If you have a Web site, you want people to find it. If its 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 sites 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 sites visibility runs the risk of being considered a spam tactic, she says.
The easiest legitimate technique, often overlooked, is properly coding your sites 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 browsers logo and the browsers name. You dont 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
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 sites 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 dont 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. Dont engage in keyword flooding, sometimes called keyword stuffing. This can involve loading your sites title with a dozen or more keyword phrases or your sites 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 doesnt 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 arent bona fide directories but rather schemes solely designed to increase your sites 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 firstname.lastname@example.org or www.netaxs.com/~reidgold/column.
Sites where you can to look for an SEM specialist:
SEMPO at www.sempo.org
SEOConsultants.com at www.seoconsultants.com
Good sources of additional information about search engine optimization:
Spider Food at www.spider-food.net
SearchEngineWatch.com at www.searchenginewatch.com
SEO Chat at www.seochat.com