How to Make Sure Users Find Your Site

FRAMINGHAM (01/31/2000) - Search engines are one of the most popular ways in which users find Web sites. Yet amazingly, many companies neglect to take basic steps that will improve their chances of being found via search engines. There are easy things that you can and should be doing to increase your search engine visibility.

Does your site use frames? If so, you've put up a roadblock to many search engines that crawl the Web to make their listings. Drop the frames, or at least reduce their use to areas where they are truly required.

Do you deliver pages dynamically? If so, and your URL looks something like "www.mysite.com/cgi-bin/getpage.cgi?name=products," then you've put up another roadblock to crawler-based search engines. Most will read the URL up to the "?" symbol, then go no further. To test your site, try reaching your pages by cutting everything from the "?" symbol onward. If you still get the page, no problem. If you don't, then the search engines won't. Seek a workaround. And if you are considering moving to a dynamic system, be sure to ask potential vendors about problems their products have with search engines before you convert.

Do you have a splash page or a home page that is mainly a big image? If so, dump it. The home page is the most important one you present to crawler-based search engines. They don't read graphics, so feeding them an image-only or text-light page is like handing a customer a blank business card. Try to have at least 100 words of HTML text on your home page, which should incorporate the key terms and phrases by which you want to be found.

Do you use the words by which you want to be found within your own pages?

Here's a test: If you have a search engine for your own site, use it to search for your key terms. If you find that your search engine can't find many pages within your site, then there's even less chance that one of the major Webwide services will find your pages by those terms. To solve this, drop the marketing language, be more descriptive and use the words by which you want to be found on pages throughout your site. And use them in HTML text, which search engines read, not in graphics.

Do you have descriptive page titles? Look at some pages within your Web site, and check what text you are using within the HTML title tags. Are you using the same words for every page, or perhaps just placing your company name up there?

If so, then you're missing a golden opportunity to attract visitors. Each page should have a title tag that describes what the page is about. Most Web pages usually have a headline in the visible portion for visitors. To help search engines, just make it part of your normal procedure that the HTML title tag matches this page headline.

Are you listed with the Open Directory? This Yahoo-style guide to the Web, run by volunteers, provides data used by several major search engines, such as Netscape Search, AOL Search and Lycos. Go to www. dmoz.org and search for your company name or domain name to find any listings. If you come up with nothing, then find an appropriate category and submit your site.

Are you listed with Yahoo? It remains the king of search engines, and most sites see a noticeable traffic increase once they get in. But getting in can be the hard part. To solve this, Yahoo offers a "Business Express" service for some categories. You pay $199, and they promise to let you know within seven days whether or not you will be listed. There's no guarantee that you will get in, but most sites that use the service are indeed accepted. When you submit, look to see if the Business Express option is offered in addition to standard submission. If so, make use of it. If not, you might look to see if there is another relevant category for your Web site that does offer submission via Business Express.

There's much more you can do to increase your company's presence on search engines. But if you follow these tips, you will take a huge step toward helping users find your Web site.

Sullivan is owner of Calafia Consulting and an industry expert on search engines. He can be reached at www.calafia.com.

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