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Plant Your Site at the Top of Mt. Search Engine

By Jill Whalen
Posted Friday, September 17, 2004

You can get the page one search engine results you want if you follow a few basic fundamental search engine optimization rules.

My name is Jill Whalen (aka "The Web Whiz"). I've been in Web development and search engine optimization for seven years and am looking forward to sharing some great insights with you on how to obtain and retain high visibility for your sites on the leading search engines and directories.

Top level listings are absolutely critical for the success of your Web business. Why? According to most studies, the average user never goes past the third page of the search results. But there is some good news -- you can get the results you need if you follow a few basic fundamentals.

Understand the Basic Terminology

There are two basic types of search sites: pure search engines and directories. Pure search engines add Web site pages to their databases automatically based on user submissions. However, these search engines also periodically send their automatic robots or "spiders" out to "crawl" for new and updated Web sites. Individual search engines use complex algorithms based on a site's information and html code to rank sites. Google is an example of a pure search engine.

Directories are the second type of search site. To get listed on a directory, you must actually submit your front page URL on the directory's submission form. Unlike pure search engines, directories don't automatically add sites. Human reviewers check every submission to decide if it's appropriate for the directory. Web sites submitted to directories are usually ranked according to the information provided on the submission form, as opposed to actual information on the Web site, so what goes on the form is critically important. The Open Directory, Yahoo and LookSmart are the main Internet directories in use today.

Most of the major search sites on the Internet today combine search engine and directory functionality. Major search engines like Google, MSN, AltaVista, Excite, Lycos and HotBot all have some form of directory associated with them. The opposite is true of major directories such as Yahoo! and LookSmart. If no results from their human-edited directories match your search query, their search engines then search through a database of spidered sites to give you results. For example, at Yahoo!, Yahoo! Websites provides directory results, and Yahoo! Web Pages provides spidered results from Google. Many site owners have mistakenly believed their sites were added to Yahoo!'s human-edited directory after seeing their sites appear in the Yahoo! Web Pages results. However, in reality, they're not in Yahoo!'s directory at all, but in Google's database. (You'll always receive e-mail notification when and if your site gets added to Yahoo!'s actual directory.)

Be Realistic About your Keyword Choices

First, be realistic about your keyword choices. Never expect a high ranking for one-word keywords -- there are simply too many sites on the Internet for a one-word search to be effective. In addition, it's practically impossible to create a one-word search that is targeted to your specific Web site.

For example, suppose you sell real estate in Florida. You might assume that using the word "home" as your keyword would produce a lot of targeted traffic. Wrong. Obviously, just because people search for the word "home" doesn't mean they're looking to buy or sell a home in Florida. However, if you choose "moving to Florida" as your keywords, most of your site visitors will be people actually interested in moving to Florida, and therefore probably needing real estate. This is the beauty of choosing the proper keyword phrases: you get an extremely targeted audience!

Once you do have reasonable and relevant keyphrases chosen for your site, you absolutely MUST write good, professional, keyword-rich marketing copy (or hire someone to do so) on every page of your Web site. You almost don't have to do anything else and you will rank high.

Meta Tags Aren't a Panacea

Second, don't put all your eggs in the meta tags basket. Most clients that come to me are under the false impression that they simply need to put some keywords into their meta tags (a hidden bit of code that is read by search engines to help properly index Web sites), and high rankings will be the natural result. The meta keyword tag is helpful, but also highly overrated. In almost every case the reason a Web site is not highly ranked is simply a lack of good, professional marketing copy. Period. (See Heather Lloyd-Martin's article entitled, "How to Write a Keyword Rich Homepage" for more information.

Design Your Site with Search Engines in Mind

And third, watch out for site designs that aren't search engine-friendly. I often encounter poor Web design -- incorrect usage of frames, java-enabled mouse over buttons (as opposed to javascript or simple .gifs), or dynamically generated pages that cannot be indexed by many engines. It's no fun telling these site owners they'll never see high search engine rankings unless they go back to square one with their site designs. Many of these people just spent a ton of money on some fancy design and are less than thrilled to hear what I tell them. The smart ones listen and do what it takes; I'm not sure what happens to the other ones. (See Shirley Kaiser's article, "Designing for Search Engines and Stars" for more information on how to design a search engine-friendly site.)

Stay Tuned...

We've just touched the tip of the iceberg in this first column. In other articles we'll drill into the specific things that you can do to boost your rankings such as title tags, meta descriptions, image alt tags, headers, and submission and reporting tools. We'll also explore more general issues such as determining the best keywords for your site and understanding doorway pages.

About the Author
Contact Jill Whalen by e-mail at

Jill Whalen of High Rankings is an internationally recognized search engine optimization consultant and host of the free weekly High Rankings Advisor search engine marketing newsletter.

She specializes in search engine optimization, SEO consultations and seminars. Jill's handbook, "The Nitty-gritty of Writing for the Search Engines" teaches business owners how and where to place relevant keyword phrases on their Web sites so that they make sense to users and gain high rankings in the major search engines.


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