Chapter 9: Search Engines & eBiz
(a sample chapter from marketing.com)
The top 10 words people searched for on Khoj.com in August 1999. The figures in brackets indicate the number of times the word was searched for.
- sex (6101)
- job(s) (5852)
- matrimonial(s) (3754)
- mp3 (2844)
- chat (2770)
- bollywood (2144)
- astrology (2083)
- jokes (2004)
- nude (1744)
- music (1632)
Rajesh Jain, Founder & CEO, Indiaworld.co.in
Remember the first few times you logged onto World Wide Web? What did you do - how did you find your way around? Chances are you went to a search engine, typed in what you were looking for, and visited the results thrown up - right? Cut to today: as an experienced Web user, you need to find sites for an urgent business need. How do you find the best webpages from over 800 million? Right again - you fire up your browser and use a few keywords to find what youíre looking for. While things have changed drastically on the Net, some things havenít - like the fact that over 80% of users on the Internet use a search engine to find what theyíre looking for.
Takeaway lesson 1: It is imperative that your ebiz be listed in search engines.
But just any listing wonít do. Try conducting a search on AltaVista for "Indian business" - pat comes the results - all 4,716,670 of them! And no one in their right mind would surf through each of those 4.7 million webpages - even if they had all the time in the world and access to a leased line. Towards the end of 1998, researchers at the Compaq Systems Research Center analysed over one-half billion searches at AltaVista and found:
- Most users only look at the first page of results (68%).
- Most users perform only one search per visit (77.6%).
- Most queries are short, one or two words long (65.2%).
In short, you need to be up there among the top 10 results when people are searching for your ebiz - or they wonít find you.
Takeaway lesson 2: It is also imperative that your ebiz be listed smartly in search engines.
Yahoo! is not a search engine. It is a hierarchical directory listing of websites to help people navigate their way through the Web, and lists the better few of the hundreds of websites submitted for listing. On the other hand, search engines, like HotBot, create their listings automatically by crawling the web, collecting, and listing webpages. Most directories today are supported by a search service, making these fine distinctions of hardly any consequence anymore, since all that matters is that your ebiz is highlighted (from the millions of other webpages) when someone searches for it. To give you an idea of the number of pages search engines store in their databases, take a look at the figures from a recent estimate of total database sizes by Search Engine Showdown:Search Engine Number of records Northern Light 140,609,561
Fast Search 94,714,168
Yahoo!'s Inktomi 56,575,028
MSN Web Search 51,100,026
A study conducted by Dr Steve Lawrence and Dr C Lee Giles for the NEC Research Institute and published in the July 8, 1999 issue of Nature, a scientific magazine, indicates that no search engine indexes more than 16% of the webís 800 million pages encompassing about 15 terabytes of data and about 180 million images.
Takeaway lesson 3: Search engines index just a small portion of the Web - and your site needs to be in that tiny fraction.
In an April 99 estimate from Nielsen//Netratings regarding audience reach (percentage of active web surfers estimated to have visited each search engine during the month), the engines scored as follows:
Which is a good indicator of which search engines your ebiz should be necessarily listed on.
Takeaway lesson 4: While you may be listed in 400 search engines, if youíre not listed in the ones that matter, it doesnít matter.
While the above sites are the international favourites, our Indian search engines cannot be ignored - being listed on the big and popular Indian searches is equally important. Khoj.com, 123India.com, Rediff.com, and IndiaTimes.com are Indian search/directory sites your Indian ebiz needs to be listed on.
Takeaway lesson 5: Getting listed locally is important too.
When a user searches for something, the search engine sifts through millions of pages it has in its database and presents the user with ones that match his topic. Most search engines today rank the results, throwing up the most relevant results first.
Takeaway lesson 6: You need to understand how a search engine decides which pages are more relevant than others.
Different search engines have different ways of determining relevance, but we'll take a look at the dos to boost your rankings, and don'ts to avoid being listed at the bottom of the results.
