When considering the vast amount of information stored on the Internet, you quickly come to appreciate the useful nature of search engines.
In a nutshell, search engines, such as AltaVista, Yahoo!, Excite, Infoseek, Lycos and so on, help people find information on the Internet.
Imagine trying to find information without a specific Web address or the help of a search engine. It would be virtually impossible and extremely frustrating.
A search engine, and there are hundreds of them, is effectively a Web detective, tracking down relevant Web sites pertaining to a user’s request for information.
The search engine then presents the user with a list of Web sites that best corresponds to the information the user requested.
How do search engines work?
Typically, search engines work by sending out a program called a spider, or robot, to travel throughout the Internet, gathering information. This information is then “read” by an indexer and stored in the search engine database.
When you search for particular information, this database is then accessed and the “closest fit” is presented.
Other search engines, which use Web crawlers, don’t use databases but instead search the databases of the other search engines. It is easy to see why Web sites should be submitted to search engines.
Search engines are the ultimate marketing tools for your online business. They give your business a better chance of being found by people searching for specific information.
How to get your site ready for search engines
There are two major issues when it comes to preparing your site for search engines.
Titles for your Web pages is one issue and the second is choosing the right keywords and description.
It is these tags that most search engines initially scan to index your site. Thus, they are the measuring sticks for your site’s success in a search.
So, for the purpose of search engine indexing and your Web site retrieval potential, you should pay close attention to:
- Title tags; and
- Meta tags, such as keywords and description tags.
Most search engines base searches on title tags, however, you can’t discount meta tags.
Tags are part of the “hidden” HTML code that underpins your Web site.
Each Web page may contain several different tags. These tags contain information such as who created the page, when it is updated, the page title, what the page is about and keywords relating to the page.
Meta tags are codes which help the different search engines categorise your site and place it in their results list.
This is extremely important as an average search can return thousands of Web pages and most Internet users will only view the first 20 to 30 pages.
You will definitely want your page to be highly ranked amongst those returned when a potential customer starts “surfing”.
As there are hundreds of search engines on the Internet, and some are far more popular with Web surfers than others, it is also important to gear your e-marketing strategies to suit specific search engines.
Using the right keywords
Many of the main search engines currently determine page ranking according to the number of keywords or terms in the title. They match the search term entered against the words used in the title tags. The nearer the match, the better ranking they will give to the page.
For example, if your business is called “Dave Drysdale’s Outdoor Adventure Tours”, your title tag might be:
The words between the tags, that is, Dave Drysdale’s Outdoor Adventure Tours etc, are displayed when the search engine returns its results.
The search engine considers each word within the title tags and gives them equal value. So, if ‘orienteering’ is one of eight words in the title, the search engine considers it has a one in eight chance of having a match.
However, many other sites may also include this word in their title, and could simply title their page .
The search engines would consider this a perfect match and give them a higher ranking. Consequently, it is better to use a few specific words.
The search engine’s database may include thousands of pages containing the words ‘adventure’, or ‘tours’, but less containing the words ‘abseiling’, or ‘orienteering’.
A search for ‘orienteering’ would be likely to find Dave’s page faster than a search for ‘adventure tours’ even though orienteering is only considered to be a one-eighth match.
From this, it is easy to see the importance of the keywords in your title tag. They must accurately reflect your business and what is contained in your page.
Plan your title
The title tag must contain words that are likely to be chosen by searchers when looking for your type of site. It should also be succinct enough to ensure that each word is given sufficient importance.
Finally, the combination of words used must make sense, as they will appear in bold on the search engines’ results list.
Whatever you do, however, don’t make the mistake of not titling each page. When you next conduct a search, take a look at how many results are returned with titles such as “Home Page”, “Untitled”, “Examples”, etc.
The further down the results list you look, the more likely you are to come across these pages. By not using the title tag, these site owners are wasting a perfectly good marketing strategy. The fact that their page appears at all is probably due to their keywords.
How to choose the right keywords
One of the more common mistakes made by inexperienced Web designers is not choosing keywords that could be used by the online searcher.
For example, Dave Drysdale’s Outdoor Adventure Tours might be a well-known company in his particular area and so the company name would seem to be an obvious choice for the Web address. Local customers would probably search using the company name or just Dave Drysdale.
However, the majority of Web users have probably never heard of Dave Drysdale or his company and he could lose potential customers if he doesn’t think of the words the average surfer would use.
Someone looking for an adventure-type holiday would be more likely to start searching by using ‘abseiling’, ‘canoeing’, ‘orienteering’, ‘bushwalking’, ‘horse riding’ ‘adventure tours’, or any similar terms. You should apply this to your own business and try and come up with pertinent keywords, phrases or keyword strings that people may use.
Don’t use too many keywords, however. Not only can it affect your ranking but some search engines have limits on the number of keywords you can use and will reject you if you use too many or have numerous duplicates.
Try and work out the three main words or brief terms that can be used to describe your site’s content and your business. From this, build up a collection of additional pertinent words.
Bear in mind that people may enter some words incorrectly. For example, Dave could include ‘Drisdale’, or ‘Drystale’. He might also use ‘bush walk’ or ‘canoing’, to cater for those who can’t spell correctly or mistype words.
Sex doesn’t always sell
The keyword meta tag uses lists of words or terms, separated by commas. Don’t leave a space before or after the commas as the search engine will then only match the term with search requests having a space before or after the search word.
The words you consider most important should be at the top of your list. Spaces can be used between commas when you are using terms or more than one word as a keyword such as, Dave Drysdale, adventure tours, outdoor adventures, etc.
Again, it is important not to repeat certain words or terms too many times, as you don’t want the search engine to reject your site.
Another factor to avoid is using terms that have no relevance to your site, or you have no right to use. It is illegal to use a proprietary brand name if you do not have ownership or right to use that name. Likewise, be wary of including the names of famous people, if your site has nothing to do with that person. There may be legal ramifications.
Additionally, some people feel that if they include words such as “sex” in their tags, they will increase the exposure of their page. Many people have used this tactic in the past, all it does is annoy searchers, and again, search engines could reject your site. Most check keywords for relevance to the site. Plus if a visitor is using a filter on his/her computer to block out sexual references, your site won’t appear.
Once you have compiled a preliminary list of keywords, search the Internet using words from this list. This will indicate the popularity of the words you have chosen.
This is important as popular search terms are also likely to be popular keywords, and so using them will mean that you are competing against a multitude of other Web sites for search engine prominence.
What you need in the description tag
The description tag is a summary of your business and Web page. This is what you submit to the search engines as an explanation about your site, and Yahoo!, for example, will use it when assigning ranking. It is usually displayed with the search results and surfers will often pick Web sites to visit based on the site’s description.
The search engines will frequently impose strict limits as to the number of words or characters you may use, so it is important to choose your words carefully.
Additionally, many search engines will limit your description to 25 words, or less, and will cut off your description if it contains more than one full stop – or even a comma. The description EBC uses is “small business resource for starting, running your business.” Your description, therefore, should be succinct, comprehensive and preferably contain your most important keywords.