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Search Engine Optimization

While SEO is critical to getting your pages ranked in the search engines, it's not really all that difficult. Trying to fool search engine users with keywords and trick tags makes sense only if your goal is to flash a lot of ad banners, return traffic be damned. That used to be the business model for an entire industry.

But most sites in business today hope to convert first-time visitors into loyal customers by building long-term relationships. Sure, searchers need to find your site, but the results on Hotbot's Top Ten lists show that the only results people stick with are the ones that don't try to scam them. Trap doors, redirects, keyword spam, and multiple domains that host the same pages are more likely to make people reach for the back button (a move the Direct Hit technology behind Top Ten results can detect), not their credit cards.

The Yahoo directory used to account for half the traffic referred to most sites. I is good to get your site listed on Yahoo, but today they are using google to flesh out their pages so it may not be worth the $299.00 they require from commercial sites

Traffic from Google has increased at an astonishing rate over the past few years. Google, once considered a niche site for nerds, is the Wall Street Journal's pick for best search engine on the Net, and the traffic numbers seem to agree. They are running at around 78% of all search traffic.

Inktomi, another traffic generator, doesn't run its own search site. Instead, the company provides the technology behind MSN Search and AOL Search, two top referrers, as well as Hotbot and over a dozen more.

Portal sites like Excite, Lycos, and AltaVista still draw lots of traffic, but together Google outweighs the entire rest of the field. Add it up and it's pretty clear how to maximize your traffic for the least effort:

  • Make sure your site is thoroughly crawled by Google and Inktomi.
  • Get lots of links to your site from domains that a lot of other sites link to — that's how Google and Inktomi determine relevance when ranking search results.
  • For all other search engines, implement a blanket strategy that gets you reasonable results. By not chasing each one of them separately, you can put your company's time and money to more important uses.
  • Write lots of good content.
  • Design your website in an intelligent, straight forward manner.

Submitting Your Site

There are a lot of automated search engine submission services that you can use to submit your site to as many search engines as possible. The one most recommended by people I talked to is Submit It, an early player that did so well, Microsoft bought them — Submit It is now part of MSN bCentral, and it charges a minimum fee of US$59 to keep a few URLs submitted for a year.

You can avoid the fees by simply submitting to individual search engines on your own. Start with UseIt's list of top referrers — that's where most of the traffic you can get will come from. And while you'd think submitting your site to one Inktomi-powered site would work for all of them, optimization experts have told us it works better if you hit them all.

Submit It does submit your site to the busiest directory sites, except for the biggies: Yahoo, LookSmart (which MSN serves under its logo), and the Open Directory Project (which powers Lycos, Hotbot, and Netcenter categories). Some of these directories charge for submission, but $400-500 total will get your most important pages into the most trafficked places.

Yahoo still offers free submissions, except for business categories, which cost $199. But even the fee doesn't guarantee they'll accept your site, just that they'll decide on it within a week — with free submissions, you don't even get the promise that they'll ever get around to evaluating it, given the incredible volume of submissions.

Once you've submitted your pages, be ready to wait a month, two, or three before they're crawled and indexed. It's frustrating, but processing a billion Web pages takes time — at a nonstop rate of one hundred per second, it would still take almost four months.

It isn't necessary to submit every page on your site to the search engines. Just make sure they can find all the pages that matter by hopping links from your home pager. To do that, make a "Site Map" that contains nothing but a link to every page you want search engines to crawl. If your Site Map is over 100k in size you should break it into smaller peices so the webbots won't choke on it.

Meta Tags

Most people that are concerned with search engine optimization focus obsessively on keywords and HTML tags. But when it comes to getting ranked by search engines, the only tags that matter are TITLE, and the META tags KEYWORDS and DESCRIPTION. And you have to be very careful about how you handle each one.

TITLE makes a big difference, especially with Google. It should be short (less than 40 characters seems to work best) and, most importantly, should match the search queries people will be using to find your site. This could lead to a struggle with the marketing managers: They'll want your site's page titles to contain the company name and/or a positioning statement. Ask them what good that will do if no one ever sees the pages.

This is a good TITLE tag that will generate traffic from people searching for "picasso":

<TITLE>Pablo Picasso</TITLE>

This is a mediocre one:

<TITLE>Artstuff: Pablo Picasso</TITLE>

This one will put you out of business:

<TITLE>Artstuff: Your Number One Online Resource for Fine Art Solutions!!!</TITLE>

The keyword tag is less important than it has been, but it still means a lot. Keyword spamming is the number one favorite trick for search engine optimization. But many of the sites that stuff a zillion keywords into their pages are hoping to get clicks to their pages just to show ads -- they don't care if they get any repeat business. But if you want to draw real customers, focus on the keywords you think your users will be searching for.

For our Picasso page, something like this would work (note that uppercase letters don't matter):

<META NAME="keywords" content="Pablo Picasso, Pablo, Picasso, painting, cubist, painting, ceramics, collage, Spain, Guernica, Paris, 20th century, Girl Before a Mirror">

Repeating the most important keyword twice seems to work with some search engines, but repeating more than that will cause some of them to ignore the whole page.

META NAME="Description" gets used for the page summary on Inktomi and some other engines, so don't cram it with keywords: A scary-looking description on a search engine's results page could discourage people from clicking through to your page, even if it scores high.


It never hurts to have the search terms you want to match near the top of the page. But cramming in a list of spam-style keywords can also backfire -- Google will display them under the page title on its results page, and Inktomi will show them (as do many others) if there is no DESCRIPTION tag.

Stuffing long strings of repeated keywords into pages used to magically get them to the top of search engine results, but that was before the search engineers realized what was going on and learned how to prevent this from happening. Once in a while you'll see a "spamdexed" page near the top of your results, but this trick works less and less frequently these days.


Look at the top results for the terms you most want to match. Will those sites link to you from their domain? If they do, some of their relevance will rub off on your pages. There are ways to use this dishonestly, but usually sites only link to other sites they're comfortable being associated with.

Even if your site does manage to claw its way to a plum position in the search results, that doesn't guarantee that users will follow the link -- that still takes some convincing.

Anchor Text

It is important to use anchor text to refer to the various pages of your site form other pages, and from other sites. To optimize anchor text, click to

Website Accessibility

By meeting the standards of web accessibility, you can improve your search engine optimization. Take a look at web accessibility here.



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