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Improve your search engine placement - Part 1

There is currently a substantial debate raging as to whether or not it is necessary for a web site to be listed in the search engines in order to be successful. Putting all the rhetoric aside for a moment, the simple answer is: You must be listed in the search engines in order to be successful. Internet usage is growing at an incredible rate. More and more users go on-line every day. And how are those users finding what they are looking for? Search engines! One only has to look at the success of the scores of search engines to know that this is true.

The real issue at hand is how important is placement in the search engines? My answer is that placement is the most important issue related to the search engines. Many surveys and studies reveal that if your site is not in the first three pages of search results, it may as well not be there at all! How's that for important? This may be the most important single component of your web promotion campaign.

Here is where the debate gets fiery. How much of your web promotion campaigns resources is it worth to get a good placement in the search engines? And how do you go about getting this type of placement? There are many theories floating about out there, theories about META tags and keywords, content and descriptions and titles. In this article, we will assume that listing in the search engines is a given and examine the issues of how to get your site placed highly in them.

The first thing the newcomer to web site promotion hears regarding the search engines is, use the META tags. What are the META tags? In this context they are a device built into HTML that tells the search engines how to index your site. They are information about information. META tags usually are placed immediately following the <HEAD> tag in your HTML source document. The tags that are of most concern for the subject at hand are Keywords, Description and Title. As indicated by the title, this month's article will explore the proper application of the Keywords META tag.

The Keywords META tag, <META NAME="keywords" CONTENT="term(1), terms(2), ... , term(n)">, is an HTML device to let the search engine know what your web site is all about. In general, it is desirable to for the Keywords META tag to contain at least five keywords or terms, but no more than one thousand characters. The keywords you select for inclusion will play an important role in determining your site's placement in the search engines supporting this tag. Currently Alta Vista, HotBot and InfoSeek fully support META tags, Lycos and Northern Lights have partial support, Excite and Web Crawler do not support META tags at all.

You may well be asking yourself, "So how do I go about choosing the right keywords?" The answer to that is simple, Do Your Homework. In order to make your web site search engine ready, you must first do some research. Get a piece of paper and draw a line down the middle, making two columns. Think about the web site that you wish to list in the search engines. If you were a potential customer, trying to find your product, what term or terms would you search for? Write these terms down in the left column on your piece of paper. Next, get out a thesaurus and look up synonyms to your terms and write them down in the same column. Third, go to the search engines and perform searches on your list of terms. Visit the sites that currently enjoy top listings. View their source and make note of terms in their keywords in the right column of your list. (NOTE: Do NOT copy the competition's keywords verbatim!!! While it is not possible to copyright individual words, a good case can be made for infringement if you copy their keywords exactly. Create your own list.) Compare the two columns highlighting the terms in the right column that do not already appear in the left column. When finished, move the highlighted terms to the left column. In the left column you now have a list of candidate terms for your Keywords META tag.

In the early days of the search engines, the Keywords META tags were taken at face value. It did not take long before search engine savvy web masters began to take advantage of this trusting approach. Techniques such as listing keywords multiple times and listing keywords that had nothing to do with the content of the web site were frequently applied. These techniques are referred to by the catch all term "spamming". Widespread use of spamming techniques have resulted in the search engines employing more sophisticated algorithms to determine the "relevancy" of keywords. These relevancy algorithms usually combine the variables of frequency of keywords in the META tag, relative position of the keywords in the META tag, frequency of the keywords appearing in the content of the page and placement of the keywords on the page.

All of the major search engines now enforce a placement penalty for spamming, but their thresholds for determining what is spam and what is not vary from engine to engine. In general the search engines seem to tolerate between three and six repetitions of the same keyword term before enforcing their penalty. My recommendation is to err on the conservative side and avoid repeating keyword terms more than three times in the Keyword Meta tag. Listing terms that have nothing to do with the content of the web site is discouraged at all times.

To determine the relative position of keywords within the Keyword META tag, spend some time studying the search engine voyeurs. A search engine voyeur allows the user to watch a sampling of the searches being performed, in near real time. Caution: Not all search engine voyeurs are censored. Some of the searches displayed may be of an offensive nature. User discretion is strongly advised. Some good examples of search engine voyeurs are MetaSpy and Web Crawler Voyeur. Using your list of candidate terms, keep track of how many times each of your terms appear. Different terms will appear with differing frequency depending upon the time of day, day of the week and the search engine that is being viewed. Be sure to gather your information with these factors in mind. After gathering your totals, place the keywords in the META tag in descending order of frequency.

The remaining issues related to the Keywords META tag and relevancy have to do with the actual content of your web site. If you have followed the recommendations listed above to create a Keywords META tag, the adjustments to the content become fairly trivial. The key is to select your top three or four terms and work them into your content early and often. Make your top keyword term the first words that appear on your page. Repeat it frequently throughout the content of your site. Work the others in as often as make sense for your particular content. Use of your keyword terms is important but you must remember that the goal of your web site is to convey information. Therefore, you must balance the use of your keyword terms with the need to deliver a coherent, readable message. Techniques such as embedding terms in your page using fonts that are unreadable or the same color as the background are to be avoided. The search engines are beginning to enforce their spam penalties for the application of these techniques.

The methods listed above are not accomplished without putting forth some effort up front. It is imperative to research your keywords, establish their relative frequency in the searches performed and include them in your sites content. If you employ these techniques properly, you will see not only an improvement in your site's placement in the search engines, but also the side benefit of a more interested visitor to your site. Visitor who are more interested in your site and what it has to offer are more likely to purchase your product. And after all is said and done, making the sale is the bottom line of any successful web site promotional campaign.

About the author
Copyright 1998, 2003 Tony L. Callahan All Rights Reserved
Tony L. Callahan, is a successful Internet Promotions Consultant with more than twenty years of industry experience and is president of his own Internet marketing company, Link-Promote. He also publishes Web-Links Monthly, a newsletter full of tips, tricks, tools and techniques for successful web site promotions. To subscribe, send e-mail to: Web-Links-subscribe@topica.com. For an online archive of Tony's articles available for reprint, visit: http://www.link-promote.com/articles

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