I want to be #1 in the search engines!


Years ago, people didn't used to talk about being #1 in the search engines.

Instead, we used to hear that "if you build it, they will come." Unfortunately, we still hear this, as if to imply that one has only to build a website and people will show up in a veritable parade.

If that was ever true (and it wasn't as early as 1997), it's no longer so. Nowadays, as then, your website must be promoted or no one will know about it.

For most websites, unless the company already has brand name recognition ("branding") or ample promotional dollars to invest, the major search engines are a prime source of visitors. Thus the focus on not only getting into the search engines, but being #1.

Who's #1 in the search engines?

Everyone wants to be number one in the search engines.

Unfortunately, only one website can be #1 for any one search term at any one time. Worse, if a search for your search term (keyword) turns up 2 million listings, math dictates that 1,999,999 pages are not going to be number one ... or anywhere near it.

Search engine ranking formulas change. There are methods for improving a website's ranking in the search engines, some of them safe, and some -- like the old "invisible text" (same color text and background) — have been grounds for banning from search engines for years.

This article is not intended as an instruction on how to get good search engine placement, but simply as general information about search engines and directories — and a statement that it can be done.

Search engines versus directories

There's a difference between search engines and directories, although most of the major search engines are incorporating both as of late.

A search engine is a website where you can search for a specific term, such as "used cars," and get a list of pages about used cars.

A directory is a website that has categories of topics (such as business, computers, etc.) which you can follow down into the lower (and lower) categories.

To confuse matters, most of the major search engines today are also have directories, and vice-versa.

How to get into search engines & directories

To get your pages into a search engine, you submit them at the search engine. Look for a link saying, "Submit" or "Add URL". At Google, you'll have to go through the "Jobs, Press, & Help" link to find the "Submitting your Site" link.

Note re resubmitting web pages: once your pages are in a search engine, you do not have to resubmit them (much less pay someone to do it monthly).

To get a directory listing, one must appeal to the directory's staff, who may or may not visit your website or add it to the directory. They may take a long time, and there is no guarantee. Luckily, some of the major directories (i.e., Yahoo!) have instituted a pay-for-review scenario whereby they'll review your website within a guaranteed period of time. That's all that's guaranteed, though; a listing is not.

Both search engines and are very worth it in terms of traffic to your website.

How do search engines rank pages?

When a page is submitted to a search engine, it sends a program called a "spider" to pick up the page. The page is later ranked against other pages according to that search engine's particular ranking formula, called an "algorithm."

Unfortunately for us, search engines do not publicize their algorithms. Some use more than one; they may give a "boost" in ranking to pages within their directories, pages with links from (not to) "important" websites, and other methods as well.

One thing to note is that search engines read, among other things, the text on the page. If your pages do not contain text, and that text does not mention your search terms, then the search engine will be unable to determine that that's what your page is about. Why? Because the page does not say it in the text.

Note that search engine spiders cannot read graphics (pictures) — they can only read text. So, no matter how nice or informative your graphics are, if the information is not in text on the page, the spiders can't read it.

Web pages and search engine algorithms

It used to be that simply putting your topic in your title and talking about it on the page (plus a few other technical tidbits) would give the page good ranking in the search engines. With the explosion of the Web into millions of pages, however, and the search engines' constant tinkering and changing of their algorithms (the formulas they use to rank pages), it is no longer so simple or easy to achieve good ranking.

Unless your topic is a rare one. Or ...

Search engine optimization

The term search engine optimization means the act of setting up the page for the highest possible search engine ranking. There's only one problem with this. In order to "optimize" a page for good search engine ranking, one must know the algorithm — and the search engine personnel aren't talking.

There are a few things that can do about this.

(1) Build each page with the search engines in mind.
There are all kinds of ways to set up a web page — some fancier, some using immense amounts of technology to drive home their point, etc. But if they have not been built with search engines in mind, the job will be much more difficult if not impossible.

And all this must be done in a way that does not interfere with marketing and sales. After all, what is the point of having a top listing if your visitors are put off when they reach your page?

(2) Hire a search engine optimization specialist.
"Search engine optimization" and "search engine friendly" are coined terms meaning setting up websites to rank well in search engines for particular search terms. This requires a great deal of time and ongoing research and testing simply to try to keep up with different and changing algorithms.

Realizing that, in order to be effective, websites must not only look professional and sell, but must be able to be found in search engines, we opted years ago to combine marketing and web design with our own "no tricks" search engine optimization methods in order to provide our clients with the best online experience we could devise.

One word of caution -- no one outside of the search engines themselves knows all the algorithms all the time. I would suggest approaching with caution anyone who claims to "know it all" or who guarantees high placement across all the search engines at once — much less for $39.95.

(3) Build the website and see how it does in the search engines.
This is what we recommend. Perhaps you will get lucky, or your search terms will be among the rare. In any case, you can always hire a search engine specialist at a later date — after finding out if you need one. And then your website will have been online for some time, so he/she will not be starting from scratch.

Is it necessary to be #1 in the search engines?

This is an interesting question. Your website simply has to be found by your potential customers, and how and where that is achieved is a different question.

Studies have shown that around 50% of people using search engines go to the second page of search results. This means they do not necessarily stop looking when they go to the website in the #1 spot. It may mean that they're still window shopping at that website. Interesting point, isn't it?

More importantly, most people assume that more traffic will improve their sales. This presupposes that the website in question induces people to buy, and that is not a given. If the website is getting decent traffic but does not sell, then the faults in the website should be addressed; if it is selling, then it's time to increase the traffic.

Lastly, a study of the Web marketplace reveals that different search engines may be more fruitful for certain markets. The question is: where will my potential customers look for what I have to offer?

Diane Vigil founded DianeV Web Design Studio, has served as a consultant to numerous companies, as a moderator and administrator of the JimWorld SearchEngineForums and Cre8asiteforums, on the Site-Report Experts Panel — and has designed and built numerous websites since 1997.

DianeV Web Design Studio

© 1998- DianeV Web Design Studio. All Rights Reserved. :: Privacy/Legal/Return Policy. Any unauthorized reproduction
or distribution of the contents of this website is a violation of copyright law and may result in severe civil and criminal penalties.