This section is primarily for webmasters, site owners and web marketers.
It explains how search engines find and rank web pages, with an emphasis on what webmasters can do to improve their search engine rankings by properly submitting, using better page design, HTML meta tags, and other tips.
Essentials of Search Engine Submission
1. search engine submission
Intro To search engine submission
Have no fear. This guide will take you through the essential and relatively easy steps you can take to get listed with search engines.
Before we begin, it's important to make a distinction between search engine submission and search engine optimization. These terms, along with others, are sometimes used synonymously to discuss different efforts to promote sites on search engines. However, within this section of Search Engine Watch, they will be used to refer to some very specific activities.
search engine submission : Getting Listed
Getting listed does not mean that you will necessarily rank well for particular terms, however. It simply means that the search engine knows your pages exist.
Think of it like a lottery. Search engine submission is akin to you purchasing a lottery ticket. Having a ticket doesn't mean that you will win, but you must have a ticket to have any chance at all.
search engine optimization: Improving The Odds
"Search engine optimization" refers to the act of altering your site so that it may rank well for particular terms, especially with crawler-based search engines (what these are will be explained later in this guide).
Returning to the lottery model, let's assume there was a way to increase the odds of winning by picking your lottery numbers carefully. Search engine optimization is akin to this. It's making sure that the numbers you select are more likely to win than purchasing a set of numbers at random.
search engine placement & positioning: Ranking Well
Terms such as "search engine placement," "search engine positioning" and "search engine ranking" refer to a site actually doing well for particular terms or for a range of terms at search engines. This is the ultimate goal for many people -- to get that "top ten" ranking for a particular keyword or search terms.
search engine marketing & promotion: The Overall Process
Terms such as "search engine marketing" or "search engine promotion" refer to the overall process of marketing a site on search engines. This includes submission, optimization, managing paid listings and more.
These terms also highlight the fact that doing well with search engines is not just about submitting right, optimizing well or getting a good rank for a particular term. It's about the overall job of improving how your site interacts with search engines, so that the audience you seek can find you.
2. Submission Budget
Your search engine submission budget
Despite the rise in "paid participation" programs offered by search engines, free search engine submission is still possible. However, using the paid programs that are offered will speed up the listing process and almost certainly generate more search engine related traffic for your web site.
Given this, it is highly recommended that any site owner establish a search engine submission budget. This is true whether you are running a commercial web site, a "hobbyist" site in your own time or a site for a non-profit organization.
The minimum budget: yahoo
How much to budget? At minimum, you MAY want to cover submission to Yahoo's human-compiled directory for one year. This is because the flat £190 annual fee that Yahoo charges may help ensure that major crawler-based search engines pick up your home page quickly.
Huh? Pay to be in human-compiled results in hopes of influencing crawlers? Crawlers analyze links from across the web to decide which pages they should pick up and potentially rank well. Being listed in Yahoo's human-compiled directory is potentially one of the best links you can gain, to influence crawlers.
It may be that crawlers will find your page and perhaps rank it well even without the benefit of a Yahoo link. So if money is tight, wait two or three months after you launch your site and see how you do. If you still aren't doing well with crawlers, then spending the money with Yahoo may help you.
I Need To Be Listed Fast!
Often, those who launch new web sites want to appear in search engines right away. A key way to do this is by using paid placement programs, as explained further in this guide.
The budget below will get you going for at least a month, in most cases. After that, it may be that you'll have some "natural" or "free" listings appearing. When this happens, you could potentially stop doing advertising -- though a wiser course is to continue with advertising as insurance against potential problems with your free listings.
Again, you can get listed without spending a penny, as will be explained on the following pages. However, if your goal is to be seen right away in as many places as possible, you'll set aside a good budget.
3. submitting to directories
submitting To directories: yahoo & the open directory
Directories are search engines powered by human beings. Human editors compile all the listings that directories have. Getting listed with the web's key directories is very important, because their listings are seen by many people. In addition, if you are listed with them, then crawler-based search engines are more likely to find your site and add it to their listings for free.
You should prepare before submitting to any directory. This preparation means that you have written a 25 word or less description of your entire web site. That description should make use of the two or three key terms that you hope to be found for.
If you have time, you should consider researching what are the best terms for your site, rather than guessing at these. The What People Search For page has a list of resources that will allow you to do such research.
