Making Your Website Visible

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Introduction

There are a few steps you can take when creating a new web site or new pages to help increase their visibility in search engine results. As with so many things, the more visible you want your site the more time you may need to spend on this.

In addition, you need to think about whether your particular topic will make it possible for your site to appear on the first page of, say, a Google search. Or, optionally, if this is absolutely critical to your goal. For instance, perhaps it is more important to have your site listed as a resource at other critical sites. You may find that you will get more visitors to your site from this type of referral than from a search engine result.

To design your site with search engines in mind you need to first realize what is the question that you are answering. This is critical. When someone looks for the information you have on your site, then you need to be sure your site is visible to them. Some of the most critical items that affect visibility are:

Critical Items [Return to Top]

  • The title in the header of each page
  • Meta tags with descriptive keywords in your pages header section
  • Text contained in each page
  • Text in the first paragraph of the page
  • Relevance of text used as it corresponds to keywords in your meta-tags
  • Links that use keywords
  • Images with descriptive "alt" tags that include keywords
  • Who links to the page

We'll go in to some more detail about these shortly. In addition, here are some secondary items you will want to consider:

Secondary Items [Return to Top]

  • Creation of pages linked from your main page that emphasize keywords
  • Submitting your web page's URL to various search engines
  • Creation of log reports that include keywords used in searches that led to your site
  • Consider submitting your site to some on-line directories
  • Get your site listed on industry-specific leading sites for the topic or topics you are covering
  • Many people try to get as many reciprocal links as possible from other sites. We'll discuss the pros and cons of this.
  • The more your site is mentioned the more visible it becomes. I.e., on-line newsletters, blogs, news announcements, etc.

Many people publish articles on this and include commercial services, other strategies, etc as methods for increasing website visibility. In addition, over time some of these strategies change based on how search engines classify sites. You can always go to popular search engines (http://www.google.com/ for instance) and search on things like:

"Making your site more visible"
"Make website more visible"
"Increase website visibility

to see what people are doing currently to improve website visibility.

As you can see from the items listed above you need to think about your content a bit and how you will organize it before creating your website. If you take some time to strategize about keywords and then build pages using titles, headings, initial text, and linked pages with those keywords this can greatly improve your site's visibility.

In addition, you may want to be prepared to adjust some of your keywords and how you use them after some time based on what your visitor logs are telling you. If you discover that some large percentage of people are finding your site by searching on terms you do not stress, then this may mean that you should adjust for your audience and include some of those terms in headers, titles, links, etc.

Now we'll go in to a bit more detail for each item listed above.

Page Title in the Header Section [Return to Top]

At the start of your document you should have a section that looks something like this (we use an invented sample for clarity):

<HEAD>
<TITLE>Computer Donations for Non-Profits, ACME, Inc.</TITLE>
</HEAD>

Keep this relatively short. This is the key descriptive text that users will see in search-engine results. The other text they'll see will likely be part of the initial first paragraph on your page. Be sure you include whatever your speciality is. If, for instance you only worked with Macintosh computers for donations, then your title should indicate this:

<HEAD>
<TITLE>Macintosh Computer Donations for Non-Profits, ACME, Inc.</TITLE>
</HEAD>

Meta Tags and Keywords [Return to Top]

These are included by using the following command and format:

<META NAME="DESCRIPTION" CONTENT="Donate your used Macintosh computers to non-profits and earn a tax break">

This command belongs between the <HEAD> and </HEAD> tags at the top of your page. The trick is to actively use what you include here. In addition, you should note that this is the descriptive text that may appear below your page's title in some search engine results.

Your main keywords based on the example above are:

"donate", "macintosh", "computer", "non-profit", "earn", "tax", and "break"

Why? Because search engines largely ignore connector words like "your", "to", "and", "a", and possibly "used". In addition, man users know to increase their search results by using singular versions of words vs. plurals. For instance, while you used "computers" in your keyword list, the actual word that may be searched on is "computer".

Now that you have some keywords you should start to use them! For instance, try to include each of these in a descriptive paragraph at the top of your page. If you have a title try using the HTML header commands vs. using larger font sizes and bold. Search engines look for "<H1>" and "</H1>" (and the subsequent H2, H3, etc. levels) for titles with keywords. If you use something like:

<FONT SIZE="5"><B>
Donating your Used Macintosh Computer
</FONT></B>

Some search engines will not see this as a title and will not improve your indiexing score as much as if you had used the HTML header commands instead.

Two Things Not to Do

  1. If you use keywords in your META tag, but then you don't use them in your page this can hurt your ranking in search engines as this is a common practice for spam-related sites.
  2. One practice is to set the background color of the page to, say, white. At the bottom of the page you can, then, include lots and lots of invisible text by making it white as well in the hopes of increasing the page's ranking based on keyword usage. Some search engines note this and mark such pages down, significantly, in their indexing. This is another common practice of spam-related sites.

