Everyone wants to have a high placement in the search returns of popular search engines. In many cases, the search returns can list several thousand web site matches. However, in many cases, only the 10 or 20 most "relevant" matches are displayed on the first page. Naturally, anyone who runs a web site wants to be in the "Top 10" or "Top 20" results, since being listed 11th or 21st on these returns can greatly affect the traffic generated by your web site listing.
Unfortunately, many web sites will never have a chance at receiving a top listing because their designers have failed to consider how search engines work and how they develop their rankings of web sites. Submitting to search engines is only the tip of the iceberg in getting good search engine positioning. This guide was developed by DigitalWork to help customers of our Submit to Search Engine service improve their ranking in the major search engines.
Search Engines vs. Internet Directories
Search engines, also referred to as "crawler-based" search engines, use automated programs to create their database (or "index") of web sites. These sites use programs called "crawlers" or "spiders" to find new sites and add them to their database. When a "spider" visits a web page, it reads the data on the page, records some or all of the data (depending on it's programming), and then follows links to other pages on the web to which that site is linked. While it is possible to wait for a "spider" to randomly follow a link, visit your site and add it to the search engine database, this is likely to take a long time, and is also contingent upon other sites having created links to your site that the "spider" can follow. The basic idea behind submitting your site to the search engine is to inform the search engine that you would like to have a "spider" visit the URL that you provide, and therefore take a proactive approach to getting the search engine to add your site to its database.
An Internet directory, such as Yahoo!, relies on humans to review all of the sites added to the directory's database. Sites submitted to the directory are reviewed by an editor, who decides if the site should be included in the directory and where it should be located. Because of the human element required for processing submission requests, most Internet directories have started charging fees for "express" service, promising to review the sites with 7-10 business days. These fees typically run $100-$300. While these directories also offer a free submission option, it can take up to a year for an editor to get around to reviewing your site, and the likelihood of being added to the directory are greatly decreased. Because of the high fees for the "express" submission service, and the long delay for the free submission service, our Submit to Search Engine service does not submit sites to any of these Internet directories. We recommend that if customers wish to be listed with an Internet directory, they should submit their site directly to the directory and pay the "express" fee to guarantee a quick review process.
Search Engine Submission vs. Search Engine Optimization
Search engine submission is the act of telling the search engines that your site exists and that you would like the site added to the search engine database or "index". Once you submit your site, the search engine will add the information you provided with your submission to its database. It will also put your URL into a queue to be crawled by a "spider". While your site should be instantaneously added to the search engine database, it may take a few days to a week for the "spider" to visit your site (depending on the length of the queue). Until the "spider" crawls your site, your site will likely be ranked lower than sites that have already been crawled.
DigitalWork's Submit to Search Engine service is designed to submit your site to over 400 search engines simultaneously, every month for 12 months, so that you do not have to individually submit your site to each search engine (which would be a very time consuming process).
Many people assume that once they submit their site to a search engine, they will automatically be ranked high in the search engine return. However, submitting your site to the search engines simply means that the search engines now know that your pages exist. Ranking is determined by the "relevance" of all of the sites listed in the search engine index, which is why search engine optimization is a critical component of a high ranking.
Search engine optimization refers to the act of altering a site so that its ranking for particular terms or set of terms will increase. Later in this guide, we will provide detailed methods for optimizing your site. We highly recommend that customers optimize their site to increase the likelihood that their site will receive a high search ranking and generate increased traffic.
How Search Engines Rank Web Sites
Search engines are simply search programs attached to a large database. When a visitor enters search criteria, the search engine searches its database for relevant matches. Each search engine then ranks these matches based on predetermined formulas developed by the search engine's programmer. Each search engine is different, and each programmer has developed a unique set of "rules" for how sites should be ranked. Some examples of the variables that search engines consider include:
- Presence of keywords in domain name
- Presence of keywords in page titles
- Presence of keywords in the site's meta tags
- Proximity of keywords to the top of the page
- Frequency of keywords appear in the site text
- Proximity of keywords in the text on the site
- # of links to other sites with the keywords
- # of other sites linking to the site in question (How Google ranks sites)
- Date on which the site was last submitted (newer sites have higher rankings)
The "rules" developed by the programmers are designed to determine which sites have the greatest "relevance". Since search engines place a different importance on each of the analyzed variables, it is very possible for a site to be ranked high by one search engine and low by another, given the same search criteria. In a way, gaining a high positioning in a search return is almost more of an art than a science, and gaining a high ranking in every search return is almost impossible. Many companies have full-time employees dedicated to improving and maintaining a high ranking. While we don't suggest that any of our customers go to this extreme, we do like to temper our customers expectations about receiving a high ranking with every search engine, especially for commonly used keywords. With this caveat in mind, however, we also believe that is it possible to increase your sites ranking by making a few changes to your site.
