Search engines tricks and resources

Written by Dave Collins, SoftwarePromotions Ltd.

In The Search to be Found we looked at the basics of preparing your site pages for the search engines, and promised to break the previously unknown Dave’s Rule, which states the following. “There are no golden rules, no tricks, and no secrets. There are two factors to achieving search engine success – having your pages setup correctly, and making sure that the search engines know where to find you”. Like all good rules, it is of course there to be broken, and this article will to some extent explain how to do so, and in true schoolboy style, without getting caught!

Let’s start with a flash of realism. Unless you’re planning on making money from advertising alone, the sheer quantity of traffic to your website is probably of fairly low importance. As much as we all enjoy a surge in site visitors, unless they’re (at least potentially) interested in your software and prepared to part with their cash for it, there’s little to be gained by volume alone. What you should be aiming for is targeted traffic; people who are interested in the content of your site, and hopefully in downloading and buying your software.

Stick To The Truth
And this fits in nicely with the most basic of search engine rules – be honest. Don’t go trying to bring in site visitors on false pretences. We’ve all fallen for it enough times, and been tricked into some tediously unoriginal sales pitch, and we all react the same way. We leave. As well as just annoying people, bringing them in with misleading keywords can also get you in trouble with the search engines, and may even result in your site being removed from their listings altogether.

The key here is to behave. Don’t pull people in with out of context keywords, check the search engine rules (what to submit and how often to submit it), and never submit the same page twice in one day.

While we’re on the subject of what not to do, here’s a brief note on my old favourite – invisible keywords. No doubt you’ve come across them before – the pages with a long list of keywords at the end of the page, and some of the more “cunning” ones who set the text to the same colour as the background, so you can’t actually see them. In the good old days of innocence, this was a good tactic that usually worked, which is why there were so many pages like this around. The reason why there are so few nowadays is that it’s already an ancient trick, and simply doesn’t work any more. The same goes for the repeated keywords – having the same word 20+ times in your META tags is certain not to bring in extra traffic, although it might draw some unwanted attention from the search engines themselves.

Bear in mind that the search engines do adapt to the ever-changing web. If you keep and store your old issues of ASPects, and are reading this at some point in the future for historical value and a trip down memory lane, take all the advice here with a pinch of salt! The search engines change their rules regularly, and what worked one year may not necessarily work the next.

Techniques And Strategies
So now that we know what doesn’t work and what not to do, let’s take a look at some of the techniques that do work. Some of these are plain common sense, some are tried and tested recognised strategies, and others are hovering on the fine line between technique and trick. But for now, they work.

Relevancy – the most important technique of all; it can’t be over-stressed. Only use relevant keywords, but try to use a little imagination as well. Use synonyms and plurals, and consider looking into different spellings of the words (e.g. regional variations), and even common misspellings. It’s a good idea to sprinkle your main keywords throughout the page, not just in your META tags, but don’t overdo it.

Keywords in links – where possible, use your keywords both in the URL of your pages and in the text name itself. Example – let’s assume that you have a main products page that you wish to link to your graphics software page. Instead of having a link with CLICK HERE pointing to, have the link with GRAPHICS SOFTWARE pointing to; burn your candle at three ends wherever possible.

Use the heading tags – make sure that you put your keywords and phrases within heading tags (such as <H3> for example). Many sites simply use a larger font size for the headings and titles, which boils down to throwing away a good search engine opportunity. Try to ensure that it fits-in with the appearance of your page – making it suitable for the search engines and site visitors alike. Make it a rule of thumb to have as many of your pages as possible friendly to both visiting spiders and potential customers.

Remember The ALT Tags 
Use the <ALT> tag with images – and where possible get your keywords in there too. Have you noticed how many sites have the filename and size popup when you hold the mouse over a graphic image? This is usually leftover debris from an old FrontPage feature – by default this useless information is added as an ALT tag to your images instead of a description. As well as being ugly if someone browses your page with graphics turned off, it will also annoy the daylights out of any partially-sighted or blind visitors who may actually rely on the content of these tags. Most of all, you’re wasting another opportunity to get your keywords up there and noticed. As with all the techniques, don’t overdo it.

Multiple <TITLE> tags – very much bang on the border between trick and technique, this may well soon be outlawed by some of the search engines. For the time being however, having three different variations of your <TITLE> may result in increased prominence, and it’s not yet breaking any of the rules. The more self-righteous professionals might label this a SPAM technique, but at the time of writing this article, it really isn’t. As long as you use relevant keywords and phrases in the title, then there’s nothing wrong with it; you’re not pulling anyone in under false pretences.

From this point on, we’re moving onto some more advanced ground. The next part of this series – Doorways, Hallways, Robots & Resources – will deal with doorway and hallways pages, the neglected robots.txt and some of the more cunning ways of actually getting onto the search engines. Be prepared to get your hands dirty! Be seen, be sold.

Written by Dave Collins, SoftwarePromotions Ltd.