It is essential that the description you write not make use of marketing language. So, if you sold shoes and wanted to be found for terms such as "athletic shoes" and "running shoes," you might write a "just the facts" description like this:
Purchase athletic shoes, running shoes, hiking boots and other footwear plus try our cross country trail finder.
You would not want a description like this, which is full of marketing hype, which editors dislike:
World's LARGEST online shoe store with the best prices from the greatest brands!!!!
submitting to yahoo
Do a search on Yahoo, and the main results that come back are "powered" by Yahoo's crawler (see the Search Engine Results page for what "main" results are). Despite this, Yahoo maintains its own independent "directory" of web sites, which are compiled by its human editors.
As mentioned in Part 2, being listed in this Yahoo Directory MAY potentially help you get included and ranking better in crawler-based results, including Yahoo's.
yahoo has two submission options: "Standard," which is free, and "Yahoo Express," which involves a submission fee.
Anyone can use Standard submission to submit for free to a non-commercial category. You'll know the category is non-commercial because if you try to submit to a non-commercial category, the Standard submission option will be offered in addition to the Yahoo Express paid option, discussed further below.
Why might you choose to pay when the free search engine submission option is available? Simply for a fast turnaround time. If you use the free submit choice, there's no guarantee that your submission will be reviewed quickly or at all.
Your submission to a non-commercial category is more likely to be accepted if your content is not overtly commercial.
For example, submitting the home page of a site that sells running shoes is likely to be seen a commercial and not accepted. However, if you have a page within that web site that discusses in depth how to select the right type of shoes for different running races, then that page might be deemed helpful, non-commercial information and accepted.
As for commercial categories, Yahoo requires that sites pay a Yahoo Express submission fee of £190 per year. This fee doesn't guarantee that you will be listed, only that you'll get a yes or no answer about being accepted within seven business days. However, the vast majority of most decent sites are accepted.
If accepted, you'll be reevaluated after a year and charged the submission fee again, if you want to stay in Yahoo's commercial area. You should review the traffic you received from Yahoo over the past year, to decide if it is worth paying the fee again. If not, you can decline to be listed, and you will not be charged.
But what about crawlers? If you originally signed up with Yahoo hoping to influence crawlers, won't dropping your Yahoo directory listing cause you to be dropped by the crawlers? Not necessarily. The crawlers will keep listing your site on its own. Whether page's within the site will rank it well is a separate question. However, after a year of existence, your web site may have other important links pointing at it. This means that losing your link from Yahoo may not have much of an impact on your ranking. If money is tight, you could try dropping the Yahoo listing and only submit again if you find it does have an impact with how you rank in crawler-based results.
The annual fee only applies to commercial categories. If you submit to a non-commercial category using Yahoo Express and get accepted into that area, the fee is charged only once, not on an annual basis. You might get the opposite impression, because you'll keep seeing references to "recurring annual fee." However, in the terms and conditions for Yahoo Express, the annual fee is only for sites in the Yahoo Commercial Directory.
How do you submit? If you are submitting for free to a non-commercial category, click on the "Suggest a Site" link that appears at the top right-hand corner of category page. That will bring up a submission form. Fill it out, and you're done.
If you are paying to submit, you needn't pick a category. Instead, just use the Yahoo Express Submission Form. From there, Yahoo editors will choose a category for you. All you need to do is fill out the form that's presented.
The above tips are the bare essentials to getting listed with Yahoo. If you are in a hurry, you can follow them, and you'll probably get listed and receive some traffic from the service. However, you may want to do even more preparation before submitting to this important service.
search engine watch members have access to a detailed How Yahoo Works page that guides you even more through the process.
It explains why it is better to select a category, rather than leaving it to Yahoo's editors, if you are using the Yahoo Express service. It also explains more about the relationship in being listed in the Yahoo Directory and its impact on crawler-based results. To learn more about becoming a member to access this information, visit the membership information page.
Alternatively, you might consider working with a search engine optimization company which has experience in submitting to Yahoo. You'll have to pay for their services, but the price may be worth it in relation to the additional traffic you'll receive from a carefully conducted submission to Yahoo. Search Engine Watch members have access to the Outsourcing Search Engine Marketing page that lists articles about selecting search engine optimization companies.
submitting to the open directory
The open directory is a volunteer-built guide to the web. It is provided as an option at many major search engines, including Google (see the Search Engine Results page for a full list). Given this, being listed with the Open Directory is essential to any site owner.
