How to Maximize Search Engine Traffic

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The No. 1 way people find a new Web site is by using a search engine, yet few sites even know where they rank in the search listings. Managing your search engine prominence is one of the best and cheapest ways to generate targeted traffic to your site, and there are several ways that individuals with search engine expertise can get higher listings.


The term "search engine" often is applied to all the search utilities on the Internet. However, there is a big difference between the two types of search utilities: search engines, such as AltaVista, Lycos and Excite, and directories, such as Yahoo, Snap and LookSmart.


Search engines have an automated process of finding and indexing Web sites. The search engine "spider" indexes every site submitted to its "add your URL" box and every linked page on that site. The spider continues following links and indexing the pages that it finds. Your page then is listed by relevancy to the keyword term entered by the user.


Directories, in contrast, use editors -- actual people -- to view and judge your Web site. The editor looks at your page and decides whether it is worth adding to the database. A directory requires your page title, a description and a category within the directory that fits your page content as well as your URL. Your page then is listed in alphabetical order under the directory category.


All search utilities are migrating to a mixture of both search engine and directory, but they mainly specialize in one or the other. For example, Yahoo is mainly a directory but also uses the Inktomi search engine. Many of the techniques in this article are focused on improving your site's rankings within search engines. However, as you get listed in directories, the same techniques should improve your rankings within their indexes.


Before improving your site's search engine rankings, it's important to understand how search engines determine site relevance. Search engines use their own complex algorithms to rank Web sites, and no two search engines will rank the same Web page in the same way. One of the most important algorithms is for scoring the keyword density, which is how often the user's keyword appears on your site. The site with the highest keyword density in the correct places wins.


When a search engine checks for keyword density, it rates a site using a number of different criteria. However, they all look for one thing -- text. But this isn't just text visible to a Web surfer; it also includes text in various Meta data such as site descriptions and keyword tags.


Each search engine is different, but the usual order of importance for determining text relevance, beginning with the most important, is body text, headers, title, URL, text in text link, description, alt tags, keywords tag.


Thus, the most important text on any site is the body text on the page itself. Search engines consider this text the most important overall because that is what the end-user will see.


This poses a serious problem for many sites that are trying to control the way a page looks by embedding text within image files.


Search engines cannot see images and cannot follow image maps to spider your site. They can read alt tags, so be sure every image on your site has one. Engines also read text links, and it is good practice to place text links to all of your most important pages at the bottom of every page. This also helps your users navigate your site.


Search engines cannot read images, image maps, frames or dynamic URLs.


While there is no secret to jump-starting your rank, placing Meta tags on your site will help it achieve higher rankings through increased keyword density and relevancy ratings. It also can help attract people to your site with a well-written title and description.


Well-written Meta tags will make your listing on the search engines more attractive to potential customers and may help increase your site's ranking on some keywords. If you pick the right keywords and get a high ranking, you could see 100 to 1,000 new visitors per month.


The steps to writing effective Meta tags are picking the perfect 10 keyword phrases, writing an eye-catching title, writing a traffic-snagging description and writing a keyword-dense -- but not too dense -- keywords tag. And then you submit to the search engines.


Picking the Perfect 10 Keywords


Choosing the best keywords to focus on prevents watering down your keyword density. Look through your site and write down every keyword phrase you can find. Think like a search engine user -- what would you type in to a search engine to find yourself or someone in your business? Take a look at your competitor's keywords -- in your browser go to "view" and then "source" -- for any techniques you should consider.


Take a look at your list. Cross out anything that is only one word. There are several reason you want to use only two- and three-word phrases and not one word.


One word is too broad to get you traffic. For example, if you sell paper towels and you type the keyword "paper" into a search engine, you could get paper mills, toilet paper, newspaper, company white papers, research papers.


Usually, one-word keywords are the most sought after, so the competition is very high to get that ranking.


If you use the keyword phrase "paper towel," the search engine sees it as paper towel and paper and towel, so you get three keywords for the price of one.


Then see what people are actually searching. Go to www.goto.com. Click on "managing your account," then on "advertiser tips and tricks," then "search term suggestion list." Take your new list of keywords and type one in. This helpful tool will tell you how often users on GoTo.com typed in that term last month, plus other keywords they added to it. So if you type in "paper towels," it will tell you how many people searched for "paper towels," "Brawny paper towels," "Bounty paper towels" and "paper towel holders." Start a spreadsheet with the keywords that match your site and how often people actually searched for them. Then pick your top 10 keyword phrases, making sure that they match your site and describe your business. Rank them in order of importance from one to 10.


