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Search Engine and Directory Friendly Web Sites

Search engines and directories are an effective method of bringing visitors to your web site. To increase the chances of people finding your web site using either of these methods it is very important for your site to be designed in a search engine / directory friendly manner.

Search Engines vs. Directories

Search engines are large databases of web pages. These web pages are either submitted to the search engines directly or are found by robots, also known as spiders. These spiders move through the web following links from one page to the next. Each of these pages are then scanned for information that is used by the search engine to determine if and where to rank them when searches are performed.

Directories are different. They are large collections of web sites, categorized by subject. Web sites submitted to directories are usually reviewed by a real human who determines whether or not a particular site should be placed in a certain category.

Many sites offer both a search engine and a directory. Google is a good example. On Google's main page is a text field to enter in terms to use their search engine. They also have a directory you can look through. Their directory is based on yet another directory, ODP (Open Directory Project). Both search engines and directories have their uses, and there are strategies that can be used to increase the chances of your site being included in each of them.

Strategies for search engines

It is important to note that search engines do not make public the exact method they use to determine if and where they rank pages. Each of them gives a few guidelines to help you however.

The most critical aspect in determining your search engine ranking is the proper use of regular HTML text. This does not include text that is on images or in Flash animation. You can quickly determine what type of text something is by right clicking it. If it is a section of regular html the menu that pops up will include the option of 'View Source', or if the text is a link you will have the option to 'Open in new window'. However, if it is an image, one of the choices will be 'Save picture as...'. Flash animations will have an option of 'About Macromedia Flash Player..'. While text on images and Flash animations are not necessarily bad things, when used appropriately, you should keep in mind that search engines cannot 'see' the text in them. A page with all images, even if the images contain lots of text that describe the site, will not be 'read' by search engines.

The regular HTML text on the site should contain the important key words that are related to the topic of your site. A short introductory paragraph on the main page of your site is great for this. It also helps people who are visiting your site for the first time to know what it is about right away. Studies have shown that on average a person will decide in 4 seconds if they will stay on your site or go someplace else. The way this text is coded in HTML also influences search engine placement. Certain HTML tags called header tags (H1, H2, etc.) should be used to indicate the structure of the page. Search engines like these tags a lot and look for them when scanning your site's pages.

The title of the page is also used to determine the page's ranking. In Internet Explorer the title appears on the dark blue bar along the top of the browser. The title that appears on this page is: 'Search Engine and Directory Friendly Web Sites'.

Based on these facts it should be clear why Flash intros and other types of splash pages are not usually a good idea. Many splash pages contain very little text, sometimes only a message that says something like: 'This site is best viewed with blahblah browser'. This tells a search engine spider nothing about the content of your site. Also, some search engines include the first line of text they find in the search results. If you have a site about women's hats and the search engines results list text along the lines of 'all styles and sizes of womens's hats are available', this is going to be more helpful to you than a message telling people what browser you want them to use.

HTML tags called meta tags are also utilized by search engines. They cannot be seen by the site viewer, but the spiders can read them. The keywords tag is most familiar to people. It is important, but not all search engines use it. The description meta tag is also important and should be used on your site.

Do not try to trick search engines into giving your site a high ranking. One way some people try to do this is through cloaking. Google makes the following comment about this on their site: "However, certain actions such as cloaking, writing text that can be seen by search engines but not by users, or setting up pages/links with the sole purpose of fooling search engines may result in permanent removal from our index."

Strategies for directories

The most important aspect of your site that will determine if your site is listed in a directory is that your site have lots of original content. It also helps for the site's overall appearance to have a professional look to it, especially if it is a business site, and for it to be easy to navigate through. Things that decrease your chances of getting a directory listing are pages with no content that say 'Under Construction', or sites that consist primarily of links to other sites.

In a nutshell

Most important - Your site should have lots of original content in regular HTML text that contains key words relevant to the topic your site is about.

Try to avoid splash pages.

Make sure that the title of your pages are relevant to its content.

Ask your web designer if they will use the appropriate heading tags on your site - if they don't know what you are talking about - find a different web designer!

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