It is an essential part of business that you get your company listed by popular search engines. Unfortunately this is much harder to do than it sounds and more difficult to achieve than only a few years ago. However, in the early stages it’s vital to understand that there are basically two different kinds of search engines, one is an index and the other a directory.
Index Search Engines
The most popular and largest index on the Internet is Google. Typically an index “crawls” a URL and selects keywords from the web pages it finds. A piece of software called a “spider” follows the links in your pages to other documents and indexes the content it finds. This process is entirely machine driven with no human decisions about what is added to the index.
Normally an index will look for particular keywords in your site, things that describe the content, and the index system will create an abstract view of your site based entirely on these words. With a system such as Google it also looks to see how many other sites link to your site and this will raise or lower your ranking on Google accordingly. Most indices, and Google in particular, are very hard to fool into giving your site artificially higher rankings.
At predetermined times an index will re-crawl your site again to remove dead links and add new content that may have appeared since it last visited. Currently an index is the most widely used form of web searching because of its accuracy and completeness and many web browsers also default to returning results from an index if you make an error in typing the URL.
- Very thorough
- Automatically updates itself
- Very popular
- Democratic, difficult to cheat
- Embedded in some software such as web browsers
- Not always accurate
- Long periods between updates
- Unforgiving–will index any content it can find, little discretion
- Little or no human involvement
Directory Search Engines
One of the original directory-based search engines was Yahoo! A directory is a much more discrete form of search engine than an index. The most obvious distinction is that most directories are human authored. In other words, you apply for a listing (say, on Yahoo!) and then wait for a person to review your site and then approve it’s listing in a particular category.
Like the name suggests, a directory is an ordered list of websites separated into categories. This is distinct from an index where there are, in effect, no categories, as searching matches are made on keywords. With a directory a search is matched to a particular category or a set of categories.
- Human input allows more intelligent decisions to be made
- Good when content changes regularly but basic category remains the same
- Category searching allows website to be located by other criteria such as geographic location
- Can be very slow to be added as every entry is checked by an editor. This can means delays of six months or more.
- If you submit to the wrong category your submission will be ignored and you will get no notification
- If your URL changes it can take many months to up date the directory
- Entries are at the discretion of an editor
There are no hard-and-fast rules for getting your site accepted by a search engine such as Google, Yahoo! or Alta Vista. However, there are some basic points you should think about:
1. Allowing Enough Time
Give your site at least three months to be accepted by indices and six months for directories unless you’re very lucky. This seems like a long time but the indices of search engines such as Google are very large and they are updated only slowly so that information propagates through the web at an acceptable speed.
2. Document Content
Think carefully about the text in your documents, especially on the default pages (such as index.html). Use Metadata to add keywords and descriptions to the document headers , as these are read by search engine spiders. Examples of Metadata for the HTML <head> section are:
<meta name="keywords" content=``Computer repair, maintenance, aftersales, service, Newcastle upon Tyne, Newcastle, Tyneside’’>
<meta name=”description” content=``We repair and upgrade computers in the Newcastle upon Tyne area’’>
Take care with the kind of keywords and description you use. Try to be distinctive, precise and easy to find. Don’t be too generic, as using words such as “Business Information” will result in your business being lost amongst thousands. Take your time and don’t upload anything to your live website until you are ready—a spider may inadvertently add your website using keywords or a description that you later feel is inappropriate.
Some other tips for making sure your pages are correctly indexed:
- Don’t use HTML frames on important pages, as they are very difficult to index
- Try to use HTML mark-up rather than graphics for headings such as <h1>, <h2> and so on. Most indices will see a HTML heading tag and they will know to give the words in headings greater prominence in the index.
- Make use of ALT text inside of any <image> tags, as this will also be indexed.
3. Paying for Listings
There are services which, for a fee, will guarantee inclusion in major search engines but not the ranking of them*. Often these are called “Express Services” which, because you have paid a fee, means your submission will take priority.
If you have a commercial site then paying for listings may make sense, if, for example, it is taking too long to get listed via a search engine free service or you need assurances that it will be added. However it is worth being cautious. Firstly it does not imply that your site will be higher up the list of returned results, it can often just mean that it has been added to the index but its final ranking depends on its popularity through reciprocal links on other websites.
There are also companies that aim to get your website listed on search engines using less than acceptable measures—see “6. Don’t Spam Search Engines”, below.
4. Paid for Results
Another form of paying for search listing is in the form of Sponsored Links or Sponsored Keywords. This means that when someone searches for a particular term, for example, “Outdoor Catering in Newcastle” a link to your website will be returned prominently as a Sponsored Link ,which is displayed as a type of advertisement.
There is little data on how successful these can be and needless to say it can be a very expensive way to get your site known because your site is given prominence when certain “trigger” keywords are entered into the search engine. Also some people believe that paid-for results undermine the democratic nature of search engines and deliberately don’t click on sponsored links.
5. Don’t Change URLs
Once you have a URL, keep it. It can take a long time and much effort to get your site listed and once you are indexed ensure that you remain so by not changing your URL. If you delete, rename or move documents use some method of redirecting visitors to where the content is, preferably through automatic redirection. Often if visitors click on a link on Google and it takes them immediately to a “404–Not Found” error on your site, they will click the back button on their browser and may never return.
6. Don’t Spam Search Engines
This is an ugly form of promotion that some feel is as anti-social as email spam. Spamming search engines can take many forms, of which the most well known are listed below. Be aware that search engine providers such as Yahoo! and Google take a very dim view of trying to artificially influence search results and you may find your site permanently excluded from them.
Avoid the following:
- Excessive Keywords.
Some sites use web pages with hundreds, sometimes thousands, of keywords on pages. A common trick is to hide them by making the document text the same colour as the background of the page. This means humans will not see the text but a search engine spider may be fooled by it.
- Dummy Pages.
This uses much the same tactic as excessive keywords, where a site has many hyperlinked pages containing nothing but keywords. However, when a surfer tries to access the page they are automatically redirected to the real content, but the search engine spider can be fooled.
- Dummy Domains.
Some people go as far as setting up multiple website domains filled with both keywords and hyperlinks to the real domain in order to try and influence their rankings on Google.
- Purchasing Abandoned Domains.
As it can take search engines many months to fully update and eliminate old links, some people buy-up expired domains and point them to other sites.
- Creating Imitation Fan-Run Sites.
A common tactic is to use free web space providers such as GeoCities and Tripod and set-up what looks like a hobby-website but in fact redirects visitors to a commercial site.