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July 21 2006 04:23 PM

If you have a Web site, you want people to find it. If it�s a business site used to promote or sell products or services, the life of your business may depend on whether your site shows up in the first screen or two when people conduct Web searches through Google and other search sites.
Web designers are always looking for an edge here, and an entire market has grown up to aid their efforts, sometimes dubbed �search engine marketing,� or SEM, at other times �search engine optimization,� or SEO. There are bona fide and useful techniques, but there are other techniques that the search sites consider cheating and will penalize you for � techniques that have been dubbed �search engine marketing spam.� Knowing the difference can mean the difference between your site�s success and failure.
In general, you should code your site to benefit your customers, clients or community, says P.J. Fusco, a SEM specialist for a health and beauty dot-com. �Anything you put on a Web site solely to increase the site�s visibility runs the risk of being considered a spam tactic,� she says.
The easiest legitimate technique, often overlooked, is properly coding your site�s title, meta description and headings. A title is different from a headline that may show up in bold typeface as the first piece of text on a page. Instead, it shows up at the top of viewers� browsers between the browser�s logo and the browser�s name. You don�t have to include a title when coding your page, but you should.
You create a title in the section of a Web page, placing it between . Instead of using a title such as �Welcome to!� � which will do nothing for your search results � use two or three keyword phrases, consisting themselves of one to three words, separated by a hyphen, that clearly spell out what your site is all about. Choose keyword phrases that you think Web searchers will most likely type when looking for a site such as yours. It helps if you also use the keyword phrases in the text of the page itself.
A meta description is another optional but recommended element. You also create it in the section, and it should follow the title. Describe your site or business in a sentence or two, such as this:

It also can help if the headings and subheadings of your site use keyword phrases that Web searchers might use when doing a Web search.
The most effective way to improve your site�s search results is to get other sites to link to yours, with the more popular the site (the more sites that link to it), the better. Submitting your site to search sites, getting listed in directories and exchanging links with related sites all help.
It can be very tricky knowing the difference between acceptable search engine marketing tactics and spam. Though the major search sites provide some guidance, they don�t provide much detail because doing so would reveal the secrets of their search algorithms, says Fusco.
But there are some more egregious things you should never do. Don�t engage in �keyword flooding,� sometimes called �keyword stuffing.� This can involve loading your site�s title with a dozen or more keyword phrases or your site�s page with a multitude of keyword phrases at the bottom of the page. Trying to hide this by using white text on a white background doesn�t work. Search sites treat all this as spam and will penalize a site by lowering it in their rankings.
Also, in trying to increase the number of sites that link to yours, avoid �link farms,� which are Web sites that aren�t bona fide directories but rather schemes solely designed to increase your site�s rankings. Search sites will also penalize you for this.
Sometimes it makes sense to hire an SEM specialist to improve your search engine rankings, particularly with business sites. Google, for one, factors in more than 100 different HTML, design and off-page factors in ranking sites. Testing different combinations can often help your results.
Reid Goldsborough is a syndicated columnist and author of the book Straight Talk About the Information Superhighway. For more information, he can be reached at or