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Increase Site Traffic With Search Engine Optimization

 by Mashi Ishigaki ( )

 According to Forrester Research, 80% of people who use the Internet find Web sites through search engines.  If your Web site design does not fit the criteria necessary to achieve high rankings by search engines, then your prospects are unlikely to find your site.

 The higher the site is ranked in the search engine, the more likely it is to be viewed by your prospects.  This article reviews the various techniques used by Web site producers to secure a top position in search engine results.  The article also discusses some tactics to avoid–tactics that may result in your Web site being placed at the bottom of an engine's listing or dropped altogether.

 Search engine optimization is the process of designing, writing and coding your Web site to help potential customers locate your site. The objective of search engine optimization and registration is to increase your site's exposure. Basic factors affecting a page's ranking are: the words in the title, keyword and description META tags and word frequency in the document, according to Search Engine Watch.

 It is widely believed that search engine users generally view only the top 30 search results.  Consequently, you must try to get your Web site ranked in the highest position possible in order to reach people who might not find your site by any means other than a search engine.  Following some simple guidelines can help you to achieve a higher search engine ranking.

However, there are no fixed criteria that will ensure that your site will rank high in all the search engines' listings. Each search engine uses distinct criteria, or an algorithm, in its indexing and search process, and the criteria and methods used by search engines to evaluate keywords and phrases change on a regular basis.

  Search Engines vs. Directories

 The difference between directories and search engines is widely misunderstood.  Yahoo! is an example of a directory.  And because 55% of all Internet searches are executed using Yahoo!, it is important to understand the difference between directories and search engines, according to the Big Picture.

 With directories, the process of submitting your site information includes a human element.  In order to be listed in a directory, you must submit site URLs, titles and descriptions to directories manually.  You submit a short description to the directory for your entire site, or the directory's editors write one for your site, if they choose to review it.  It is important to note that placement is contingent upon the directory's discretion, and that there are no guarantees that your site will be included.

 A search on a directory looks for matches only in the descriptions you submit.  When a query is posed, directories look for that particular keyword/keyword-phrase in the titles, descriptions and keywords that you provided, or the category under which you listed your site. Therefore, changing your Web pages has no effect on your listing in a directory.  Tactics you use in the design, content and coding for improving your ranking with a search engine will not improve your listing in a directory.

 Search engines, on the other hand, create their listings automatically. A search engine is a database designed to find Web sites relevant to a certain topic based on key words and phrases that the Internet user enters.  If you change your Web pages, search engines eventually find these changes, and that can affect how your site is listed.  Page titles, body copy and other elements all play a role.

 Search engines also index multiple pages from a given Web site, whereas directories merely allow one or two listings per domain name.  As a result of these differences between search engines and directories, search engines deal with a much broader spectrum of information.

How Search Engines Work

  In order to achieve a high ranking in a search engine's listing, it is important to recognize how search engines operate.  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.  The spider returns to the site on a regular basis to look for changes.

 Everything the spider finds goes into the second part of a search engine–the index (or catalog).  Picture the index as an enormous book containing a copy of every Web page that the spider finds.  The index is continually updated as Web pages change.  Sometimes it can take a while for new pages or changes that the spider finds to be added to the index; a Web page may have been ``spidered" but not yet ``indexed."  Until it is 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 have no doubt recognized that search engine results and rankings vary from search engine to search engine.  That's because each search engine uses different criteria for returning search results.  Obtaining prominent placement in search query results is dependent on the search engine's algorithm(s) and how each one interprets your Web site.  An algorithm is a mathematical equation that provides the engine's ``spider" or ``robot" with a set of rules.  These rules relate to the location and frequency of keywords within a Web page or within certain HTML code.

Some search engines use information such as META tags to assign relevancy.  Others base their results strictly on how the site is interpreted by their robot in terms of relevant keywords within the site title and physical page text.  Some search engines even use site popularity (i.e. number of links to your site) as part of their search result criteria.