The good news is that submission is absolutely free. The bad news is that this means there's no guaranteed turnaround time to getting a yes or no answer about whether you've been accepted.
To submit, locate the category you want to be listed in. Then use the "add URL" link that appears at the top of the category page. Fill out the form, and that's it -- you've submitted.
If you are accepted, you should see your site appear within about three weeks. If this doesn't happen, then you should resubmit.
As with yahoo, it's highly recommended that you take the time to learn more about the Open Directory before submitting, in order to maximize the amount of traffic you may receive.
4. submitting to crawlers
submitting To crawlers: google, yahoo, ssk/teoma & microsoft's MSN
Crawler-based search engines automatically visit web pages to compile their listings. This means that, unlike directories, you are likely to have several if not many pages listed with them. This also means that by taking care in how you build your pages, you might rank well in crawler-produced results.
Optimizing pages for crawlers is an ever changing field and requires a professional company to really do it properly. However, by simply following the submission tips below, you can at least get your pages listed with crawlers, where they might naturally rank well for certain terms.
One of the most important crawler-based search engines is Google, because many people search at it, plus it "powers" the main results of several other services.
The absolute best way to get listed with Google is to build links to your web site. Indeed, this is the best way to get listed for free with all the major crawlers listed on this page. Crawlers follow links, so if you have good links pointing at your web site, the crawlers are more likely to find and include your pages.
Here's the good news: if you submitted your site to the major directories and got listed with one of them, then Google and other crawlers will almost certainly pick up the URL that was listed. This means you may not need to do additional work to get listed with crawlers.
Nevertheless, you may find it helpful to do some link building beyond the directories. Basic tips on building good links are covered on the Search Engine Placement Tips page, while the Link Analysis & Link Building page available to Search Engine Watch members provides in-depth advice on building relevant links to your web site. Consider reading what's covered on one or both of these pages.
Aside from link building, Google provides an Add URL page that lets you submit a URL directly to its crawler. There's no guarantee that Google will actually include a URL submitted to it this way, however. Despite this, it makes sense to submit your home page and perhaps one or two other URLs from "inside" your web site via the Add URL page.
You really don't need to submit more than this. The only reason for submitting some of your inside pages is in case there is a problem reaching your home page. This gives Google an alternate route into your site. From whatever page it visits, it will look for links to other pages that you have and perhaps include those. This is true for other crawlers, as well.
If you have a brand new web site, it will probably take about a month before Google lists your web pages. Because of this, you might consider making use of its paid placement program, which is covered in the next part of this guide.
submitting To yahoo
Yahoo is an important crawler-based search engine because many people use the Yahoo site and it provides main results of several other services.
As covered with Google, building links is the best way to get listed for free. Yahoo also offers a free URL submission form that you'll find listed on this page. Submit according to the same instructions as for Google, above.
What if you aren't picked up for free? Yahoo has paid inclusion programs that guarantee to add the pages you submit quickly. The downside to these programs is that you'll be charged every time someone clicks on your listing. If you run out of money, potentially, your listing may be dropped. However, there's still a chance that even if you run out of money, you might continue to be listed for free.
Confused? You're to be forgiven, if so. The programs are so complex that beginners are not recommended to bother with them. Instead, there's a good chance that many pages in your site will just naturally get listed for free.
By the way, Yahoo's crawler incorporates technology from three different crawlers that it purchased in 2002 and 2003: Inktomi, AltaVista and FAST's AllTheWeb. Any references you hear about those crawlers are now superceded by the single Yahoo crawler that operates.
submitting to teoma
teoma is an important crawler-based search engine because it powers the main of the results that appear at the popular Ask Jeeves web site. In fact, Ask Jeeves owns Teoma.
Basic tips on building good links are covered on the Search Engine Placement Tips page, while the Link Analysis & Link Building page available to Search Engine Watch members provides in-depth advice on building relevant links to your web site. Consider reading what's covered on one or both of these pages, to help yourself with Teoma.
5. paid submission
submitting via paid listings: overture & google adWords
Every major search engine with significant traffic accepts paid listings. This unique form of search engine advertising means that you can be guaranteed to appear in the top results for the terms you are interested in within a day or less. Given this, paid listings are an option that should be explored by site owners who wish to quickly build visibility. They may also be a long-term advertising option for some.
overture allows sites to "bid" on the terms they wish to appear for. You agree to pay a certain amount each time someone clicks on your listing. This is why it is sometimes called a "pay-per-click" (PPC) or a "cost-per-click" (CPC) search engine.
