The search to be found

Written by Dave Collins, SoftwarePromotions Ltd.

The search engines are probably one of the most commonly used and misunderstood tools of the internet. To those searching for whatever takes their interest it’s a fairly murky process; to the people on the other side, the people waiting to be found, the view isn’t even that clear…

Before anything else – let’s start with the absolute basics. A search engine is merely a site used by people to find other sites. Most of the search engines send out their robots, whose aim is to spider the web, constantly looking for more sites and pages, storing the relevant content and following link after link. As with most things in business and life, taking action to ensure that you’re found is more advisable than just waiting for that day to come on its own.

But being found by the engines isn’t even half the story; you also have to make sure they pay attention to the right parts, understand what you’re about, list you in the right places, and that anyone using their site will find you before they find your competition. Doing so doesn’t involve guesswork – all the sites have their own rules and procedures, and on the whole work according to fairly logical and methodical rules. Neither does it involve black magic or guesswork, and sneaky tricks are a waste of time. Getting a prominent listing with the search engines mainly involves a little research, applying a few techniques, a bit of hard work… and maybe just a little bit of black magic for good luck…

Dave’s Rule
Have a quick flit around the internet and you’ll see the “7 steps” guides, the “secret techniques“, the “insider tips they tried to ban” and so on. Take it from me, there’s only one golden rule – for practical reasons I suggest calling it Dave’s Rule; nice and simple! Dave’s Rule states the following. “There are no golden rules, no tricks and no secrets. There are two factors to achieving search engine success – having the pages on your site setup correctly, and making sure the search engines know where to find you.”

That’s all there is to it. Am I saying that every single one of these special techniques and secret trick reports are a complete waste of time? In my opinion, definitely. So let’s begin with the basics. If used correctly, the search engines should bring in a significant amount of visitors to your site. After all, we’re all selling something, and many of your potential customers may not yet know about you.

The starting point is the site itself. There’s no point in submitting pages that haven’t yet been setup correctly, and doing the groundwork here is critical. An important point to understand is that different search engines have different rules – what works with one may not work with another. There are two different ways of going about it – the first is to have separate pages for each search engine, and the second solution is to setup your pages to accommodate as many engines as possible. We’ll look at separate pages for each engine a little later, for now we’ll concentrate on setting up our “page for all engines”.

The HEAD of your page is critical to most search engines – almost everything between the <head> and </head> tags in your page will affect how the engines view and list your pages, so it’s absolutely critical that it’s setup correctly.

After the first <head> tag, the very next thing that should appear is the <title>. The <title> is one of the most important tags – it will be the name of the page that shows up in your visitor’s browser, and more importantly carries a great deal of weight with the engines.

Make sure that important keywords are in there, and keep it reasonably short – ideally 7-10 words or so. Choose your keywords sensibly – think what people might be looking for. Example – a company called Kelev selling their cold-cure product ColdGone would be wasting their time by having “Kelev’s – the only cure that works”, whereas “Cold cure – Kelev’s ColdGone makes your cold go away” would be far more likely to be found.

You may wonder why the title begins with the description as opposed to the company or product names. Some engines pay attention to the weighing of the title – so you should keep your more important words at the beginning. Think about it – unless you’re lucky enough to be widely known worldwide, less people are likely to search for the name of your company than the type of product. Start seeing your titles as the search engines see them – it may explain a lot.

META Tag Matters
META tags are equally important, and while there are a huge number of different formats and possibilities, the two main ones for the search engines are keywords and description. The important thing to understand about keywords is that they can include words and phrases. Plurals are best used where possible (as someone searching for TIGER will usually find TIGERS) and you should avoid using any punctuation other than a hyphen; under no circumstances use “&” instead of “and”, as these may be displayed quite differently.

The choice of your keywords and phrases is extremely important, and the best way to choose them is to work out what people might look for in order to try and find you. For the above example, some good keywords might include “cold, cold cure, common cold, ColdGone, flu, sick, illness, influenza” and so on. Do not, under any circumstances, keep repeating your words or phrases. This is the oldest trick in the book, and is far more likely to get you ignored than noticed. A good length would be anywhere between 100 and 400 characters long, and you can safely keep everything in lowercase.

The description tag also plays a significant role, and you should bear in mind that many search engines list the page title followed by the description when displaying the results of a search. Just take the title of your page, and make it a little more reader-friendly. A good description for the example site might be “Looking for a good cold cure? You just found it! Kelev’s ColdGone will make your cold go away… and fast!” A good length would be anywhere between 100 and 200 characters long.

Now that we’ve covered the head, as far as the search engines are concerned, the most important visible part of the page is the first paragraph. Make sure that it fits in with your title, description and keywords, and try to have the first sentence enclosed in heading tags.

Assuming you’ve followed the above steps, your source code should look something like the following:

<TITLE>Cold cure – Kelev’s ColdGone makes your cold go away</TITLE>
<META name=”description” content=”Looking for a good cold cure? You just found it! Kelev’s ColdGone will make your cold go away… and fast!”>
<META name=”keywords” content=”cold, cold cure, common cold, coldgone, flu, sick, illness, influenza, the common cold, winter ailments, kelev”> </HEAD>

<H2>Are you looking for a good cold cure?<H2><BR> Sick of taking all those pills and medicines that never work? If you’re sick of the flu, common colds and all the other winter ailments, good news is…… etc.

If you set your main page up in this way – you’re well on the road to search-engine success. The next step is to do the same thing on all your main site pages, using different content as needed. Some of the more obscure pages on your site certainly won’t need this much attention to detail, but look at most of your site’s pages as opportunities to be found, possibly by people searching for quite different things. Then it’s worth it – a lot of work, but worth it.

But before you start patting yourself too vigorously on the back, there’s still a fair amount to be done before you actually submit to the search engines; that’s the easy part! In the next article I’ll break Dave’s Rule and go through a few tricks – which ones to avoid like the plague, and which ones can actually work. In the meantime, start tweaking those pages! Be seen, be sold.

Written by Dave Collins, SoftwarePromotions Ltd.