Search Engine Optimization

Before you submit your site to the search engines, make sure your pages are optimized for successful rankings. Read this page to find out how.

by Laura Bergells
There are so many search engines: what's the difference?

Of all the search engines in all the world. . . . each one is hoping that you'll click through its portal. Search engines make money through advertising, so they want a high visitor and search rate to deliver to their advertisers. Thousands of measureable "you's" is the product search engines deliver to potential advertisers. So, while search engines want you to search for information on their sites: they also want to list your website in their database. They need good content in order to stay successful.

Search engines differentiate themselves by quantity and quality of sites in their directory, as well as how well they work. Some engines only use the information that you supply to them. These include Yahoo! and Open Text, among others. Other engines send an automated data tracker to your site to capture and catalog the information on your site.  Each type has different advantages and disadvantages with regard to delivery, speed, quality and so forth.

What effects search engine ranking?

A lot of factors can make your web page arrive among the top links of the search engine results lists! To add confusion, all the search engines rely on each of these factors in completely different ways, and they change their formulas all the time. So, what worked at Google last year probably won't work at Google this year. That's why an entire industry has evolved to "reverse engineer" the factors that allow a web page to arrive at the top of the directories.  Let's start with some basics:

Keyword phrases. Keyword phrases are phrases that adequately and accurately describe the content of your site. Keep in mind that you want to consider "phrases" and not one word. I've seen too many keywords that do absolutely no good. For example, if you're a travel agency and use the key word "travel", it's way too broad a term to get any kind of reasonable result. Instead, focus on your niche: Michigan Tourism or fishing trips are more likely to attain top ten results. . .and attract the exact type of customer that you're looking for. To determine whether your proposed keywords are too broad (or too narrow!), consider using a service like

In addition, I've written a whole 'nother article on this very topic. . . for more in-depth understanding, read "Why Broad Is Flawed".

META tags:  Some search engines rely heavily on these tags for ranking. Example:

<META NAME="description" content="My Page Title">

<META NAME="keywords" content="my keywords">

Duh Note: replace "My Keywords" with words that actually describe your own pages!

You'll receive better ranking in the search engines that use META Tags to index pages.

Brainstorm a list of 20 or 30 keyword phrases for your site. Prioritize words on what your prospective customer would most likely use as a search word. Separate each word or phrase with commas.

When in doubt, use plurals. If you list your keyword as "computer", but someone searches for "computers", a search engine usually won't consider your page. However, if you list your keyword as "computers" and someone searches for "computer", the engine just might pull up your site. This is an oversimplification of the process, because one word meta tag keywords seldom work in and of themselves -- keyword phrases are usually much better choices. And now that search engines know to look for "stemming" (plurals by adding an "s", or verb tenses that change by adding an "ing" or "ed" at the end of your term), you're frequently best served by optimizing for a variety of tenses. Still, most people tend to look for a plural form of whatever they are searching for, instead of the singular form.

Furthermore, picking a generic term like "computers" probably won't buy you much. Think of the people who are using a search engine -- they know that simply typing in "computers" is going to flood them with millions of useless pages. No, the smart searcher is going to be a lot more specific and enter a phrase that meets their need. For example, "Free computers for teachers" is a phrase that will narrow the search considerably.

Titles: If you use Netscape or MS Internet Explorer, look at the top left part of your screen - on the title bar of the browser. That's the page title! Search engines generally treat the words in your title as major keywords. Select a few keywords for your title, and have it make semantic sense. If it is too long, it will be cut off. Short & snappy titles are critical here: search engines can often weigh the importance of a word in your title based on percentages. For example, if you have four words in your title and one of them is "computers", then the term "computers" comprises 25% of your title. However, if you have two words in your title and one of them is "computers", then this makes up 50% of your title and thus can be "weighed" twice as heavily. Again: this is an oversimplification, because each search engine views titles differently, and weighs them with  their own magic formula of how they rank.

Words within the page: Use your keyword phrases frequently in your text. . .but not too frequently! If you use keywords too frequently, you'll probably be accused of keyword spamming, and that will negatively impact your positioning. Search engine spiders tend to look for the relative weight of keywords rather the sheer number of keywords. Also, keep in mind that you're NOT only listing keywords here. This is actually the content of your web site, so your copy needs to be interesting and friendly to your visitors.

Keyword phrase prominence.  Use your keyword phrases close to the very beginning of your web site. This is called "keyword prominence", and search engines are more likely to rank your site favorably when you use your keywords closer to the top of your copy blocks.

Pay for Placement. You can pay many search engines for a top placement. This is a similar business model to the traditional phone listings: in the yellow pages, you can pay a premium for a bigger or bolder ad. The same principle applies to search engine listings - you can pay the search engine company to get a premium placement in their listings. You can decide where you want to be in the listings and how much it is worth to you to be in the #1 slot versus the #10 position. 

 Tips from the Trenches...

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