Optimizing Your Site
Just as there are many variables that a search engine analyzes for determining a sites ranking, there are many ways to optimize a web site. The degree to which you optimize your site will depend on how much you wish to improve your site's ranking, for how many search engines you wish to optimize…and the amount of time and resources you are willing to commit to the optimization. Below we have provided recommendations for the most common and easiest aspects of your site to optimize. We leave it up to you to decide which recommendations you wish to follow. To assist you in understanding these optimization techniques, we will perform them for an imaginary company called Pooch Hotel, Inc., a dog grooming, kennel and pet shop located in Chicago, IL. We will optimize the site for a visitor using the keywords "dog" and "kennel".
Keywords: Why They Are Important and How to Pick Good Key Words
For most of the variables considered by search engines, keywords are at the heart of the ranking consideration. Therefore, the first step in optimizing a site is to make sure the correct keywords are selected. The best way to determine your keywords is to step out of your shoes and imagine yourself as one of your customers or prospects. How do you think these people will search for sites like yours? What keywords do you think they will enter into the search engines?
In our example, we may decide that good keywords are "dog, kennel, grooming, pet store". However, are these the only keywords that prospects may use? Probably not. If they are a current customer, they may try searching under our business name. They may also use variations of our keywords, such as "dogs, doggie, kennels, grooming service, pets, etc." Also, "key phrases" can produce a higher ranking with search engines ("dog kennel", instead of separate keywords "dog" and "kennel") so you should think about popular phrases that your customers might use. Since we also serve a small geographic region, they may enter a region as one of the keywords (such as Chicago, Illinois, IL, Chi-town, Loop, Lincoln Park, etc.). We may even want to consider popular misspellings of our most important keywords.
When developing your list of keywords, you should first start by consider all of the possible keywords your customers and prospects may use. Spend a few days thinking it over. Ask a few of your customers what keywords they actually would use. Build as large of a list as possible, while still keeping the keywords relevant to your business. Once you have a complete list, you can then rank the importance of the keywords to determine which are the most important to your company and deserve extra consideration in your optimization.
As we will show later on in this guide, your keywords should then be incorporated in many different areas of your site to guarantee a higher ranking.
One of the simplest optimization methods that people overlook is the optimization of their domain name. First of all, it's best to have a top-level domain name for your web site. A top-level domain name is of the format (www.PoochHotel.com). Some web site developers will provide you with a "free" sub-domain (www.developer_name.com/PoochHotel). However, search engines will rank sites with sub-domains lower than sites with relevant top-level domain names, which can greatly affect your ranking.
Many companies that do have top-level domain names will use their business name. In our example, it would be very reasonable to expect the owners to get the domain name (www.PoochHotel.com), so customer who know the business name will be able to easily locate the web site. However, if the visitor does not enter our business name as the search keywords, having a top-level domain will not be very helpful. It is therefore very common for companies to purchase secondary domains and link them to their web site. These domains would be selected to optimize the domain name for the most important keywords. In our example, since we are optimizing for the keywords "dog" and "kennel", we would try to purchase a secondary domain such as www.dogkennel.com. If this is not available, then variations might be tried: www.dog-kennel.com, www.doggiekennel.com, etc.)
Shorter domains with one or two keywords will rank higher, so if you have several sets of keywords that are important, it is better to purchase several domain names, rather than try to squeeze them into a single domain: (www.dog-kennel-grooming-pet-shop.com should be broken into 3 different domains for the best results).