For instance, let's say you wanted to appear in the top listings for "running shoes." You might agree to pay 25 cents per click. If no one agrees to pay more than this, then you would be in the number one spot. If someone else later decides to pay 26 cents, then you slip into the number two position. You could then bid 27 cents and move back on top, if you wanted to.
While some people go directly to the overture web site to search, most people encounter overture's paid listings via other search engines. For example, the very top listings for "running shoes" at Overture would also appear in the sponsored areas of other sites.
If your goal is to build visibility on search engines quickly, then overture is an essential option for you to explore. It can put you in the top results of many major search engines in a short period of time.
I think it is well worth it for anyone to open an Overture precision match account and experiment with how paid listings may help them. An account requires a £35 minimum deposit, and you must spend at least £13 per month. By carefully selecting targeted terms, you can stretch that money out for one or two months and get quality traffic.
When your initial deposit has expired, you may find that the editorial or "free" listings generated by your submissions to directories and crawlers have kicked in. This may mean that you can eliminate your ad spend with Overture entirely. On the other hand, you may find that you want to continue spending and perhaps even increase your budget, to target terms where you don't receive good editorial placement.
By the way, overture was formerly known as GoTo. It changed its name in mid-Oct 2001. The company was also purchased by Yahoo in 2003.
google sells paid listings that appear above and to the right-hand side of its regular results called through a program called google adWords. Since it may take time for a new site to appear within Google, these advertising opportunities offer a fast way to get listed with the service. Also, as with Overture, they may be a continuing option you may wish to explore.
google's self-service AdWords program charges a per click fee, similar to Overture. AdWords charges a $5 activation fee, and $25 ought to last you about a month, if you've carefully selected your terms.
google also distributes its ads to other partners, with some major sites listed on the search results chart. That provides you with exposure to more potential traffic.
1. Intro to search engine optimisation
optimising for crawlers
In particular, submitting to search engines (as covered in the Essentials section) is only part of the challenge of getting good search engine positioning. It's also important to prepare a web site through "search engine optimization."
search engine optimization means ensuring that your web pages are accessible to search engines and focused in ways that help improve the chances they will be found. This next section provides information, techniques and a good grounding in the basics of search engine optimization. By using this information where appropriate, you may tap into visitors who previously missed your site.
The guide is not a primer on ways to trick or "spam" the search engines. In fact, there aren't "search engine secrets" that will guarantee a top listing. But there are a number of small changes you can make that can sometimes produce big results.
2. How search engines work
The term "search engine" is often used generically to describe both crawler-based search engines and human-powered directories. These two types of search engines gather their listings in radically different ways.
crawler-based search engines
A human-powered directory, such as the Open Directory, depends on humans for its listings. You submit a short description to the directory for your entire site, or editors write one for sites they review. A search looks for matches only in the descriptions submitted.
Changing your web pages has no effect on your listing. Things that are useful for improving a listing with a search engine have nothing to do with improving a listing in a directory. The only exception is that a good site, with good content, might be more likely to get reviewed for free than a poor site.
"hybrid search engines" Or mixed results
In the web's early days, it used to be that a search engine either presented crawler-based results or human-powered listings. Today, it extremely common for both types of results to be presented. Usually, a hybrid search engine will favor one type of listings over another. For example, MSN Search is more likely to present human-powered listings from LookSmart. However, it does also present crawler-based results (as provided by Inktomi), especially for more obscure queries.
the parts of a crawler-based search engine
crawler-based search engines have three major elements. First is the spider, also called the crawler. The spider visits a web page, reads it, and then follows links to other pages within the site. This is what it means when someone refers to a site being "spidered" or "crawled." The spider returns to the site on a regular basis, such as every month or two, to look for changes.
Everything the spider finds goes into the second part of the search engine, the index. The index, sometimes called the catalog, is like a giant book containing a copy of every web page that the spider finds. If a web page changes, then this book is updated with new information.
Sometimes it can take a while for new pages or changes that the spider finds to be added to the index. Thus, a web page may have been "spidered" but not yet "indexed." Until it is indexed -- added to the index -- it is not available to those searching with the search engine.
