Optimizing Your Web Site For Top Search Engine Placement

2003 Viki Nygaard

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Part 1 of 2 - Optimization
There is a common misconception that in order to achieve rankings on a search engine you simply need to submit your Web site to them for indexing. Unfortunately, it isn't that easy. A Web site needs to be optimized to meet specific criteria.

Let's go through the three phases involved in achieving search engine rankings. As we do, you'll learn various ways to make your Web site search engine compatible.

Optimization

Contrary to popular belief, optimization is ideally done before and during the creation of a Web site.

Each individual search engine has specific criteria that it's looking for when deciding whether to rank a Web site. Because each search engine has unique requirements, it is often best to choose one or two search engines that you would like to see your Web site ranked highly on and then optimize your Web site based on their requirements.

To determine a specific engine's indexing criteria, visit the home page of the search engine and look for information on how to submit your site. In this section, you will normally find information that the "spiders" and "robots" are looking for when they "crawl" through Web sites. Basically, "spiders" and "robots" are programs that look at your site. The process is called "crawling".

A more convenient way of learning how to optimize your Web site for a search engine is by using a software program that offers this capability. Two that we know of are Web Position Gold and Search Engine Optimizer. These programs can analyze your current Web site and give you specific suggestions on how to improve your chances of getting a high ranking on 10 or more of the major search engines.

Finally, you could hire a Search Engine Positioner to do the work for you. These professionals are highly trained to analyze your site, develop a strategy, make the changes necessary to optimize your site, and submit it to the search engines for indexing. A professional also has a much broader range of knowledge than what we can cover in this article. They keep up to date with the rapidly changing search engine criteria.

We have compiled into a list some very basic search engine optimization tips for you. Keep in mind that each search engine is unique so the tips are NOT universal.

  • Keywords and key phrases-
    Determine what keywords and/or phrases would most likely be typed in by a 'Net surfer on a search engine to find your site. Then narrow the results down to one main keyword or keyword phrase. Optimization of your Web site will focus on that main keyword or keyword phrase. Including your keywords/phrases in every aspect of your site development is crucial.
  • Domain name-
    When choosing a domain name, try to choose one that contains, preferably begins with, your major keyword. Try to avoid using the words "and" or "the" in the domain name. A domain name is your Web site address, such as http://www.mountevansdesigns.com.
  • Title tag-
    This is one of the most important tags to include keywords in. The title is always located at the top the Web document in the HTML programming, so it is always one of the first things a search engines will see. Although you don't see the title directly on the Web page, it is what is displayed on the blue title bar of your browser window and also is what is displayed when somebody bookmarks your site.
  • Header tags-
    Adding header tags to text makes the text large and bold. How large and how bold depends on the number that is assigned to the header tag. For example, <h1> assigns the number 1 to the header and is the largest and boldest of all header tags. <h6> assigns the number 6 to the header tag and is the smallest and least bold of all the header tags. Many search engines require the use of keywords in the header tags.
  • Alt tags-
    Alt tags are the little pop up boxes that appear when you move your mouse over an image. Some search engines look at the alt tags of a Web site when searching for keywords.
  • Links-
    Links are simply the hyperlinks (clickable text) which allows a visitor to jump to another page on your Web site or to someone elses Web site. Many times, search engines look at links for keywords. Some search engines also rank a Web site based on link popularity. That is, they look for Web sites that have a lot of links pointing to other Web sites with related content. They also check for other Web sites that have links directed back to your site.
  • Meta tags-
    There are several different types of Meta tags. Meta keywords contain a listing of your main keyword or phrase followed by several other keywords that a surfer might type in to find your site. Meta descriptions are short descriptions of what your Web site is about, again, using an appropriate amount of keywords. At this time, the relevancy of Meta tags seems to be decreasing.
  • Copy or text-
    Not only are the keywords contained in the copy (text) of a Web site of importance to the search engines, but many also have a preference as to how many words are displayed on the page. We highly recommend a professional copywriter to write the verbiage for your home page at the very least. A professional is trained to write copy that discreetly contains the delicate balance of keywords that are recommended to get a site ranked on the search engines, keeping careful track of word count. The bonus is that it is also written with your target audience in mind, is interesting to read and gets your visitors attention. KT & Associates is one such company that offers Web site copywriting services.
  • Design and layout-
    The design and layout of your Web site can affect your search engine positioning. This varies greatly among the engines, but it has been thought that some search engines balk at certain features such as Web sites that use frames, animated gifs, Flash movies, javascript and image maps.

Next in our two-part series, we'll discuss submission strategies and maintaining your rankings once you've gotten where you want to be.

Part 2 of 2 - Submissions & Maintenance

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In part one of our series, we discussed the all-important task of optimizing your Web site in order to obtain search engine placement. We'll continue now with strategies on submissions and maintenance.

Submission:

You've worked hard to optimize your Web site, now it's time to submit it to the engines.

It is important to note that the majority of the major search engines are now offering two forms of submission. For speedy results, you can pay a fee along with your submission. At this time, submission fees seem to be averaging around $200.00 US. Be aware that even though you are paying a fee, the search engine still expects your site to be optimized according to their standards. A fee will ensure a quick review of your Web site, but does not always ensure that you will receive any rankings of your Web site. Be sure to carefully read the information that is given and understand it before you submit your Web site in this manner. You can also do a submission to a search engine at no charge, but the results are often slow and there is no guarantee that your site will be indexed.

As with optimization of your Web site, you have several choices when it comes to submitting your Web site to the search engines. You can do it yourself by visiting the home page of each search engine, looking for submission information and following the instructions given.

You can use specialized software that will do all the work for you. Web Position Gold will submit your site to the major search engines with a single click. (Note that Web Position Gold does not submit to open directory services such as Yahoo Directory. Open directory services are reviewed by humans rather than computers and robots and require a rather lengthy submission application to be filled out.)

And finally, you can hire a Search Engine Specialist who provides this service in addition to optimization services.

Maintenance:

If several months have gone by and you do not have the rankings you desire, you will probably want to review your Web site and re-optimize it for the desired search engines. Criteria is constantly changing. That means that even though your Web site was optimized a few months ago, it might not be optimized today.

Once you have achieved your desired rankings, carefully watch them. Maintaining rankings is an ongoing process and sometimes, a full-time job! Once you have high rankings with a search engine it is recommended that you NOT make major changes to your home page. Also, don't panic if your rankings fall a few notches, often times they will climb again in the future.

When you develop a plan of action for your Web site, you can easily include search engines in the mix now that you know how to optimize, submit and maintain. Although it can take several months for engines to rank a site, with a little patience you might find yourself sitting at #1. Soon after, you'll see your hit counter spinning and the business heading your way!


Viki Nygaard is President of Mount Evans Designs specializing in professional Web design. For those businesses who insist on quality but must maintain a budget, visit http://www.mountevansdesigns.com today. You'll be thrilled with the exceptional designs and the affordable rates!