If you ask most people about the most important aspect of search engine optimization, they will typically respond with "Meta Tags". In fact, many people do not understand meta tags or how they are used, and have simply heard that they are "necessary" for a successful search engine ranking. This word-of-mouth promotion for meta tags has propelled them in people's minds from simply another method if improving a site's ranking into the "secret" ingredient for guaranteeing a high ranking. However, not all search engines use meta tags in their search ranking formulas. Just because a site has meta tags doesn't mean it will have a high ranking. That being said, we will admit that meta tags CAN help improve your ranking and should be added to every web site that is submitted to a search engine.
There are three important meta tags that every site should have. These are:
The title meta tag is used by most browsers to determine what should appear in the title bar (the bar at the very top of the browser that displays the web sites name). Your title should be brief, but very keyword rich, while still making sense to your visitors. In our example, we may want to have the title of our home page be "Pooch Hotel – A luxury dog kennel, grooming service &pet store for your family friend". On other pages, we would want different titles that directly covered the topic of the page. On a page listing dog food, we would want to title to include the words "dog food".
Failure to put keywords in the page title is a major reason why perfectly relevant web pages receive poor rankings.
This meta tag is the code that lists all of your keywords that relate to your site. Many "spiders" will index the keywords in the meta tags separately from the page text and give different weighting to keywords that appear in this code. The keywords should be ordered by the importance to your business, not alphabetically, since some search engines will give more relevance to keywords near the beginning of the list. You should also be careful about the number of keywords you include. With some search engines, the relevance is divided by the total # of keywords present in the meta tag. We suggest that you limit your keyword list to 25 keywords. If you have more keywords that you want to include, we suggest that you break up your list among the pages of your web site and list the keywords on the page to which they are most relevant. Finally, you should avoid repeating a specific word more than five times in the meta tags (i.e. it can be better to list your keywords as "pet, store, toys, food" than "pet store, pet shop, pet toys, pet food") to avoid having the search engine think you are spamming (discussed later in this guide). However, since key phrases will generally result in higher relevance rankings, be careful not to break up your most popular phrases.
This code is sometimes used by search engines to provide the description that appears in the search return below the site's name. The description should be worded in complete sentences, as it will be read by visitors before they decide to follow the link to your site. It should also be keyword rich, as the search engines will also look for the presence of the search keywords in the description.
The meta tags should be inserted between the <HEAD> and </HEAD> tags of your document. Below is an example of how to format meta tags and where to place them:
<TITLE>Your Site Title goes here</TITLE>
<META name="keywords" content="Your keywords go here, separated by a comma">
<META name="description" content="Your site description goes here">
.. Page content is placed here ..
Positioning Your Keywords in Text
One of the most overlooked optimization techniques is the inclusion of keywords in your site text. Of all of the optimization techniques, this one is the most likely to generate a substantial increase in your search engine ranking. This is because many search engine developers realize that web masters can purposely alter other aspects of their site in order to achieve a higher ranking. But the text that they display on their site must make sense to their visitors, so the chances that this text is relevant to the purpose of the site is much greater than in other locations, such as domain names, meta tags, etc. Therefore, many search engines give considerable weight to keywords that appear in the text.
However, search engines will not necessarily weigh page text equally. The search engines generally assume the most important information is located at the top of the page. You should design your copy with this in mind, incorporating your most important keywords in the first few sentences or first paragraph.
Search engines may also pay attention to sites that attempt to use the text on the site solely for optimization. Each page you hope to have indexed should have at least 200 words, so the search engine will not penalize the site as a potential "spam" site (discussed later in this guide). The text on your page should have a high keyword frequency. You should also pay attention to the positional relationship of your keywords in the text. Search engines will give more weight to keywords that appear near each other than keywords that are in separate sentences. Finally, make sure that you use proper punctuation, do not repeat words or phrases excessively, and never repeat words or phrases over and over, one after the other. Search engines would interpret these actions as "spamming" and would penalize your ranking.
Also, you should avoid including relevant page text in graphics. While it looks pretty, search engines can't read those graphics and therefore can't read the "keywords" in the text. This means they miss out on text that might make your site more relevant and produce a higher ranking.
Finally, make sure that your HTML text is "visible." Some designers try to spam search engines by repeating keywords in a tiny font or in the same color as the background color to make the text invisible to browsers. Search engines are catching on to these and other tricks. Expect that if the text is not visible in a browser, then it won't be indexed by a search engine.