Search engine software is the third part of a search engine. This is the program that sifts through the millions of pages recorded in the index to find matches to a search and rank them in order of what it believes is most relevant. You can learn more about how search engine software ranks web pages on the aptly-named How Search Engines Rank Web Pages page.
major search engines: the same, but different
All crawler-based search engines have the basic parts described above, but there are differences in how these parts are tuned. That is why the same search on different search engines often produces different results.
search for anything using your favorite crawler-based search engine. Nearly instantly, the search engine will sort through the millions of pages it knows about and present you with ones that match your topic. The matches will even be ranked, so that the most relevant ones come first.
Of course, the search engines don't always get it right. Non-relevant pages make it through, and sometimes it may take a little more digging to find what you are looking for. But, by and large, search engines do an amazing job.
As webcawler founder Brian Pinkerton puts it, "Imagine walking up to a librarian and saying, 'travel.' They're going to look at you with a blank face."
OK -- a librarian's not really going to stare at you with a vacant expression. Instead, they're going to ask you questions to better understand what you are looking for.
Unfortunately, search engines don't have the ability to ask a few questions to focus your search, as a librarian can. They also can't rely on judgment and past experience to rank web pages, in the way humans can.
Location, Location, Location...and Frequency
One of the the main rules in a ranking algorithm involves the location and frequency of keywords on a web page. Call it the location/frequency method, for short.
Remember the librarian mentioned above? They need to find books to match your request of "travel," so it makes sense that they first look at books with travel in the title. Search engines operate the same way. Pages with the search terms appearing in the HTML title tag are often assumed to be more relevant than others to the topic.
search engines will also check to see if the search keywords appear near the top of a web page, such as in the headline or in the first few paragraphs of text. They assume that any page relevant to the topic will mention those words right from the beginning.
Frequency is the other major factor in how search engines determine relevancy. A search engine will analyze how often keywords appear in relation to other words in a web page. Those with a higher frequency are often deemed more relevant than other web pages.
spice In The Recipe
Now it's time to qualify the location/frequency method described above. All the major search engines follow it to some degree, in the same way cooks may follow a standard chili recipe. But cooks like to add their own secret ingredients. In the same way, search engines add spice to the location/frequency method. Nobody does it exactly the same, which is one reason why the same search on different search engines produces different results.
To begin with, some search engines index more web pages than others. Some search engines also index web pages more often than others. The result is that no search engine has the exact same collection of web pages to search through. That naturally produces differences, when comparing their results.
search engines may also penalize pages or exclude them from the index, if they detect search engine "spamming." An example is when a word is repeated hundreds of times on a page, to increase the frequency and propel the page higher in the listings. Search engines watch for common spamming methods in a variety of ways, including following up on complaints from their users.
off the page factors
crawler-based search engines have plenty of experience now with webmasters who constantly rewrite their web pages in an attempt to gain better rankings. Some sophisticated webmasters may even go to great lengths to "reverse engineer" the location/frequency systems used by a particular search engine. Because of this, all major search engines now also make use of "off the page" ranking criteria.
Off the page factors are those that a webmasters cannot easily influence. Chief among these is link analysis. By analyzing how pages link to each other, a search engine can both determine what a page is about and whether that page is deemed to be "important" and thus deserving of a ranking boost. In addition, sophisticated techniques are used to screen out attempts by webmasters to build "artificial" links designed to boost their rankings.
Another off the page factor is clickthrough measurement. In short, this means that a search engine may watch what results someone selects for a particular search, then eventually drop high-ranking pages that aren't attracting clicks, while promoting lower-ranking pages that do pull in visitors. As with link analysis, systems are used to compensate for artificial links generated by eager webmasters.
4. search engine placement tips
Naturally, anyone who runs a web site wants to be in the "top ten" results. This is because most users will find a result they like in the top ten. Being listed 11 or beyond means that many people may miss your web site.
The tips below will help you come closer to this goal, both for the keywords you think are important and for phrases you may not even be anticipating.
pick your target Keywords
How do you think people will search for your web page? The words you imagine them typing into the search box are your target keywords.
For example, say you have a page devoted to stamp collecting. Anytime someone types "stamp collecting," you want your page to be in the top ten results. Then those are your target keywords for that page.
Each page in your web site will have different target keywords that reflect the page's content. For example, say you have another page about the history of stamps. Then "stamp history" might be your keywords for that page.
