Search Engine Tips For Newbies

    June 18, 2003

Back in 1996 when was first getting started, all you had to do was build a web site and visitors would immediately show up to see what was going on. Even though our business focus has changed, we still maintain some of the early web pages because those pages are still linked to and used by certain organizations.

Today some of the major search engines index over two billion web pages. By comparison, in 1999 indexing 200 million pages was a high number. Fast Search & Transfer ASA has been making a play for Google Inc’s reputation as the web’s largest search engine. Fast said its consumer search site,, now searches an index of 2,095,568,809 web pages, just over 20 million more than Google claims. You can bet Google will soon top this, if it hasn’t already.

So, where does this leave you: the new guy on the block? Fortunately, being found through a search engine isn’t your only way of attracting visitors; nor is it necessarily the best way. But, for this newsletter issue, we’ll talk a little about getting listed by search engines.

There are hundreds of search engines, many are simply co-branded versions of one of the major engines. Others are regional engines offering selections based on country. Engines fall into two general categories: crawlers that search the web for listings; and directories that require human intervention to create a listing.

As a rule, fewer than 5% of the search engines will provide over 90% of your referrals. And you’ll get referrals IF…. and this is a big if…. if your listing ranks in the first 10 or 20 returns. So, to get search engine referrals, get listed in the top 10 engines and get your listing to show up in the first 20 or so entries. If your site caters to a specific country, be sure to get listed in the top regional engines.

Danny Sullivan edits, the ultimate search engine site, describing the major engines, how they work, and providing many submission resources. PhilB has a great resource for country based search engines.

There are many theories about how a search engine will rank your site. Since how sites are ranked is most often proprietary information, the theories are often just speculation. Your best bet is to stick to the four basics supported via the three meta tags in head of the web page and by the document itself:
1) a descriptive but brief title: IE: “Everything for bicycles, seats, peddles, frames, wheels”
2) a short and direct site description: IE: “Complete information and parts for all makes of bicycles: Bianchi, Cervelo, Gary Fisher, GT, and Iron Horse”
3) a list of keywords that your customer will use to make a search: IE: “Bianchi, Cervelo, Gary Fisher, GT, Iron Horse, bike parts, bike seats, bike peddles, ….etc”
4) page content that reflects all of the above

The correspondence between page content, title, description, and keywords is important. Most search engines will, in part, position a site in the returned list according to how pertinent the page info is to the information in the meta tags. This is one part of your site ranking. The keywords (phrases) are equally important. Anticipate what your potential customer will type into a search box; these are your keywords and phrases.

Another way used by some engines to rank your site seems like a Catch22. They will list according to the popularity of your site and how many other sites your site is liked to. The dilemma here is how to get popular if you can’t get listed among the top ranked referrals in your search category. This is a topic we will cover in future newsletters.

A search of the web will return many companies that offer to get your site listed in the search engines and some promise top rankings. Be cautious here. First of all, you don’t need to submit your site to thousands of engines, news groups, and bulletin boards. Second, if you do, be prepared to get flooded by e-mail offers of everything imaginable and have your e-mail address added to spam lists.

Having said that, there are many legitimate search engine listing services, some will even guarantee to maintain a top rank listing for you. These won’t be cheap; you’re going to get what you pay for here.

OK, here’s what we recommend and you need to spend a little time but no money. Concentrate on the top seven or eight engines and search from each of them using key words and phases that you think your customers will use. See what sites get returned in the first page of results. Visit these sites and view the page source. Look over the information in the three meta tags we listed above and see how your competition describes themselves. Adjust your page and meta tags accordingly and manually submit that page to the engine.

Don’t worry about being listed at the top of the page. Maintaining this position involves a battle you can’t win. You may also notice with some search engines that the very top of the page is reserved for companies that have paid for positioning. Keeping your site listed among top ranked sites will be an ongoing process. You’re always going to be tweaking tags and refining content to stay ahead.

Mel Davey is the creator of ImagineNation (, a full service E-Commerce Application Service Provider, offering Storefronts, Order Management Utilities, and 3rd party credit card processing.