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This Issue in Media Inc.

Help Search Engines Help You

From the 2003-12-01 issue of Media Inc. - Internet/Multimedia -
Copyright© 2005 Media Index Publishing Inc.

By Ann Jensen Warman
Guest Columnist

When lead generation and sales depend on search engine rankings, figuring out how to get seen on those first two pages of Google and Yahoo! can be a top priority.

Most statistical surveys agree that Google is still out in front as the most widely used search engine on the Internet, followed by Yahoo!, and more distantly by MSN and AOL. Studies also reveal that the average user looks only at the first two pages of results before moving on.

Itís speculated that Google spiders head out for an Internet re-index data gathering session every six to seven weeks, shifting around page rankings, sometimes dropping site listings altogether. Yahoo!, on the other hand, uses humans to review submissions, guided by tightly regulated criteria. So tight, in fact, that some relevant content may not find inclusion because of improper formatting during the submission process.

Todayís search algorithms have been built to look for relevant content, relevant title, optimal keyword density and relevant linking, and to minimize meta descriptions. At the heart of a Google search engine is its PageRank system, which evaluates links within a site and between sites to determine which sites will receive the highest rankings.

To improve your siteís link strategy, include links to external sites that contain complimentary content, and minimize links that lead to sites with no contextual relationship. Content is king for search engines, and itís through a combination in depth information and linking patterns that quality is ranked.

Be aware that search engine robots cannot use javascript menus. Plan for this by adding a navigational text link of your siteís pages, possibly at the bottom of the page, giving robots an avenue to navigate through the site. Within the text navigational system, be sure to include links to all the major pages, and give a short description of each page, within the link.

Keyword and key phrase selection and usage is another factor to consider in site optimization. Keyword density is the ratio of keywords to the total number of words on a page. Having a higher ratio of keywords to total words will result in a higher page rankñ to a point. If the keyword density is too high, the search engine will consider this spamming and penalize the site by lowering its ranking.

If many sites use similar keywords, the competition for the top slots on the search engine results page is far greater. It pays to find out how popular words and phrases are on the Internet, and select words that are less frequently used. There are several tools available for this: Overture is a free tool, and WordTracker is subscription-based that also lists the 500 keywords of the week.

After the keywords have been selected, they should be used carefully throughout the content. The index page is the most important page of the site, since on most sites traffic enters at this point, and information near the top of any page is most likely to be read by a spider. Be sure keywords are placed in these areas.

Make links from key phrases and words on your index page to more in-depth articles on your inner pages. Include your keywords in your titles on each of your pages, and make the titles specific to the content on each page. Combine this strategy with linking patterns to external sites, then if enough sites link to a site using the specific keyword phrase, it can have a dramatic effect on your PageRank.

Ann Jensen Warman is a Web and print designer at Digital Media Communications.