Being able to quickly find information you’re looking for on the Web is one of the key computing skills you can have. Similarly, helping visitors quickly find information on your site is one of the key ways you can make their experience a positive one.
When designing or redesigning a site, you should think about how you access Web sites yourself. When you’re pressed for time (as everyone is these days), you want to know immediately why you should stick around a site. The same rule applies with your own site—instead of relying strictly on fancy graphics and animations, which often just slow visitors down, you should use meaningful headlines, subheads, and links to communicate what it is you’re offering.
If your site consists of more than a few pages, one thoughtful touch is to provide a site map that displays all the interior links for those who want to get their bearings from the outset.
For larger sites, one of the best tools you can provide is an internal search engine, which lets visitors home in on just what they’re after from the get-go. Instead of drilling down from one link to the next, they can simply type in their search criteria.
Regardless of which internal search tool you use, you should prepare your site so that the tool will return results that clearly indicate the content you have on a particular page. This will also help searchers find specific content you offer when they use Google and other external search sites. This involves using “metatags.”
Every Web page should have a title tag. A title is different from the headline at the top of the browser window. Instead, the title shows up on the bar at the top of the screen next to the browser logo, and it receives the highest weighting by Google and other search tools.
You create a title tag in the <HEAD> section of a Web page. The best title tags consist of two or three keyword phrases. Each phrase consists of one to three words, separated by a hyphen, and clearly spells out what the page is all about. You should choose keyword phrases that searchers will most likely type in. Here’s an example:
<TITLE>keyword phrase one - keyword phrase two</TITLE>
You should also use a meta description tag, which should describe the page in a sentence that you place within quotation marks. It’s what searchers will see after the title in the list of results. If you don’t use a meta description tag, searchers will see the text around the first occurrences of the searched-for term instead. This may not provide enough information.
The meta description tag should be placed after the title tag, and it looks like this:
<META NAME=“Description” CONTENT=“This is a sentence that describes the content on this page.”>
You have lots of choices for internal search engines. The Web-design software you use may include its own built-in search tool. Your Internet service provider or Web host may also provide such a tool. The quality of these tools varies widely, and it can make sense to try a few. The internal search tool provided by Microsoft FrontPage, for instance, is clunkier than most.
One highly recommended, well-reviewed external search service is Picosearch (http://www.picosearch.com). It offers four different plans: There’s a free plan for sites of up to 250 pages (it displays Picosearch sponsors as part of the search results) as well as paid plans for sites that have 3,000 pages, 6,000 pages, or millions of pages.
Even the free plan lets visitors search by specifying any word, all words, and the exact phrase or by using Boolean expressions such as “apples AND oranges NOT bananas.”
If you happen to be at a site that doesn’t have an internal search engine, all is not lost. You can use Google not only to search the Web as a whole, but also to search through an individual site.
At Google’s opening page, click on “Advanced Search,” to the right. Go down to the line that begins with “Domain.” Type in the part of the Web address of the site you’re at after “www” if the address begins this way. The domain you type in will end with “com,” “org,” “edu,” or something similar. Go back to the top of the page and after “Find results” type in your search criteria.
Seek and ye shall find.
Reid Goldsborough is a syndicated columnist and author of the book Straight Talk About the Information Superhighway . He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or http://www.reidgoldsborough.com.