ONLINE, May 2000
Copyright © 2000 Information Today, Inc.
"If I build it, they will come."
This is one of the worst assumptions a Webmaster can make. No one will come unless you also promote your Web site, and search engines are one of the most important places to do this.
Am I trying to turn information professionals into search engine spammers? Not at all. There are simply some essential rules that even library and research-oriented Web sites must follow in order to make them more "findable" in search engines. This is especially so in a Web that becomes increasingly dominated by commercial material.
Before submitting, do some basic prep work. Have ready the title of your Web site, the URL, a contact name and email address, and a 20-word description. Ensure that the description contains any important terms that will help locate your site.
Next, submitting at a human-powered search engine, also called a directory, means navigating to the right category for your Web site. One method is to drill down from top-level listings on the home page. A better option is to think of the top ways your visitors may be looking for you. Search for those words, then submit to the most relevant category that appears in the results. That way, people who search for those words will be more likely to find you, because they'll discover your category.
Once you've found the right category, look for the "Add Site" link (or something similar) near the top or bottom of the page. Follow the link, and then fill out the simple forms with the information you have prepared.
By all means, get money budgeted to pay for this service if you are not already listed in Yahoo!. The expense is small compared to the time you will save and the visitors you'll bring in.
Unfortunately, most non-commercial categories only offer Yahoo!'s Standard Submission option. This service is free, but you may end up submitting several times without success.
If your site is not listed within two weeks after using Standard Submission, resubmit exactly as before. Wait another two weeks. If it still fails to appear, submit a third time and also follow up with a polite email to url-support@yahoo-inc. com to check on your submission. Include your URL and mention that you've just done a third submission attempt.
Once you are listed here, your site will eventually be available in the main results of MSN Search (search.msn.com), Netscape Search (search.netscape.com), AOL Search (search.aol.com), and Lycos (www.lycos.com). Many other smaller search engines also use Open Directory information. Overall, getting listed in just this one place improves your findability immensely.
Unlike Yahoo!, there's no Express service at the Open Directory. Just submit normally, and if you don't get in after three weeks, try resubmitting. Editor links are also listed at the bottom each category. Click on a link, and you can send email to the editor asking about your submission.
Two other directories are Snap (www.snap.com) and Go Guides (guides.go.com). At Snap, your submission will appear within minutes in its secondary LiveDirectory listings. Eventually, you may be promoted into the main Snap listings. Go Guides provides the human-powered categories that appear in Go.com's crawler-based search results. To be listed, sign up as a guide, locate a category for your site, and submit. When another guide approves your listing, you'll appear within your category.
A key step is to give each page in your Web site a descriptive HTML title tag. When you make or revise a Web page, take a moment to review its contents, then summarize what it is about, just as if you were writing a headline for the page. Then put this summary into the title tag. The format is shown as follows, and your summary replaces the "title goes here" text.
<title>title goes here</title>
An easy step is to simply use the opening paragraph of the page for the description. The format of the tag follows--you replace the part that says "description goes here" with your description.
<meta name="description" content="description goes here">
There's also a meta keywords tag, which allows you to define keywords that you think your page is relevant for. Just putting the words here does not guarantee your page will automatically rank well for those terms, but it can help, especially if those words appear within the HTML copy of the page.
The tag's format follows. Just replace the "keywords go here" section with your keywords:
<meta name="keywords" content="keywords go here">
Also, if you find the keywords tag confusing, then don't use it. It's not worth spending a lot of time worrying about it, in relation to the relatively minor impact it will have on your rankings.
Also, you may occasionally see a "robots" meta tag or a "revisit" tag. The first should only be used if you need to block pages and can't use a robots.txt file to do so (see http://info.webcrawler.com/mak/projects/robots/robots.html for more about this file). It is not needed to get crawlers to index your site. The second has no effect on the major search engines and should not be used.
If you use frames, get rid of them. Frames put up a serious roadblock to many search engine crawlers. If you did nothing else, your search engine-related traffic will increase because more of your pages would get listed.
Large sites face another problem. In general, search engines gather a sample of pages from each site they visit. They don't do a deep crawl and list every page. This means that if you have multiple Web sites, you'll probably get more pages represented than if they are all within one single site.
For instance, imagine a typical academic site, where each department is given its own section:
In contrast, it's fairly easy to configure many Web servers so that each department can have its own independent Web site, using subdomains, such as:
Search engines will treat each of these sites independently, which ultimately means more pages indexed.
How often to resubmit is another question that is sometimes asked. In general, you only need to do this if you notice an adverse change. For instance, if your Web site statistics software shows that you no longer get much traffic from a particular search engine, then resubmitting may help.
<title>Welcome to ALA</title>
The original title was "Welcome to ALA." I added the full name after this to help ensure that anyone searching for the association by name, rather by acronym, would find it.
<title>Welcome to ALA, The American Library Association</title>
<meta name="description" content="Official Web site of the American Library Association, which provides leadership for the development, promotion, and improvement of library and information services and the profession of librarianship.">
<meta name="keywords" content="ALA home page, official Web site of the American Library Association, libraries, awards, grants, scholarships, censorship, copyright, intellectual property, continuing education, accreditation, intellectual freedom, international relations, legislation, preservation of library materials">
I drew the keyword terms from looking at ALA's Interest and Activities page, and you can see that commas have not broken up phrases. It would be just as valid not to have the commas at all. This information is not placed into some type of relational database that requires terms to be delimited. Instead, the keywords tag just provides more ordinary text for the search engines to index, but in an area that the user doesn't see.
Also, notice that the tags are shown within the "head" area of the Web page. That's important for them to be read properly by search engines.
Danny Sullivan is editor of Search EngineWatch.com, http://searchenginewatch.com. He can be reached through that site, which also provides more information about search engines and submission issues.
Comments? Email letters to the Editor at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Copyright © 2000, Information Today, Inc. All rights reserved.