Network: Web Design: How to get search engines to notice you

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The Independent Culture
LAST WEEK I delved into the secrets behind some of the most popular search engines. This week I want to help you get your site noticed by those search engines. The key to getting noticed is getting search engines to acknowledge your page when it is relevant to the search at hand. How does the search engine know that your site is relevant? There are several ways.

The first thing you have to do to ensure that your site will show up in a search engine is to make sure that it is either included in the index either by registering with the directory or by getting crawled by a Web spider. Your page can't show up as relevant if it doesn't appear in the search engine in the first place.

Of course, on a search engine that uses a crawler to find websites, all you have to do is wait, and eventually the crawler will get around to you. However, most crawlers will allow you to submit your site to be crawled almost immediately, and it is a good idea to do this especially after you have made any major changes to your site.

Most search engines will have a link that allows you to submit your site, but you may have to hunt around on the site to find it. Once upon a time you could use the Submit.com service to submit your site to a multitude of sites simultaneously and for free. Unfortunately, that service was purchased by Microsoft and is no longer free, so I'm still looking for a good submission service. Anyone have a suggestion?

The connection

Despite popular belief, tags are not the magic solution to our search engine woes. In fact, not all search engines use them, and those that do will generally only consider them as a (small) part of the relevancy equation.

This is not to say that you should not include them, or that they do not help, but do not rely on them to propel you to the top of the search results list.

There are two tags in particular that we want to include in the

of a document to catch the spider's eye. The description tag is a sentence or two that tells the search engine what is on the page, and may be used by the search engine to describe the page in the results:

More important than the description are the keywords. This is a list of words provided by the author that should are relevant to the page being searched:



Watch what you say, and where you say it

All search engines look for keywords in HTML text of a Web page, and they pay careful attention to where these keywords appear on the page and how often they appear. The

It is also important to include self-descriptive language in the

of the page, and the closer to the "top" of the document, the better. However, it may not always be obvious where the top is.

Imagine the simplest browser in the world, something like a Lynx browser that ignores tables and any other markup that you may have added to organise how text appears in the browser window. This is how a search engine views your page, so the closer the text appears to the top of the coded page (ie, in the HTML), the more relevant it is ranked by the search engine.

While a sidebar on a Web page may appear to the left of the main text when displayed in the browser window, that sidebar actually appears before the main text in the code for the purposes of searching the page.

One often overlooked way to increase your ranking is by having links from other websites to yours. This helps you in two ways:

First, the more sites that link to your site, the more likely it is that your site will be crawled

Second, many search engines will rank sites with more links to it higher than isolated sites

So make friends and get them to link to your site.

Things to avoid

In addition to the things you should do to increase the likelihood of showing up in the search results, there are a few things you should avoid doing that will help as well.

No HTML links or HTML Text: Many sites will use image maps and text in graphics to create their design.

This may look nice, but it can leave a search engine with nothing to search. Make sure to always include redundant HTML links for site maps and give graphic text a long description with the complete text.

A thick

: Since most search engines rank the relevancy of a page based on how close to the top of the page the keywords appear, text in the of the document, such as JavaScript and Cascading Style Sheets, can move the relevant text farther down. To get around this, try to place as much of your CSS and JavaScript as you can in external files and import it.

Spamming: Many search engines will disqualify sites that attempt to spam them by trying to load the page with keywords either in the tag, in the

. My advice: just don't do it.

Jason Cranford Teague is the author of `DHTML For the World Wide Web'. You can find an archive of his column at Webbed Environments (www.webbedenvironments. com) or e-mail him at jason@ webbedenvironments.com

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