 You must educate yourself on these individual differences in order to improve your ranking (some search engines and directories provide tips for improving your ranking within the ``submission" section of their sites).  For example, META tags will only give your site a ranking boost on AltaVista, HotBot and Infoseek.  Some search engines, including Excite, WebCrawler, Lycos and Northern Light, don't read them at all.  Listed below are some other differences between search criteria of some of the popular search engines and directories (as reported in Did-It's ``Search Engine Secrets."

AltaVista references the first 30 words on page for description unless you use META TAGS. AltaVista determines the priority of matches by indexing the words closest to the beginning of the front page.

Infoseek indexes the first 200 characters of your site after the HTML <BODY> tag unless you use META TAGS in the creation of your site. Your description can include up to 200 characters of text.

The Lycos engine compares each page to your query and gives higher scores to pages that contain the words as you typed them into your Web site. It also looks for pages that mention these words early on, rather than far down.

 Yahoo searches for words in URL, title & description (25 words) YOU ENTERED when submitting URL!

 Webcrawler–Webcrawler computes its confidence rating by considering how many times the terms in your search occur in that document.  The more frequent, the more relevant.

 Strategies to Optimize Your Site's Ranking

 Despite these differences, there are a few general guidelines that are applicable to most of the search engines' criteria.  The location and frequency of certain key words are crucial to the site's ranking, and generally, the title tag carries the most weight across the board with most search engines, according to Web Ignite.

 Following these general guidelines will help to improve your site's search engine ranking:  Include your most important keywords at least a few times in the first header or paragraph of text on the site.  If your site utilizes image maps, include standard text links to the major content areas of your site at the bottom of the page so that search engines can follow those links to index the interior pages of your site.  Implant keywords within the title tags of your site. Name your graphics and HTML pages with keywords. For example: ``luxury_hotels.gif" or ``luxury_hotels.html."  Include your top keyword/keyword phrases within the title tag since many search engines place a high amount of relevance on words within the title tag.

 There are also some practices to avoid. Avoid spamdexing (also known as spamming). This is an attempt to increase Web site ranking in search engines by simply repeating keywords.  Spamming includes such practices as loading a page with embedded keywords (text in the same color as the background), adding illegible text and submitting the same page more than once in a short period of time.  Many search engines exclude sites using this technique. In most cases, search engines are now programmed to ignore pages that employ this technique.  Also, never put a URL into the title. Search engines will often skip your site entirely if it includes a URL in the title.

 To get a high ranking on directories, there are separate points to consider.  Avoid self-promotion.  Choose appropriate keywords and phrases. Avoid repeating keywords or particular information in the description, especially if they have already been used in the title for the site.  And, if the site is not accepted the first time, submit it again.

  Search Engine Submission Strategies

 The first submission of your Web site to search engines and directories is the most important, so make sure you check for site functionality and correct keywords, format, etc.  It is advisable to hand post your Web site to major engines and directories such as Yahoo!, AltaVista, AOL Search, Ask Jeeves, Excite, GoTo, HotBot, Infoseek, LookSmart, Lycos, Magellan, MSN, NetGuide, NorthernLight, PlanetSearch, Snap and WebCrawler.  Keep in mind that directories are not automated, and that a human (as opposed to a spider) will visit and evaluate your site.

 ``Program Posting" is an acceptable way of submitting your Web site to less popular search engines and directories, since hand posting to these will be a waste of your time.  You may also consider using a ``for a fee service" such as Submit It! to submit your site to these search engines.

 Once you have submitted your site to the various search engines and directories, check them to verify that they have been listed.  It is best to continue monitoring your site's ranking.  Also, remember to resubmit your site after making major changes to it.

There is no magic formula for getting your site ranked within the top 10 of all of the major search engines.  But, understanding how search engines work and following simple guidelines may boost your site's ranking and capture some of those prospects who may not otherwise find your site.

 Mashi Ishigaki is research manager at Schraff Group, a fully integrated Internet marketing communications firm with a successful 22-year history. The firm leverages its expertise in advertising, public relations, Internet application development and Internet business consulting to offer truly integrated business and marketing support for hot ramp Internet start-ups and established Internet ventures. iSchraff specializes in html code, database programming, e-commerce, secure transactions, user tracking, order fulfillment and back end data integration. Additional information can be accessed at or



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