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Improving Your Alta Vista
Search Engine Ranking

By Christopher S L Heng
Alta Vista actually publishes their criteria for ranking sites. I am not sure, though, how much of it reflects the actual practice (sometimes what is desired is not necessarily what is implemented).
Ranking Tips
In any case, the documentation suggests a few things you should have in order to improve your site's ranking there. Here are a few of the important ones:
* Your title tag should hold keywords that meaningfully describe your page. Note that this "title" refers to the one in the HEAD section of your document, not the one displayed in your browser window. Alta Vista's documentation states that this tag has precedence over any META tags your page may have.
* The first lines of your page are important. Again, this is more important than your META tags for Alta Vista. This means that if you want your site ranked higher on Alta Vista, you should put some sort of description of your page at the top of the page instead of the usual graphics (with its cryptic ALT text).
* Links to your site containing the keyword that the visitor is searching for improve your site's ranking. For example, if a visitor is searching for "CGI scripts" and there are many links to your site with those words in the anchor text, your site will be ranked higher.
How About the Ubiquitous META Tag?
You should probably note that for Alta Vista, the keyword META tag has about the same value as the other words on the web page itself. In fact, if the META keyword tag has keywords unrelated to the content of your page, your page will be penalised. The Alta Vista documentation (on the METATAGS page) actually states that your ranking may improve if you use both the title tag and descriptive initial lines in your document *without* any META keyword tag.
You should check out their entire list yourself, since things change from time to time. The criteria can be found at:
Undocumented Ranking Tips
Even if many pages on your site contain words that are relevant to your user's text, you should probably be aware that only one of those pages will be displayed.
However, some people appear to have worked around this (knowingly or unknowingly) by submitting both their form of their site URL as well as their form of their URL. These will then be listed on Alta Vista as two different sites. There is a possibility that some people might even purchase additional domain names pointing to the same web site and submitting those as well. This way, your site will appear a few times in a search.
CAUTION: You should be careful about dominating too many items in a search, because the people running the search engine might decide that you're spamming the index and either ban your site from the engine or penalise it (by dropping its ranking).
Another way around this one URL listing is to have mirror sites. Since each site will have a different URL, they will all be listed. Again, the same caution mentioned above applies. Excessive numbers of identical content dominating many items of the search engine results may result in your site being banned or penalised.
Buggy Indexing Engine
Recently, there have been reports of Alta Vista's indexing engine being buggy in some way. In particular, it lists numerous sites as having "No Title" even though those sites actually have <TITLE> tags on their web pages. If the pages on your site have been indexed by Alta Vista recently (probably after July 2000), you might be one of those affected.
There have been a number of rumours as to what actually causes this: some say that the indexing engine chokes when it encounters <TITLE> tags that have two consecutive spaces in their title. However, from observation, where a number of pages with properly formulated title tags have been affected by the bug, this probably isn't the only cause (if at all). There are only single spaces in all my TITLE tags. I have retitled the affected documents by rewording it and changing its length and have found that to be fairly effective in getting the documents indexed.
Without more information from Alta Vista, it is difficult to say for certain what triggers the bug. My suggestion is, you're one of those affected, to change the length of your titles by adding additional words or rewording it slightly. Who knows? By the time you read this, the bug may have already been fixed, and a simple resubmission of the page to the spider might suffice.
All the best on your website!

Source: Copyright by Christopher S L Heng. All rights reserved.
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