Text and Links Used in Pages [Return to Top]

As noted above, if you can include your META DESCRPTION keywords in the first paragraph of your page this helps. In addition if you use keywords in the page's subsequent text that helps as well.

If you have links that use keywords this can increase your pages ranking in search results. Even better is if you create links to subsequent pages that define in more detail some of the keywords used. For instance, in our case, you might want to have a link to "Tax Breaks" and then describe the tax advantages of donating your used computer to non-profits.

Images with Descriptive "ALT" Tags [Return to Top]

If your page contains images you should be sure to describe these images using the "ALT" tag in the "<IMG>" tag. Its' even better if you have images that can be described using keywords.

Who Links to the Page [Return to Top]

This also comes under the topic of trying to get reciprocal links. There are many services available that offer to link to your site if you link to theirs. You can create a separate links page, that links to your site's main page, etc. to do this. Some people see this activity and the associated requests as spam, while others view it as a legitimate business activity. Depending on your area of business or activity you may want to consider how others will view this.

If many people link to your site or page, then your page will increase in ranking in search results. You can, also, achieve this result by writing stories that link back to your site, sending out press releases, creating a newsletter, using your site's address in your email signature (watch out, this will guarantee more spam sent to your domain as well), etc.

Submitting your Site to Linking Sites and Search Engines [Return to Top]

There are several "directory" sites available where you can place your site. This will ensure that your site is linked back to from these sites. An example of this is the Open Directory Project. With any such service you may need to consider carefully whether this site will be used to simply cull your site's domain name and potential email addresses for spammers.

Most of the search engines, and directories like Yahoo include links to include your URL to their databases. This may speed-up the initial indexing of your site. For instance at Google you go to www.google.com/addurl to do this.

List your Site with your Peers [Return to Top]

If you belong to an organization or organizations then be sure you are listed with them on their main sites if this is a service they offer. If there are critical magazines or resources for your area of work, see if your site belongs on these pages. These may, in the end, be the best reference and referrals that your site will have.

Pay Attention to your Web Logs! [Return to Top]

You can use web logging software to get some basic reports about who is visiting your site and how. For instance, it may be useful to see what geographical locations visit your site, what type of domains are connecting the most, and most importantly, what keywords were used for those who found your site via search engines. Most search engines will include the keywords used in the referring URL if a user immediately clicks to your site from a page full of search results.

Based on this information you can adjust your site's keywords, placement of information, etc. if needed.

A few more Considerations: Frames and Dynamic Pages [Return to Top]

To start, let's deal with frames. The main issue here is that (for example) a file like index.html is not the actual file that contains the page information for your site's main page if you are using frames. There are many ways to use frames, but a very typical method is to have a left, top, or bottom navigation area that does not scroll while in a separate frame you have actual content. This means that index.html points to one frame that has the navigational elements and another frame with the actual content. When a search site checks on your site and looks at index.html they will, often, completely miss the contents of the other two files referenced by index.html. This means that search results may be poor or incomplete. Naturally this is just one example of many possible situations.

OK, so how do you deal with this? The easiest method is to be sure that you have the full content of the files referenced to in the main frame file (in this case index.html) in a section referenced by the <noframes> and then </noframes> tags. In addition, be sure that you have any of the meta tags needed included in the primary frames file as well. Finally, don't forget to include the correct title for the page in this file as well.

You may have already noted a major issue with the statements above. If you need to use the <noframes> </noframes> construct, then you are essentially doubling your work. This means that each time you make a change to your file you must also make the equivalent change to the <noframes> </noframes> section in the primary frames file. In addition, you will probably have to spend some time designing this section to recreate your "framed" version of the page in a reasonable fashion. As an aside, there are some browsers that cannot view frames, so having this section will insure that people using these browsers can view your site. Generally the number of people visiting your site who cannot view frames will be very low.

What about dynamically created pages? Generally these are pages that are either partially or totally generated from a database. This means that the actual file sitting on your server may have only a few lines of HTML code, or simply be a reference to a database entry using something like Perl or Visual Basic Script (ASP pages). In general, if the page being generated appears to contain all the necessary HTML code to create a search engine reference, then this should not be a major issue. The reason for this is that the Web server is what returns the page that is generated for most search engines to see. As long as this appears as a reasonably formatted page then search engines should be able to use it to create references in their database.

Conclusion [Return to Top]

Making your site visible on the Web can be a time consuming, labor intensive process. But, taking a few basic steps, and avoiding a few pitfalls, can help to improve your site's visibility dramatically. Most of the information in this document will change over time, so if you see errors, or have comments we would love to hear them. Feel free to send them directly to the Network Startup Resource Center at nsrc@nsrc.org.