Your target keywords should always be at least two or more words long. Usually, too many sites will be relevant for a single word, such as "stamps." This "competition" means your odds of success are lower. Don't waste your time fighting the odds. Pick phrases of two or more words, and you'll have a better shot at success.
position your keywords
Make sure your target keywords appear in the crucial locations on your web pages. The page's HTML title tag is most important. Failure to put target keywords in the title tag is the main reason why perfectly relevant web pages may be poorly ranked. More about the title tag can be found on the How HTML Meta Tags Work page.
build your titles around the top two or three phrases that you would like the page to be found for. The titles should be relatively short and attractive. Think of newspaper headlines. With a few words, they make you want to read a story. Similarly, your page titles are like headlines for your pages. They appear in search engine listings, and a short, attractive title may help make users click through to your site.
search engines also like pages where keywords appear "high" on the page, as described more fully on the Search Engine Ranking page. To accommodate them, use your target keywords for your page headline, if possible. Have them also appear in the first paragraphs of your web page.
Keep in mind that tables can "push" your text further down the page, making keywords less relevant because they appear lower on the page. This is because tables break apart when search engines read them. For example, picture a typical two-column page, where the first column has navigational links, while the second column has the keyword loaded text. Humans see that page like this:
home stamp collecting
search engines (and those with old browsers) see the page like this:
stamp collection is worldwide experience. Thousands enjoy it everyday, and millions can be made from this hobby/business.
See how the keywords have moved down the page? There's no easy way around this, other than to simplifying your table structure. Consider how tables might affect your page, but don't necessarily stop using them. I like tables, and I'll continue to use them.
have relevant content
Changing your page titles is not necessarily going to help your page do well for your target keywords if the page has nothing to do with the topic. Your keywords need to be reflected in the page's content.
In particular, that means you need HTML text on your page. Sometimes sites present large sections of copy via graphics. It looks pretty, but search engines can't read those graphics. That means they miss out on text that might make your site more relevant. Some of the search engines will index ALT text and comment information. But to be safe, use HTML text whenever possible. Some of your human visitors will appreciate it, also.
Be sure that your HTML text is "visible." Some designers try to spam search engines by repeating keywords in a tiny font or in the same color at the background color to make the text invisible to browsers. Search engines are catching on to these and other tricks.
Expect that if the text is not visible in a browser, then it may not be indexed by a search engine.
Finally, consider "expanding" your text references, where appropriate. For example, a stamp collecting page might have references to "collectors" and "collecting." Expanding these references to "stamp collectors" and "stamp collecting" reinforces your strategic keywords in a legitimate and natural manner. Your page really is about stamp collecting, but edits may have reduced its relevancy unintentionally.
An excellent resource for more about writing copy that naturally pleases search engines is the free High Rankings Advisor newsletter. Consider signing up for it.
Avoid Search Engine Stumbling Blocks
Some search engines see the web the way someone using a very old browser might. They may not read image maps. They may not read frames. You need to anticipate these problems, or a search engine may not index any or all your web pages.
Have HTML links
Often, designers create only image map links from the home page to inside pages. A search engine that can't follow these links won't be able to get "inside" the site. Unfortunately, the most descriptive, relevant pages are often inside pages rather than the home page.
Solve this problem by adding some HTML hyperlinks to the home page that lead to major inside pages or sections of your web site. This is something that will help some of your human visitors, also. Put them down at the bottom of the page. The search engine will find them and follow them.
search engine killers
Finally, be sure you do a good job of linking internally between your pages. If you naturally point to different pages from within your site, you increase the odds that search engines will follow links and find more of your web site.
Frames can kill
Some of the major search engines cannot follow frame links. Make sure there is an alternative method for them to enter and index your site, either through meta tags or smart design. For more information, see the tips on using frames.
Generating pages via CGI or database-delivery? Expect that some of the search engines won't be able to index them. Consider creating static pages whenever possible, perhaps using the database to update the pages, not to generate them on the fly. Also, avoid symbols in your URLs, especially the ? symbol. Search engines tend to choke on it.
Every major search engine uses link analysis as part of their ranking algorithms. This is done because its very difficult for webmasters to "fake" good links, in the way they might try to spam search engines by manipulating the words on their web pages. As a result, link analysis gives search engines a useful means of determining which pages are good for particular topics.
By building links, you can help improve how well your pages do in link analysis systems. The key is understanding that link analysis is not about "popularity." In other words, it's not an issue of getting lots of links from anywhere. Instead, you want links from good web pages that are related to the topics you want to be found for.