Takeaway lesson 7: The Dos
Make sure your title is descriptive: Whatís the first thing you see when you type in a URL? The title of the page, right at the top, right? Well, thatís also the first thing that search engines see when they index your site, so make sure they get a good look at it (those words between the <TITLE> </TITLE> tags. WebsiteGarage recommends 15 words for your title - ensure that the words people would use to search for your site are up there! So instead of writing "Welcome to my website", you would go a longer way with search engine rankings if you used something like: "eBiz Ltd. - an Indian shop online for books with your Indian credit card" - this way, youíve managed to squeeze in your company name, and a brief description of what you have to offer! Search results throw up your page title, and users use that as a judge to see if the page is relevant before clicking on it. Also when people bookmark your site, the title is what they see in their listings - so make it easier for them to find you when they need to visit your page again.
Keywords: Think of 20 words to describe your ebiz, and note them down. Now think of 20 words that customers would use to search for your website, and note those down too. Now ensure that the content (text) on your page has those keywords generously sprinkled and emphasised throughout the page. Donít overdo it however, since search engines will consider that as spam and not list your site. A point to be kept in mind is that keywords appearing at the start of your page are considered to be more important than those appearing lower down. The keywords and the frequency at which they appear are what go towards boosting your website in the results of a particular search. Search engines analyse how often certain keywords appear relative to others on a page and those with a higher frequency are considered more relevant than other webpages.
To analyse the keywords on your webpages, use keywordcount.com - a free online, real-time keyword frequency analysis web service. Using this service, you can compare your keyword frequency against that of other sites (like your competitors who rank above you on search results). Key in your URL and it will show you the keywords that search engines see and the frequency at which they appear. You can then tweak your page to include or exclude certain keywords and increase the frequency of important keywords. Another similar service is Extractor.
Metatags are a must: <META> tags are your chance to provide an index of the content on your webpage, giving you control over the information that will be processed by a search engine. Metatags appear within the <HEAD> </HEAD> section on your pages. Search engines like Altavista, Excite, Hotbot, Inktomi ,and Infoseek index meta-tags, and in Infoseek and Inktomi, they even contribute towards determining your ranking on the results page!
There are two main kinds of metatags - keywords and description.
The Keywords metatag is used to list keywords associated with that webpage, separated by commas. The keywords metatag should be less than 1000 characters including spaces. Repetition of words within the metatag is not a good idea, since search engines tend to ignore the page. Like the keywords for your page mentioned above, put on the thinking cap of someone searching for your page - what words would he use to find you online? Your company name, brand names, products, industry, sometimes even city should be included in your metatags.
The description metatag is often used by search engines as a brief description of the site while throwing up results. For those who are looking for something on a search engine - this is your first (and maybe only) chance to make an impression on them and get them to click. Make it as descriptive as you can within the 200 character limit (again including spaces). A good practise is to construct a description out of the main keywords for your page - that you have shortlisted in the keywords section above.
Online help is available from sites like websitegarage.com where you can generate metatags easily. There are software programs that help you do the same - just search for "meta tags" on popular software download sites like download.com, or hotfiles.com
Fill your <ALT> tags: Like Net users who surf with images turned off, search engines can only see the text on webpages. And they ignore images completely - unless you decide to describe what that image is all about. Think about it - there are many pages that are graphically aesthetic (often the first page of a site) that has just one image that needs to be clicked on to visit different sections of the site. Now as far as a search engine is concerned - itís a blank page and it ignores it. The <ALT> tag within the <IMG> tag (for images) allows you to describe the image concerned - and that serves as content that search engines use to list and rank your page. As mentioned above, exploit this to the fullest, give a meaningful and relevant description. Net users who surf with images off will be thankful for being considerate, because they can see the description and then decide whether they need to see the picture or not!
Link popularity: The more the links there are to your page (from other pages on the Net) - the more the chances or you being listed, and in some cases, it also translates into your page ranking being boosted. Search engines like Excite, Inktomi, and Lycos will list more pages from a website if it is a popular link on other sites, even if those pages are not explicitly submitted to them. Search engines like Excite, Google, Altavista, Infoseek and Inktomi boost the relevancy of pages with lots of links, or links from important websites - which translates into being shown higher on the results of a search!
