SAN FRANCISCO (03/07/2000) - Dear Nettie, I just launched a Web business, but no one knows it exists. I ran a search for my site on Yahoo and it didn't turn up anywhere in the 889 results Yahoo spit out. How do I get search engines to list my site? And, once it's listed, how do I make sure my site appears prominently in the results?
Dear Unseen, Unfortunately, getting a foothold on a search site isn't easy (see ). Unlike the telephone book, search engines aren't obligated to list every Web site in existence. Some are excluded because a human-powered directory, like Yahoo, has made an "editorial" decision not to include them - although this is rare. Other times, Web sites are excluded simply because the search engines are so backed up that they haven't had time to include every one (4,200 new Web sites are created every day!). The first step, which you've already taken, should be to check whether your site is in a search engine's index. If you're not listed in the index, the search engine probably has no idea your site exists, and you'll need to submit your site.
All the big search sites have a "submit a URL" link somewhere on their home page. Search engines require only that you submit a URL and your e-mail address, while human-powered search directories require that you provide a description of your site and the category in which it fits. Once you've submitted your site, don't be surprised if it takes several months for it to show up in search results. And keep checking back even after your site has been accepted - accidents happen, and sites can mysteriously disappear from an index.
Another option is to use a special search-submission service (see , that will auto-submit to search engines for you.
The bulk of traffic to sites comes from the top 20 search engines. So if all you do is manually register with the big boys - the Yahoos and the AltaVistas of the world - you should be OK. Still, if you've got the cash to spare, it can only help to use a submission service and spread your name around. But keep in mind that a submission service ultimately has no effect on your site's ranking.
Though search engines like GoTo.com sell top rankings to the highest bidders, the best way to get a good ranking - ideally one in the top 10 - at most search engines is to make sure your site is optimally designed for search engines.
Search engines primarily determine a site's relevance, and hence its ranking, by the location and frequency of keywords. If you've got a site selling hiking boots but your title is "Joe's Boots," your site won't be anywhere near the top 10 when someone searches for "hiking boots." Think about the keywords someone would enter when searching for your topic and make sure those keywords are in your site's title.
Two other good ways to improve your ranking are to use meta tags, and to foster links to your site. (A meta tag is a description of the data contained on your Web page.) Not all search engines accept tags, but those that do will put you higher up the ladder if your tag has an accurate and concise description. Some search engines also rank sites based on popularity, and will reward your site if many other sites link to it. Whatever you do, don't try spamming or tricking the search engines to get a better ranking. This includes underhanded tactics like repeating keywords hundreds of times in meta tags, tiny or hidden text. If a search engine detects that you've done this, at best it will disregard the information, and at worst it will disregard your site entirely.
Readers, what do you think is the best solution? Send your replies.