Here's the simple means to find those good links. Go to the major search engines. Search for your target keywords. Look at the pages that appear in the top results. Now visit those pages and ask the site owners if they will link to you. Not everyone will, especially sites that are extremely competitive with you. However, there will be non-competitive sites that will link to you -- especially if you offer to link back.
Why is this system good? By searching for your target keywords, you'll find the pages that the search engines themselves are telling you are good, as evidenced by the fact that they rank well. Hence, links from these pages are more important -- and important for the terms you are interested in -- than links from other pages. In addition, if these pages are top ranked, then they are likely to be receiving many visitors. Thus, if you can gain links from them, you might receive some visitors who initially go to those pages.
just say no to search engine spamming
Also, search engine spamming attempts usually center around being top ranked for extremely popular keywords. You can try and fight that battle against other sites, but then be prepared to spend a lot of time each week, if not each day, defending your ranking. That effort usually would be better spent on networking and alternative forms of publicity, described below.
If those practical reasons aren't enough, how about some ethical ones? The content of most web pages ought to be enough for search engines to determine relevancy without webmasters having to resort to repeating keywords for no reason other than to try and "beat" other web pages. The stakes will simply keep rising, and users will also begin to hate sites that undertake these measures.
Consider search engine spamming against spam mail. No one likes spam mail, and sites that use spam mail services often face a backlash from those on the receiving end. Sites that spam search engines degrade the value of search engine listings. As the problem grows, these sites may face the same backlash that spam mail generates.
submit your key pages
Most search engines will index the other pages from your web site by following links from a page you submit to them. But sometimes they miss, so it's good to submit the top two or three pages that best summarize your web site.
Don't trust the submission process to automated programs and services. Some of them are excellent, but the major search engines are too important. There aren't that many, so submit manually, so that you can see if there are any problems reported.
Also, don't bother submitting more than the top two or three pages. It doesn't speed up the process. Submitting alternative pages is only insurance. In case the search engine has trouble reaching one of the pages, you've covered yourself by giving it another page from which to begin its crawl of your site.
Detailed information about submitting to each major search engine is available to Search Engine Watch members.
verify and maintain your listing
Check on your pages and ensure they get listed, in the ways described on the Check URL page. Once your pages are listed in a search engine, monitor your listing every week or two. Strange things happen. Pages disappear from catalogs. Links go screwy. Watch for trouble, and resubmit if you spot it.
Resubmit your site any time you make significant changes. Search engines should revisit on a regular schedule. However, some search engines have grown smart enough to realize some sites only change content once or twice a year, so they may visit less often. Resubmitting after major changes will help ensure that your site's content is kept current.
beyond search engines
It's worth taking the time to make your site more search engine friendly, because some simple changes may pay off with big results. Even if you don't come up in the top ten for your target keywords, you may find an improvement for target keywords you aren't anticipating. The addition of just one extra word can suddenly make a site appear more relevant, and it can be impossible to guess what that word will be.
Also, remember that while search engines are a primary way people look for web sites, but they are not the only way. People also find sites through word-of-mouth, traditional advertising, the traditional media, newsgroup postings, web directories and links from other sites. Many times, these alternative forms are far more effective draws than are search engines.
Finally, know when it's time to call it quits. A few changes may be enough to make you tops in one or two search engines. But that's not enough for some people, and they will invest days creating special pages and changing their sites to try and do better. This time could usually be put to better use pursuing non-search engine publicity methods.
Don't obsess over your ranking. Even if you follow every tip and find no improvement, you still have gained something. You will know that search engines are not the way you'll be attracting traffic. You can concentrate your efforts in more productive areas, rather than wasting your valuable time.
5. How to use HTML meta tags
If only it were so easy. Let's make it clear:
meta tags have never been a guaranteed way to gain a top ranking on crawler-based search engines. Today, the most valuable feature they offer the web site owner is the ability to control to some degree how their web pages are described by some search engines. They also offer the ability to prevent pages from being indexed at all. This page explores these and other meta tag-related features in more depth.
meta tag overview
What are meta tags? They are information inserted into the "head" area of your web pages. Other than the title tag (explained below), information in the head area of your web pagesis not seen by those viewing your pages in browsers. Instead, meta information in this area is used to communicate information that a human visitor may not be concerned with. Meta tags, for example, can tell a browser what "character set" to use or whether a web page has self-rated itself in terms of adult content.
meta tags go in between the "opening" and "closing" HEAD tags. Shown in the example is a TITLE tag, then a META DESCRIPTION tag, then a META KEYWORDS tag. Let's talk about what these do.
