How To Optimize Your Site For Traditional Search Engines


First, let us warn you that optimizing your site for traditional search engines is a very inexact science. This is the case for a few reasons:

  1. The search engines do not publish their exact sorting criteria so it is very difficult to get the precise information that would be most helpful.
  2. This sorting criteria is often being changed. So even though you may have your site perfectly optimized today, it might need to be adjusted tomorrow to retain its most favorable status.
  3. Each search engine values things on your site differently. So what you do to please the search engine gods at AltaVista might harm your status at Excite and vice-versa.
  • Definitely Worth Considering - Although we try to stay on top of the latest information regarding this topic, there are companies that solely specialize in optimizing your site to attract the most visitors from traditional search engines. Because they perform these services every day for so many companies, they can learn from trial and error the absolute best optimization tactics to use. Of the many ways you might spend your marketing dollars, this can provide a solid bang for your buck. If interested, we highly recommend WebPosition.

Here are some search engine optimization tactics you can try when designing your site. These are valued by most traditional search engines.

  • Your Domain Name - This is something that is harder to control because of the scarcity of domain names available. But if your domain name includes a particular desirable keyword, then you may be ranked higher for that word. Having your own domain name, as opposed to some derivative domain given out by a free web page site, will also attract more visitors. Many savvy internet surfers look at the domain name when they are scanning through their search results. They will skip over the names that appear to be a convoluted string of characters designating a giveaway web site.
  • Headings - In trying to judge the relevance of your site, search engines will often give more weight to headings on your actual page. For example, if at the top center of your web page it reads, "Airline Travel Specials" you might rank higher for these particular keywords. Never alter your page headings or content, though, at the expense of verbal clarity or the information you are trying to present. Your text content should be designed for visitors first and search engines second.
  • The Frequency Of Certain Words Or Phrases - Search engines judge the frequency with which particular keywords or keyword phrases are repeated throughout a page. If you repeat the phrase "online pet store" a few times in headings and paragraphs, you may rank higher for this keyword phrase. Search engines also guard against intentionally "stuffing" your page with certain keywords so don't repeat anything too often or it will be purposely ignored. The sweet spot seems to be about 2-9% of your total words.

So if the term "mortgage rate" is used a few times on a page with three or four average length paragraphs, you may rank better for this term. A good rule of thumb is to just repeat certain keywords or keyword phrases enough so that the average reader would not notice this as some oddly repetitive or planned arrangement.

  • How Many Other Sites Link To Yours - In an effort to judge the relevancy of sites, many search engines now take notice of how many other sites have links to yours. One way to boost your performance here is just by creating a very useful site that other web sites in your industry will want to recommend. You can help things along with reciprocal links.
  • Keep Things Updated - Most search engines' computers do not only visit your site once to determine your ranking. They will make occasional return visits to constantly refine their listings and your rankings. When they make these return visits, they will take notice of whether there have been any changes made to your site. If there aren't changes any at all, you might be penalized in your rankings.
  • Don't Use Frames - Most search engines' computers will not read your pages if you use frames. Frames are portions of your web page that do not move when you scroll through the rest of that web page. Use tables instead. If you want a menu that is identical on every page, just do like or we here at do - Copy it to every page without using a frame. It is also much better for your visitors with small computer screens because frames often hog too much continuous space.

Side Note: The following topics refer to some basic HTML codes. Those unfamiliar with HTML may still find it somewhat possible to follow along. If you design your web page with a program such as FrontPage 2000, you will find many of these concepts such as "meta tags" and "alternative text" explained in your help section. Frontpage 2000 will allow you to tackle these issues without any HTML knowledge.

  • Page Title - In HTML code, the page title is located in the Head Section of the page (which is between <head> and </head>) directly between <title> and </title> tags. Your title must serve a couple of purposes. For one, it should explain the contents of the page in a way that is both descriptive and inviting. This title will be the first line that someone reads in their search results listing. It will also be what is listed in someone's bookmarks if they bookmark this particular web page.

On top of all that, the search engines' computers will be noting which keywords are included in the page title. You should not repeat keywords here as some search engines penalize you for that. But include a few pertinent ones if possible.

  • Meta Keywords - In HTML code, meta keywords are listed the Head Section of the page (which is between <head> and </head>) in the following format: <meta name="keywords" content="pet store dog food cat supplies pet toys reptiles> These keywords or keyword phrases are examples of what an online pet store might use. You would pick words or phrases that you believe people might type into a search engine when they were looking for an eBiz like your own.

These words are never actually seen by visitors to your web pages but are only read by search engines to get a clue as to how to rank your site. Search engines penalize those who overdo this by repeating keywords too often. To be on the safe side, don't repeat any keyword in your meta tag more than three times. Also, if you put in too many keywords, the search engines will decide that none are relatively important. So only use around 6 to 24 of your most relevant keywords. And for best results only use keywords that are also used in the body of your actual web page.

  • Meta Descriptions - In HTML code, a meta description is listed in the Head Section of the page (which is between <head> and </head>) in the following format: <meta name="description" content="Great selection and very low prices on pet food, supplies, and toys.> This short paragraph describing your site should be around 10 to 100 words. It is what search engine visitors will see in their search results right below your Page Title. It should be catchy enough to entice someone to click on it in order to visit your site. It is also helpful if it contains keywords relevant to your site.
  • Alt Tags - In HTML code, this appears right after the location of an image such as a gif file in the form: alt="Insert whatever text you like." These are the words that will appear when a visitor hovers the mouse over an image or the text that temporarily appears as the visitor waits for an image to download. Search engines may note the keywords or keywords phrases that appear in this alternative text and rank your page higher for these.
  • Keyword Tip #1 - When considering which keywords to target, don't necessarily shoot for the most popular ones. For instance, if you have any kind of retail store, you might naturally want to consider one of the most popular keywords, "shopping." Unfortunately, a million other sites are thinking the same thing. It would be a small miracle if you managed a high ranking position against this competition. Your odds of attracting significant traffic are much better if you concentrate on being the big fish in a smaller pond. Shoot instead for a specific shopping niche like, "Asian cutlery."
  • Keyword Tip #2 - Try to go after some two, three or four-word phrases. Most of your competition thinks of just one keyword like, "pets." But search engine users are getting savvy and often type in multi-word entries in an attempt to narrow their results. So try instead to corner the market on a keyword phrase like, "pet toys for dogs."
  • Keyword Tip #3 - Make a concerted attack on your chosen keywords or keyword phrases. A good way to decide which keywords to target is to first look at a particular page like your homepage. Is there a word or phrase that already happens to be repeated a couple or more times? This is perfect because now you won't have to compromise the way your page appears. Take this keyword or phrase and put it in your page title, meta keywords, meta description, and alt tags.

This will work out much better than having various keywords spread here or there in all these places. You will never rank highly enough under any of these words. Better to rank highly for a couple keywords than rank medium for many. Ranking medium is about the same as not being ranked at all since people rarely search past the first page or two of search results.