content (text, images and audio) is being created and uploaded at a rate
faster than the ability of search engines to index this data. As a consequence,
it is getting more and more difficult to be "found" in an ever-larger mass
of unindexed and unconnected pages. Moreover, people are becoming discouraged
when they receive thousands of returns on the keywords they type into a
search engine. As a result, it is increasingly vital that a site's listing
appear in the first few pages of search results -- because most people
will not take the time to scroll further than that.
This two-part article
outlines 10 strategies that can help Web sites not only get indexed, but
also position themselves for success. None of these points is more
valuable than the others, but in combination they can produce results.
Focusing on improving your site by addressing just one or two points might
not lead to measurable gains, but trying to address four or five points
in concert should help you improve your search engine ranking.
1. Proactively Submit the Site URL to a Search
The business model of many search
engines is similar to the advertising-based model that periodicals use:
Assemble great content to attract the viewer, then sell that demographic
to advertisers. Search engines obviously should allow content producers
to submit URLs, because doing so strengthens the value of the search engine's
collection of indexed pages, which in turn attracts users, giving the search
engine a stronger demographic to sell to advertisers.
For a small company, proactively
submitting the URL of several of its Web pages is a relatively easy process
that begins with simply clicking on a "submit URL" link. Such links usually
can be found in one form or another on the sites of the more popular search
engines. However, submitting individual URLs to multiple search engines
can be time consuming, so, in a Darwinian way, third-party sites have evolved
that let users enter information about a particular Web page and click
a button to submit that URL to several search engines simultaneously. Some
of these sites provide multiple submission services for a fee, while others
do it for free and rely on advertising to reap revenue.
On a cautionary note, be
suspicious of sites that claim to mass-submit your URL to many dozens or
hundreds of search engines. There are less than 10 major search engines
that you should care about being listed in. The rest are highly specific
to particular industry sectors and probably are not relevant to your business.
2. Consider Paid Submission
While cost-conscious firms may
shy away from paid submission services, there are valid reasons to make
such an investment. Dennis Buchheim, director of paid inclusion at Inktomi's
head office in Sunnyvale, California, explains that paid inclusion not
only helps provide consumers with more relevant results, but also helps
businesses ensure their presence in algorithmic search results. For example,
the service allows a client to receive reports that contain information
about specific keywords entered by searchers who clicked on the client's
site in a list of search results. This information is valuable because
it allows site owners to make adjustments and refinements to improve their
ranking. Buchheim says that by analyzing key reporting metrics and measuring
the quality of their metadata, businesses can optimize ROI and increase
Having your site indexed
and catalogued by a spider shortly after any changes have been uploaded
to the Web also can enhance your competitive advantage over other companies.
Paid inclusion allows a company to have its page indexed and catalogued
more quickly, rather than waiting days or weeks for an updated page to
be found by a Web crawler. Some variations of paid inclusion services guarantee
"recrawling" of particular pages so that changes will be noted and subsequently
available in the search engine's database.
3. Tailor Content for Spiders
Search engine indexing software
programs, nicknamed "spiders" to reflect how they crawl through the Web's
pages, record several aspects of a page, including its text. In the record
that is created and indexed, spiders identify the frequency of particular
words on a page, and this becomes part of a complicated algorithm that
calculates the page's value and, ultimately, its rank. A spider might work
like this: If one page contained the word "cancer" 4 times and another
page contained the word "cancer" 12 times, plus they both had the word
"cancer" in their meta tags and page titles, the second page would rank
higher. Spidering algorithms also calculate and rank how words are connected
to other words, such as "car parts," "car finance" or "car warranty" on
the Web page of an auto dealership.
Because word count traditionally
has been part of the indexing algorithm, webmasters often have tried to
deceive spiders by adding additional words to their pages to artificially
inflate the page rank calculation. Some conniving Web authors even have
been known to add dozens or hundreds of keywords at the bottom of a page
in white font on a white background. A surfer looking at such a page would
see only blank space, while spiders are color blind and would record all
of these words as part of the word count. Although some search engines
have tried to create algorithms that cannot be tricked in this way, the
method still can be somewhat effective and is far simpler than spending
management time developing reciprocal links. (A warning, though: Such behavior
can get a site banned entirely from a search engine if its underhanded
tactics are discovered.)
Of course, content that
spiders evaluate for ranking is not just limited to text, but also includes
HTML code referencing image files and audio files. This means that naming
your image files woodbridge.jpg and stonebridge.jpg is much more useful
than naming them image1.jpg and image2.jpg. It is also helpful to make
sure ALT text tags for images include some words that can assist in supporting
the overall theme of the page.
4. Remember: Page Title Is Vital
A page's title is often confused
with its name. To clear things up, the page name is equivalent to the file
name -- i.e., abcdefg.htm -- whereas the page title is the word or words
that show up in a browser's title bar. The page title should be crafted
carefully. AltaVista suggests it is what search engine users see first
when they scan a list of query results, and Inktomi's Buchheim notes that
it is not enough to rank high in a search engine. "You also have to ...
be enticing enough to click." Indeed, enticement to click is based on both
an attractively worded title and the accompanying description, which comes
from the META description tags that we will discuss in point 5.
Also, consider that many
medium- and large-size corporate pages are flush with images, Flash, frames
and other features that are not easily recognized by spiders. AltaVista
suggests page title is even more important when a particular page (such
as one with frames) has little text content.
5. Mind Your Metatags
There are several kinds of metatags,
but from a managerial perspective, only two are critical: the Meta Description
tags and the Meta KeyWord tags.
Meta Description tags are
the carefully crafted phrases and short sentences that can appear under
the page title in a listing of search results. Because the attractiveness
of these words can determine whether or not a searcher decides to click
on a company's link, it is important to craft this text to be compelling.
Some webmasters creating pages for highly competitive consumer product
companies hire consultants to write Meta Descriptions in hopes that viewers
will be enticed to visit the company Web site .
Meta Keyword tags contain
the key words and phrases that webmasters place in the background code
at the top of the web page. In the late 1990s, spiders often used these
tags, found in the HTML header at the top of each page, to pick up "clues"
as to the page content -- perhaps akin to reading song titles on an album
cover. However, because so many Web page authors misrepresented their site
content by including misleading keywords, use of Meta KeyWord tags now
plays a far smaller role in determining page value and ranking. Inktomi's
Buchheim says his company's search engine pays little attention to Meta
Keyword tags, which are considered supplementary to other factors, such
as title and number of links. Likewise, www.webrankinfo.com advises that
Google no longer relies on Meta Keyword tags either.
In addition to Google, other
search engines such as AOL Search also do not use software that responds
to Meta Keyword tags; rather, employees visit submitted URLs and determine
whether or not they should be included. While the use of people in the
screening process is more expensive than relying exclusively on spidering
algorithms, the subsequent indexed compilation has greater value and consequently
attracts a discriminating demographic that can be sold back to deep-pocketed
However, since it seems simple
to "pack in" a lot of words in the Meta Keyword section of a page, many
Web authors still rely on this technique even though its Golden Age was
in 1999, 2000 and 2001. "Many people incorrectly believe that good Meta
Keyword tags are all that is needed to achieve good listings in the search
engines," cautions www.submit-it.com. The tags still contribute somewhat
to site ranking, but by themselves they are not of significant value, considering
how the search engines of 2003 operate.
Go on to Part
W. Tim G. Richardson is a full-time Professor at Seneca College, and
concurrently teaches part-time at Centennial College. He is also a Lecturer
in the Division of Management at the University of Toronto in Canada. He
can be reached through his Web site, www.witiger.com.