Lay a Welcome Mat for Search Engines

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Because so many Web sites crowd the Internet, you need to make an extra effort to get yours noticed.


One way to draw attention is to make your site search-engine-friendly - that is, to increase the odds that search engines will find your site. Two key steps can help you do this. First, submit your site to directories such as Yahoo and The Open Directory.


Second, make your site findable by search engines that send out "spiders" and "crawlers" to scour the Web. Some of the information those spiders and crawlers seek can be found in "META tags" - words or phrases embedded within the HTML code used to create Web sites.


Before you create your own tags, it's wise to look at those of others, especially those of competitors and colleagues. You can easily open a window and view the META tags of any Web site you visit. From your browser's tool bar, choose the "view" menu. Then click on "source," and a window will open with HTML text that you can study.


The most important META tags are near the top of the page in between codes like this: <head> and </head>. If you are creating your own Web site, depending on which software you use, all you have to do to add META tags is type the words you've chosen in the appropriate places.


The key META tags for marketing purposes are Titles, Description and Keywords. These tags control what surfers see when your site is listed in the search engines, which means they will help people decide whether to visit your site.


"Title" is what your visitors see at the top of their browser windows when they visit your site, as well as what they will see in their bookmark lists. So ensure each page has a title that makes sense to visitors, not just to you. Be descriptive; failure to put strategic keywords in the page title is often why Web pages are poorly ranked.


When your Web site comes up in search-engine findings, the META tag identified as the "description" is often the opening statement people will use to decide whether to access the link. The description should concisely answer the question "What do you do?" For example: "XYZ Design provides client-focused, creative and effective graphic design, art direction and project management for marketing communications."


"Keywords" are the terms your prospects and visitors type into the search field when they are looking for talent. So consider the words and phrases they might use to describe your services. Put these keywords in your META tags. You also should include your keywords in the first 25 words of your home page.


Here are more tips for selecting keywords:


Use plurals for your keywords, but avoid excessive repetition. Misspell keywords if misspellings are common. For example, DIRECTV, a digital satellite television service, is frequently referred to as Direct TV. If your name is misspelled regularly, include that spelling in your keywords as well.


Don't always use obvious keywords. Include phrases that may get fewer searches but higher results.


Don't let your combined keywords exceed 1,000 characters. The fewer keywords, the greater effect they will have.


Maintaining a high ranking in search engines is time consuming. And even with due diligence, these efforts may not get you into the top 30 listings, particularly if you're competing in a niche with well-established and better-financed competitors.


The best strategy is to register with the major search engines and free directories, and supply your information every time you find a site that offers a free listing. Have a seven-word description ready to copy and paste as well as 10 keywords. Devote a certain amount of time monthly to maintaining your listings in databases and directories.


I always thought a good strategy was to choose a domain name that is descriptive of what you do. But Heather Lloyd-Martin, a copywriter specializing in search engine optimization, disagrees. "This doesn't really work," she says. "Plus, it encourages people to come up with those terrible domains like www.make-money-online-with-internet-marketing.com, which are spammy and are usually downgraded in the engines."


She also downplays the importance of tags. "The search engines key on the content - so that's what's important," she says. "The title is also important for positioning and conversion off the search engine results page."


If you want search engines to find you, avoid flash or frame pages. "Search engines can find flash or frame pages, but it's harder for them," she says. "HTML is the best bet."


Note: Parts of this article are adapted from "The Online Advantage," written by Ilise Benun for The Creative Group (www.creativegroup.com).


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