, if you want to stress the word interactive, instead of repeating it like this:
try something like this:
When you list your keywords, pinpoint the most relevant words and use them several times, paired with other keywords.
Keywords used in visible text should, of course, be embedded in relevant, descriptive sentences instead of appearing as lists of words, which will be confusing and irrelevant to anyone looking at the page. With this in mind, repeat your selected keywords as often as possible, because in some cases your rank will be determined according to how many times a particular word appears on the page.
Top portion of page
Words that appear in the top portion of the page--usually the first 200 or so--may be weighted more heavily by the spiders. It's important, therefore, to stuff your keywords and descriptions into the top portion of the page, both within and outside of META tags. For example, instead of using an image to introduce your site, begin with a descriptive HTML introduction. The description you use in your META tag may be repeated as visible text like this:
Also, be sure that any Java Script that appears at the top of the page is placed within a Java compiler to ensure it isn't used either as a means for indexing the page or as part of the abstract that will be visible to the end-user.
Even if a search engine doesn't use the TITLE tag as an indexing criterion, the very fact that the TITLE appears at the top of the page may influence your rank. Try to be as civilian and straightforward as possible. For example, instead of titling a page www.webweavers.com, title it WebWeavers Interactive Design, Production, and Marketing.
Ditto for file name. Instead of naming your page something like www.webweavers.com/index.htm, try a more descriptive name, like www.webweavers.com/webdesign.htm.
Here's a quick look at how the different search engines rank search results:
Alta Vista (www.altavista.digital.com)
Indexes all the words on the page. Higher scores result when keywords appear among the first few words of the page, including in the TITLE; when they appear in close proximity to each other; and when they appear more than once. If supplied with a META tag, Alta Vista will use those descriptions and keywords to index the page as well as deliver an abstract to the end-user.
Uses its own system, called Intelligent Concept Extraction (ICE), to rank pages based on concept rather than simply matching up keywords. excite uses its smarts to abstract, too, by summarizing all the information on the page instead of just serving up the first chunk of words.
Uses the Inktomi (www.inktomi.com) search engine and a database of over 50 million documents. Scores according to word frequency, title, META tag keywords, and ratio of keywords to length of document. HotBot is able to spot cheating and will give a document a lower score for it. Inktomi's next incarnation promises to search on Java, VRML, and Netscape plug-ins, as well as allowing the end-user to limit searches by date, domain, or continent.
Scores according to word frequency, uniqueness of word (i.e. common words rank lower than uncommon ones), and combinations of words. Infoseek not only allows the use of META tag descriptions and keywords, but encourages it -- with some restrictions. Descriptions may contain up to 200 characters and keywords, up to a total of 1,000 characters of text. Keywords repeated more than 7 times in the META tag will be ignored. Infoseek allows the ALT tag to contain the description if a page is graphic-intensive.
Ranks pages according to word location on the page and proximity to other words. Titles and file names that match a query are given higher ranks than META tags and words found elsewhere on the page. Lycos is also able to catch you cheating and will penalize you for it.
More like a directory, Yahoo uses keywords to match a query with Yahoo categories (that contain Web sites) or with individual Web sites. Lists categories in alphabetical order.
To make sure that the search engines know about your site -- especially if you've given it a makeover to more successfully court the spiders -- it's important to re-submit your URL(s). You may want to do this either by individually submitting your URL(s) to each of the search engines listed above, or by using a submission service such as www.exploit.com or www.submit-it.com.
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