Persistence: Different search engines take varying amounts of time to list submitted pages. According to NetPromote, Altavista and Infoseek take anywhere from 1 - 3 days, Northern Light, Lycos, Excite, Hotbot, and Webcrawler from 2 - 4 weeks. Yahoo! being a directory created by humans (and not by robots) usually takes the longest - sometimes as long as 2 months! Even after you get listed, keep regularly monitoring the status of your website on different search engines. Keep re-submitting your URL to search engines to index every two months to ensure that they go through the changes you hopefully make to keep your page fresh.
Takeaway lesson 8: The Don'ts
In addition to religiously following the dos necessary to boost your search engine rankings, you should also pay attention to things that can pull down your ranking on search engines:
Frames: Some of the major search engines like Excite, Inktomi, Infoseek, and Lycos donít understand frames. So if your first page contains frames, all the search engine will see is the <NOFRAMES> </NOFRAMES> tag which will, in all probability, say something like "Sorry, your browser does not support frames. Please upgrade your browser". And in turn, that is how the search engine will list you (though at the bottom of the listing), so even if someone comes across your page on a search thatís all they will see as the description of your site - it does not create a good impression, Iím sure you agree!
Meta Refresh: Some websites use meta refresh pages to add special effects to their page, or to redirect their pages to some other site. While this is a useful feature that HTML supports, some search engines will refuse to index a page which refreshes too quickly. Infoseek goes all out and does not index pages with any redirection, whatsoever. Moral of the story - if a meta refresh can be avoided, by all means avoid it.
Spamming: Search engine spamming involves using keywords repetitively to boost rankings in search engine results. While the frequency of keywords play an important role in boosting rankings, webmasters have resorted to tricks like keyword stuffing using tiny text and invisible text in a bid to fool search engines into ranking them higher in the results.
Keyword stuffing involves repeating a word multiple times repetitively so as to increase the frequency of the keyword. For a page about Indian stocks and shares, an example of keyword stuffing would be:
Indian stock share market ebiz Indian stock share market ebiz Indian stock share market ebiz Indian stock share market ebiz Indian stock share market ebiz Indian stock share market ebiz Indian stock share market ebiz Indian stock share market ebiz Indian stock share market ebiz Indian stock share market ebiz Indian stock share market ebiz Indian stock share market ebiz Indian stock share market ebiz Indian stock share market ebiz Indian stock share market ebiz
So as not to make it apparent to the user visiting the page, keyword stuffing is either done by making the text invisible, but making the text colour the same as the background colour. Another trick used is to make the font size of the text very small. Search engines have long wisened up to these tricks and most donít index pages using these techniques, and some penalise the page by banning them from the listing.
Getting yourself listed in search/directory sites is a painstaking and time consuming process, but the returns make it worth your while. You can do it on your own, or have someone do it for you. If you do it on your own there is software available on the Net to help you with the entire process - Web Position Gold, Net Submitter Pro, SubmitWolf Pro and AddWeb to name a few. There are sites that offer to do the same for a fee, and "guarantee" that your site will be indexed on 20 or 400 search/directory sites. Watch out for such promises - are the top 10 search sites in their promise list? What if youíre not listed?
Takeaway lesson 9: Beware!
What weíve listed above are common and simple tips about search engines, and useful suggestions on getting listed on these sites. But knowing the Web and the pace at which things change, there will be new search engines tomorrow, and new ways to get listed on them. The trick is to continually keep abreast of how you can best promote your site and stay ahead of the pack.
All the best!
Takeaway lesson 10: Keep learning.
Click Throughs (Useful Links)
Search Engine WatchSearch Engine Forums
A site that keeps tabs on search engines - mainly from your point of view as a site owner. Get the latest lowdown on this mine of search engine information.
Forums for users to discuss various search engines and search engine related issues.
SiteOwnerSearch Engine Tactics
Use this free online service to inspect, analyse, modify and popularise your site with search engines.
An e-book available for free download from the Web.
The aim of this site is to help businesses and webmasters optimise their rankings to the top of search engines. This service scans your site and suggests improvements, submitting tools, information on positioning, etc.
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