By Michael Zervas
Bigger is not necessarily better in the case of the World Wide Web. As the web continues to grow at a rate beyond all expectations, it is becoming increasingly challenging for those of us who rely on this medium to access information and/or to get out our sales message.
The web's spectacular growth is rendering it almost impossible to pinpoint, within a reasonable time frame, the exact information one is looking for. In the past, "surfing" was the way to go. This translates to unstructured, serendipitous browsing, wherein you start with a particular Web page and follow links from page to page. By making educated guesses along the way, you likely will find what you need. This method can be fun when you have the time to explore and experiment, but when time is of the essence, surfing can quickly lose its charm.
There is a better way, and it costs nothing: search engines. These are databases that organize all information on the web into categories that can be searched by topic. A search engine's job is to present information that best fits and suits your needs. The information it contains will enhance your chances of coming up as a "hit." Listing your website within a search-engine database is a great way to draw attention to your product and/or service.
How Search Engines Work
Think of the search engine as a fully stocked, 24-hour-a-day library. You request a book at the front desk (or request information form a search engine), and a staff of librarians, working around the clock, seeks the information for you by constantly checking all the shelves or, in the case of the search engine, continually combing the Internet.
As the user, you enter a keyword that connects you to a database. Search-engine software (called "spiders") have been constantly and continuously combing the Internet for documents and their web addresses. These are collected and sent to the engine's indexing software, where information is extracted and sent to a database. Some engines index an entire document; others index by title only. At this point, the search engines assemble a web page, listing the results as hypertext links.
At their core, the major search engines (Yahoo, Alta Vista, Lycos, Infoseek, etc.) use a location/frequency method of determining relevance. For example, if you were searching for "Bill Clinton," most engines would return pages primarily ranked by where and how often those words appear in each document. To be more specific, a page entitled "Bill Clinton's medical history" is likely to be considered more relevant than others where the Meta tag (the title for each page on your site) doesn't mention Clinton's name. Therefore, it's important to note that the location of a given term is a major factor. Similarly, a page that repeatedly mentions Clinton is sure of getting more of a boost than one with only a single reference.
Location and frequency, though critical, are not the only factors to take into consideration. Each search engine has a unique blend of techniques that constitutes its algorithms, or the mathematical formula for ranking and sorting search engines.
Because location and frequency are so important, the title (Meta tag) for each page on your site must be a major consideration. The search engines will use the Meta tag to determine the relevancy of your site to their keywords. The best practice is to design your site verbiage so that it marries with your Meta tag and with potential keywords that can be used to find your product and services.
Be warned: Most search engines filter submissions to avoid "spamming," which is the term used to describe the electronic equivalent of junk mail. It is appropriate, though, to resubmit your site at three-month intervals, but be sure to check the search engines to see how you are ranking. Packaged software is available to accomplish this task.
Once you have determined your ranking, you may want to change your page content and Meta tags before you resubmit. If you follow this procedure of resubmitting throughout the year, you will have a much better chance of climbing the rankings.
Michael Zervas is co-owner of the Michaels/Wilder Group, a specialized advertising agency incorporating three divisions: Yellow Pages, Internet and recruitment advertising. Based in Phoenix, the award-winning firm's client base includes America West, Luby's Cafeterias, Quaker Oats and Conseco Financial Services. Mr. Zervas can be reached at [email protected].