Web Site Search Engine Optimisation

Submitting regularly to search engines and setting up link exchanges are external methods of driving traffic to your web site. But there are other internal techniques that should be applied in any quest to improve search engine ranking.

Known, in geek-speak at any rate, as "search engine optimisation", it is less a black art and more commonsense fine tuning of the HTML source code that builds each page.

By making your web pages search engine-friendly you stand a far greater chance of climbing up the results ladder - and winning more traffic. If you consider that around 80 per cent of first time visitors to your site will come in from one of the major search engines, the implications do not require to be spelt out.

To start this web site tweaking process put yourself in the shoes of potential customers. How would they search for your company? What keywords would they enter into a search engine?

If you can anticipate every word or phrase that potential visitors are likely to use, ensure these terms appear regularly in the site's text. Search engines like AltaVista, Google and Hotbot rank their results according to the frequency and location of the keywords used in the search. So place as many of these 'target words' in the opening paragraphs, and litter them throughout the rest of the text.

Be sensible, though. Do not stuff as many of the keywords into the text that it becomes unintelligible, repetitive or boring for the reader. And be aware, too, that "spamdexing" is frowned upon and will get you kicked off several search engines.

With this in mind, give careful thought to the text, and focus on your keywords in those vital opening sentences. Avoid generalisations, and concentrate on the specific ideas behind the keywords. Important info such as phone numbers, prices, disclaimers etc. should go at the foot of the page in favour of the keywords.


Understanding HTML Websites

You may have heard about tags and the like, these are contained usually at the top of the page but do not appear in the browser. To see the tags in this page, go to View in your browser's menu and select View Source. It may alternatively appear as View HTML depending on which browser and version you happen to be running.

In any case, selecting this option opens a new window that contains a lot of hen's footprints punctuated by words. This is the computer code retrieved from our servers that builds the web page on your computer monitor.

Unsurprisingly, the title meta tag, is the name of the web page. This shows up at the top of the page beside the browser branding and is what search engines home in on when compiling their results. Most search engines give the highest priority to sites whose titles include the searched for words. The lesson here is to make sure each and every page has a name that includes a keyword. 'Untitled' doesn't do your site any favours with the search engines.

The description meta tag's role is to contain the brief summary of the page contents, the short sentence you read before clicking on an individual search result. Normally the limit for a description is 2,000 characters, so get as many keywords in the description as possible, leaving out superfluous terms such as web, page and site which do not contribute to your ranking.

The keywords meta tag is the straight-forward comma separated list of words or phrases you think visitors may enter when searching for your site. Not all search engines index these keywords, but the ones that do give them a high priority in deciding where your site should appear in search results.

Getting your site ranked is the first part of the equation. Next, you must convince the searcher your site, among the mass of results returned, is the one they are really looking for.

To entice the potential visitor to click through to your site, the description must be informative and enable the reader to make an instant judgement. The simplest way to do this is to come up with a description that is concise and clearly sets out the purpose of your site. Remember that anyone searching on the web is goal-driven, so be crystal clear on what your site is about - if you sell widgets online, say so.

Some engines, instead of zeroing in on the description tag, bring up the first few words of the page text. It's a good idea then to repeat the text of the description tag in the page's opening paragraph.


Monitoring your Results

To monitor the success of your tweaking and fine tuning, do a 'before' search, make the changes, and after resubmitting your site to the search engines wait a couple of weeks and carry out an 'after' search. The 'before' search will give you a base line from which to evaluate the impact of your changes.

Do not be too disheartened if your efforts do not reap the sort of results you hoped for. A sample search on a number of engines will help you determine a pattern. If a rival's sites consistently outperforms your own, study their meta tags to work out why they are having more success.

While it would be wrong to swipe their content, there is no law against learning by example.

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