Writing an Eye-Catching Title


Get out a piece of paper and a pencil. On the first five lines, write your No. 1 keyword from your top 10 keyword list. Using the keyword phrase on the first line, write a short sentence about your company. Start out simple and write the first thing that comes to mind. Then on each line, write another sentence starting with the same keyword phrase. If you need to, you can add one word before the keyword. For example:


* Paper towels from Angel Towels keep your home clean.


* Paper towels are the best at Angel Towels.


* Our paper towels are the most absorbent -- Angel Towels.


* Paper towels that can save you from crying over spilled milk! Angel Towels.


* Absorbent paper towels keep your messes under control -- Angel Towels.


The most important thing, as you may have noticed, is that your No. 1 keyword should be the very first word in your title. Search engines consider the first words of your title to be the most relevant, and so do your potential customers. If people type "paper towels" into the search engine, they expect to see their keyword again. Even if you are not No. 1, you may get a click when sites ranking one through five have no mention of paper towels in their titles.


Make sure the title you decide to use is less than 70 characters, since most search engines will display only about 70 characters. Also, you get bonus points if you can get another keyword phrase into your title while still keeping it less than 70 characters.


Writing a Traffic-Snagging Description


Once you have them looking at your title and thinking, "This might be what I'm looking for," you need to hook them and make them click on the description. However, you still need to think about the search engine.


So here's another exercise: Write your top 10 keywords in two columns, with the top five on the left and the rest on the right. Using three to five keywords, write a two-sentence description of your Web site. Write a few more using different words. Try to keep your No. 1 keyword as close to the beginning of the description as possible. For example:


Paper towels are an essential staple for any home, and for your family's big messes, you need the absorbent material that Angel Towels are made of. Buy a five-pack of Angel Towels online today and get a free paper towel dispenser!


Your final description needs to be less than 250 characters. Some search engines show only 170 to 200 characters of the description in their listings, so keep that in mind as well.


Writing a Keywords Tag


Last but not least, is the keywords tag, which is easy. Take your top 10 keyword phrases and put them in order from one to 10 with commas and spaces in appropriate places. Then copy and paste that list right behind it, so you have: keyword 1, keyword 2, keyword 3, keyword 4, keyword 5, keyword 6, keyword 7, keyword 8, keyword 9, keyword 10, keyword 1, keyword 2, keyword 3, keyword 4, keyword 5, keyword 6, keyword 7, keyword 8, keyword 9, keyword 10.


And you're done. If you have a few more keywords you would like to add, go ahead and add them after this list. Double check that your keywords tag is less than 800 characters and that no one word is listed more than seven times. The search engines will penalize you for keyword stuffing. Most people consider seven a safe number.


Now, let's put it all in HTML format so you can place it on your Web page. The Meta tag should go directly after the <HEAD> tag and before any Java script. The code looks like this:


<HEAD>


<TITLE>Your title here</TITLE>


<META Name="description" Content="Your description here">


<META Name="keywords" Content="Your keywords here">


</HEAD>


Once this block of code is filled in with your information and placed on your site, you are ready to submit to the search engines.


Barriers to Achieving a Top 10 Ranking


Placing Meta tags on your site probably will not help very much if your site is all images, uses frames or has a dynamic URL -- places special characters in the URL like "?," "%," "&." It would be a good idea to put the Meta tags on anyway, but do not expect a top 50 ranking.


Redesigning your site to add more text or getting rid of frames certainly will help. If your site cannot be redesigned, you might consider creating special "doorway" pages that are aimed specifically at getting a high ranking on the search engines.


Some dynamic URLs will not be correctly indexed by search engines. To see if your URL will be picked up, delete anything after the first special character. If you can still get to the page with this truncated URL, then you are fine. If not, see if you can get your Webmaster to fix it so that it does go directly to the right page.


Successful search engine placement requires constant adjustment. If at first you don't succeed, tweak, tweak, tweak. Try some different keywords, or take a look at some other Web sites' Meta tags and see what they are doing differently. Search engines change on nearly a daily basis, so your listings may rise one day, only to drop the next.


My company watches its clients' rankings on a weekly basis and resubmits when necessary. If resubmitting does not bring the ranking back up, then my company reoptimizes the Meta tags.

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