Simple Steps to Market Your Site With Search Engines

The web is a busy, crowded place. It is always rush hour, everyone is in a hurry and the drivers aren't too fond of chatting while en route to their destination. Most folks may not know exactly where they're going but they know how they will get there: with a search engine. Google, Yahoo, AOL and other search tools are the sherpas of the Internet, guiding lost souls to their guru.

Lots of folks ask "Well, if the Web is so busy, why is it so quiet around these parts?" Like I said, people aren't interested in meandering. You need to make your site easy to find. As search engines are the guide of choice, replacing bookmarks for many folks, it is in your interest to maximize your site's friendliness to search engines like Google.

And to get the most bang for your buck, pay attention to Google. Today, Google's search tool is the technology behind the Yahoo and AOL search engines.

Log On

First, you need to pay attention to how folks are getting to your site and what they are doing there. This means checking out your 'log files.' I could spend lots of time demystifying log files and the power of the text in them but, fortunately, Philip Greenspun has already done that for me.

Just remember that your log files record where everyone coming to your site came from. If they got to your site using a link at Google, your log file will tell you that. It will also tell you what word or phrase the visitor typed into Google to get the search results that linked to you. Pretty cool. But log files aren't user friendly. Looking at them is like watching the green text stream by in the Matrix.

Fortunately, there are numerous programs that take one's log files and process them: slicing, dicing, sprinkling with cinnamon and setting them on the table all nice and pretty. These programs have names like Awstats, my current favorite for use on an Apache/Linux server. Some others include: Analog, Webalizer, Webtrends, SmarterStats, Sawmill and so on and so forth.

Whoa, before we go too far into log analysis, just wait a minute. It's a big mouthful all by itself. Maybe we'll talk more later.

The point is, you need to know who your 'referrers' are and the 'search terms' used to get folks to your site. If you don't have log analysis tools that can help you do this, get them. If you don't know how to do that or to read the reports that they produce, talk to someone who can. If you can't or won't do this then the rest of this article is just a bunch of blah blah blah that probably won't do you much good anyway.

Now to the good stuff...

The sheer size of the Internet and quantity of words on it mean that it is darn near impossible to have a site that comes up first with every Google search term or phrase that you, your boss, your board and your parents can think up. If you have a small, ten to 50 page site, then you will likely have a difficult time ranking high unless you have are happy focusing on just a few search words and phrases.

Most often, broader appeal comes through a steady stream of new content. Keep adding to your site. As you do, keep an eye on your page titles and incorporate key search terms and phrases into them.

The software used by Google and other search engines is not as 'smart' as you may think. After all these years, it still looks in some basic places on your pages. Most important are Page Titles and the content near the top of the page. Google checks here first because it's easy and because if you have terms here that match search terms, Google figures your page is likely to be relevant to the person doing the searching.

Keywords are not such a big deal. The thing to remember about keywords is to use a handful that are relevant to page content and reinforce your Page Title and content. Otherwise, Google could care less.

It's very easy to see content placement and the density terms in your content at work.

Type in border collies at Google. The first page of results will all have the phrase Border Collies in the page title. Google highlights your search terms/phrase in the search results so you can see if and how often it is showing up in the page content as well. The top-ranked results have the phrase Border Collies in their page content multiple times.

Now try it with some terms folks might use to find your site. This is perhaps the best way to see how you're doing (in addition to regularly analyzing your log files). Each month, enter in the same terms and see what happens. Is there any change? Be sure to get ideas for terms from your log files.

Key Points

1) Content Relevance

Clean, concise content that emphasizes the search terms in title, keywords and content. Clean code matters: make it easy for the search engine robots to find content on a page and navigate your site.

You should be careful about using drop-down menus for site navigation, especially on your home page. These are the menus that allow you to hover a mouse over a word and see a bunch of links pop up beneath the word. The code used to generate this effect can be darn hard for a search engine to scan. Best advice: if your site uses drop-down navigation, try to replicate your navigation scheme with a site map of sorts on your homepage. The Wilderness Society does this.

2) Page Importance

Google cares about how important other users of the Internet think your page is to them. This is measured primarily by the frequency with which your page is linked to from other websites. This is why spammers recently began clogging web log comment areas with bogus comments that included links to their sites.

Here's a cool and useful tool to find out who's linking to your site. Go to Google and enter [link: www.mydomain.com .] The results returned will be all the links to your domain that Google has registered. Unless you're into covert operations, more is better.

Enter link: nytimes.com and you get 116,000 results. No small number and a feat that just won't be replicated no matter how hard you try. But remember that the New York Times doesn't go out and call folks up asking them to link to their site. They generate a lot of wide ranging content. People talk and write about what's in the New York Times. They link to it in their own online articles, in bulletin boards, in online forums and chat rooms and in blogs, which is significant right now.

The point is one that you can learn from without starting a billion dollar international journalistic empire. You will benefit from continually creating interesting, relevant content that people will want to share and talk about. Your site will be more useful in and of itself and if you take time to market it, folks will use it and talk about it online.

More Information for the Ambitious

Enter Search Engine Optimization into Google and you'll come up with over 3,000,000 (yes, million) results. Not surprisingly, the top ranked results are firms that will charge you to submit and optimize your site. Frankly, paying for search engine submission is a waste for most anybody. And if you have the time and a little guidance (like, say, this document), you can optimize your site yourself. Just be sure to take the time to do it or have someone give you a hand. It can make a difference.

Here a few links to help you jump-start the process. Happy optimizing.

SiteBuilder
26 Steps to 15k a Day
Brett Tabke, Feb 2, 2002

The big takeaway: "Long before the domain name is settled on, start putting together notes to build at least a 100 page site."

An article about why clean code matters at A List Apart
Using XHTML/CSS for an Effective SEO Campaign
Brandon Olejniczak, September 1, 2003

The big takeaway: "Search engine spiders work much the same way that the human eye does, and if there’s too much “junk text” in your HTML, it’s going to be hard for spiders to know what is what and to be able to decide that a page is relevant to a particular category."

What does Google Say?
Get the scoop straight from the horse at Google's Information for Webmasters pages

The big takeaway: "We add thousands of new sites to our index each time we crawl the Web, but if you like, you may submit your URL as well. Submission is not necessary and does not guarantee inclusion in our index."

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