Another overlooked variable used by search engines is the presence of links. Some search engines, most notably Google.com, determine site ranking by analyzing how many links there are to the site from other external pages that contain the keywords. The thought behind this is that the designers of these other pages would only provide links to a site of high relevance. Therefore, the more links there are from other pages, the more likely that the site will be relevant to a topic associated with the keywords.
While it is very hard to control the number of external pages linking to your site, some search engines also analyze the number of links to relevant external pages that appear on your site. However, that doesn't just mean you should create links to every site possible. Quality is better than quantity. And you must carefully weigh the benefits of a higher ranking with the likelihood that visitors will leave your site too soon upon finding these links.
Refresh Your Submission Record
Some search engines give a weight to how new the listing is in their database. They believe that newer sites will be of greater interest and will have more up-to-date content. It is therefore wise to periodically resubmit to the search engines. This will also cause the search engines to re-"spider" your site, and update any content changes you have made to your site. With DigitalWork's Submit to Search Engine Service, we take care of this for you, by resubmitting your site every month.
While there are many ways you can optimize your site to improve your ranking, there are also several pitfalls that can hurt your ranking or even convince a search engine to delist your site.
Avoid Image Maps
Many "spiders" will attempt to follow links from the homepage to other pages of the site. Since these pages are likely to contain relevant keywords, it is beneficial to ensure that the "spiders" can access all pages of the site. Since "spiders" cannot follow links imbedded in image maps, these should be avoided for navigation purposes.
Avoid Landing Pages
Many sites will include a "landing page" as their site's homepage ("index.html") page. These pages typically include a large graphic and simply direct the visitors to your real homepage. These graphical " landing pages" are very detrimental to your site positioning, since many search engines will only "spider" or scan the first page of the sites looking for keyword matches. Since these graphical "landing pages" do not have any keywords that the spider can read (spiders cannot read words in graphical files), the search engine will find fewer keyword matches and will give your site a lower ranking.
Some of the major search engines cannot follow frame links. Therefore, sites typically rank much higher if they avoid using frames. The best method is to use standard static HTML pages. These are easier for "spiders" to index and guarantee that your site text will be properly added to the search engine database.
Search engines may also penalize pages, exclude them from the search ranking, or drop the site entirely from its database if the search engine detects that the site might be "spamming". There are many methods of spamming. Some common types that search engines are programmed to exclude are:
- Sites that repeat keywords multiple times in a row to increase the frequency and attempt to generate a higher listing
- Sites that have text using the same color code as the page background
- Sites that only include a few words on their homepage
- Sites that do not use properly punctuated text in the body of the page
- Sites that include hundreds of keywords in the meta tags
- Sites that have excessively long page titles or description meta tags
Once you have optimized your site, you should review all of your modifications to ensure they will not be interpreted as "spamming" by the search engines.
It's been 48 hours and I can't find my site on any search engines!
Many customers assume that when they use our service to submit their site, they will automatically receive a high ranking. However, since their sites are not optimized, their site is not return with a high ranking when they enter their preferred keywords. It is also possible that the search engines "spider" has not yet visited the site and this is also adversely affecting the ranking and making it difficult to locate the site in the search return. They do not search through every site listed in the search return (with likely several thousand sites returned, who would want to) and therefore they conclude that their site wasn't listed with the search engines.
The easiest way to determine if your site is in the search engine's database is to enter the full URL provided with your submission order (in our example, we would use www.PoochHotel.com). If you are unhappy with your ranking, we suggest that you implement some of the optimization techniques we have suggested to help improve your ranking.
How can I optimize my site for Google?
Google is one of the search engines that determines site ranking by analyzing how many links there are to your site from other external pages that contain the keywords. From the Google FAQ:
"Pages that have not been indexed yet probably haven't because not enough other pages on the web link to them — if other pages don't link to them, we can't assign them a PageRank (our proprietary measure of a page's importance) in a reasonable way. Once other links point to them, we'll pick them up. Google looks at the link interconnectedness among pages and allows the open, vast nature of the Internet to yield the most relevant search results."
It is therefore not possible to optimize your site for Google. Instead, you should focus on optimizing your site for the other major search engines. As you improve the accessibility of your site by increasing its ranking with the other major search engines, you will make your site available to a greater number of visitors, and increase the likelihood that other webmasters will create external links to your site.