The title tag
The HTML title tag isn't really a meta tag, but it's worth discussing in relation to them.
Whatever text you place in the title tag (between the TITLE and /TITLE portions as shown in the example) will appear in the reverse bar of someone's browser when they view the web page. For instance, within the title tag of this page that you are reading is this text:
How to use HTML meta tags
If you look at the reverse bar in your browser, then you should see that text being used, similar to this:
Some browsers also supplement whatever you put in the title tag by adding their own name, as you can see Microsoft's Internet Explorer doing in the picture above.
But what about search engines! The title tag is crucial for them. The text you use in the title tag is one of the most important factors in how a search engine may decide to rank your web page (see the Search Engine Placement Tips section for more details). In addition, all major crawlers will use the text of your title tag as the text they use for the title of your page in your listings.
In review, think about the key terms you'd like your page to be found for in crawler-based search engines, then incorporate those terms into your title tag in a short, descriptive fashion. That text will then be used as your title in crawler-based search engines, as well as the title in bookmarks and in browser reverse bars.
The meta description tag
The meta description tag allows you to influence the description of your page in the crawlers that support the tag (these are listed on the Search Engine Features page).
In review, it is worthwhile to use the meta description tag for your pages, because it gives you some degree of control with various crawlers. An easy way to do this often is to take the first sentence or two of body copy from your web page and use that for the meta description content.
meta keyword tag
The meta keywords tag
The meta keywords tag allows you to provide additional text for crawler-based search engines to index along with your body copy. How does this help you? Well, for most major crawlers, it doesn't. That's because most crawlers now ignore the tag.
The meta keywords tag is sometimes useful as a way to reinforce the terms you think a page is important for ON THE FEW CRAWLERS THAT SUPPORT IT. For instance, if you had a page about stamp collecting -- AND you say the words stamp collecting at various places in your body copy -- then mentioning the words "stamp collecting" in the meta keywords tag MIGHT help boost your page a bit higher for those words.
Remember, if you don't use the words "stamp collecting" on the page at all, then just adding them to the meta keywords tag is extremely unlikely to help the page do well for the term. The text in the meta keywords tag, FOR THE FEW CRAWLERS THAT SUPPORT IT, works in conjunction with the text in your body copy.
The meta keyword tag is also sometimes useful as a way to help your page come up for synonyms or unusual words that don't appear on the page itself. For instance, let's say you had a page all about the "Penny Black" stamp. You never actually say the word "collecting" on this page. By having the word in your meta keywords tag, then you may help increase the odds of coming up if someone searched for "penny black stamp collecting." Of course you would greater increase the odds if you just used the word "collecting" in the body copy of the page itself.
Here's another example. Let's say you have a page about horseback riding, and you've written your page using "horseback" as a single word.
You realize that some people may instead search for "horse back riding," with "horse back" in their searches being two separate words.
If you listed these words separately in your meta keywords tag, THEN MAYBE FOR THE FEW CRAWLERS THAT SUPPORT IT, your page might rank better for "horse back" riding.
Sadly, the best way to ensure this would be to write your pages using both "horseback riding" and "horse back riding" in the text -- or perhaps on some of your pages, use the single word version and on others, the two word version.
I'm using all these capital letters on purpose. Far too many people new to search engine optimization obsess with the meta keywords tag. FEW crawlers support it. For those that do, it MIGHT! MAYBE! PERHAPS! POSSIBLY! BUT WITH NO GUARANTEE! help improve the ranking of your page. It also may very well do nothing for your page at all. In fact, repeat a particular word too often in a meta keywords tag and you could actually harm your page's chances of ranking well. Because of this, I strongly suggest that those new to search engine optimization not even worry about the tag at all.
One other meta tag worth mentioning is the robots tag. This lets you specify that a particular page should NOT be indexed by a search engine. To keep spiders out, simply add this text between your head tags on each page you don't want indexed. The format is shown below (click on the picture if you want to copy and past the HTML for your own use):
You do NOT need to use variations of the meta robots tag to help your pages get indexed. They are unnecessary. By default, a crawler will try to index all your web pages and will try to follow links from one page to another.
Most major search engines support the meta robots tag. However, the robots.txt convention of blocking indexing is more efficient, as you don't need to add tags to each and every page. See the Search Engines Features page for more about the robots.txt file. If you use do a robots.txt file to block indexing, there is no need to also use meta robots tags.
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