Search Engine and Optimization Q&A

What is a Search Engine?

A search engine is a special website that catalogs other websites and has search capability. Their function is to catalog an index of websites into a database that can be accessed by entering a query into a search box. When the query is entered, the goal of the Search Engine is to present the most relevant information for that query. Each Search Engine has their own unique abilities. On the back end, the information is first found by a "spider" and then sorted for relevance by an "algorithm". an "Algorithm" is a complex (and usually proprietary) formula used to decipher what a Web page is about and its importance to a specific topic.

A search engine "crawls" the Web, using a piece of software known as a 'spider' or 'robot', which are automated programs that scour the web jumping from link to link they discover, cataloguing information on Web pages and entire Websites.

What is the difference between a search engine and a directory?

A search engine uses automated processes to obtain, review, and catalogue information. A directory requires human intervention – where people physically visit a Website to review and catalogue it.

What is Search Engine Optimization (SEO)?

"Search Engine Optimization" is the process of changing Websites in order to obtain high search rankings in a Search engines for relevant keywords that get searched for frequently. The tactics should be research-based and usually focus on the search engines' ability to "crawl" your site, the content contained within your site, and who links to your Website.

How do I get my site to the top of a Search results page for my keywords?

This is a complex question with no easy answer – there are many tactics for getting your site at the top but the idea is to be the most relevant resource for what the User is searching for. If you accomplish that goal and your site abides by the SEO technical needs, your site will be in prime position to reach the top.

If you are outsourcing your SEO work or looking for a consultant or new hire, do not be talked into any kind of "guarantee" for search rankings. Search engine rankings are impossible to guarantee – but Search is also democratic. What this means is that it is possible, with time and resources, for any site to move to a top position for a given keyword.

Each search engine uses its own algorithm to find and rank the most relevant information for a keyword phrase. Search engines also periodically update their algorithm – so what helped you get higher listing in the past may change. You will have to keep up with each search engine or hire a professional who is up-to-date on the latest strategies for optimization.

Once you have the correct research (keywords, competition review, good site usability, analytics), the three main components of optimizing your site are to create useful content, keep your site easy for search engines to crawl, and building new links to your site.

How do I get my Website into a Search Engine?

There are several ways to get your Website visited, or "Crawled" by a search engine spider. The two most popular spiders are GoogleBot (Google's Spider) and Slurp (Yahoo's spider).

  1. Submit your site to the Search Engine. Typically, most Search Engines will allow you to submit a Website. Many services exist for site submission, but you can do this for free with the Search Engine without paying a fee. Also, manual submission is the slowest way to get a Website crawled by the search engines, and they will often only visit a few pages on their first visit.
  2. Getting Search Engine friendly links to your Website is the fastest way to get your site listed in a Search Engine. The links must be visited by the Search Engines on a regular basis. When the Search engine returns to crawl the existing site, they will discover the link to your Website and follow it to find your new content. The more valuable the link in the Search engine's eyes, the more likely (and quickly) the Search Engine will visit your site frequently and index more pages on your site.
  3. Create a sitemap. A Sitemap is a categorized list with links to every page on your site. Be sure to title them accurately, using the most relevant description in the link text. Place a link to your Sitemap in the Footer of your site so the Search Engines are capable of finding all of your pages for a thorough crawl.
  4. Create a Sitemap.xml for your Website and use FTP to place it to the root folder of your Website. For Google, you can create a Google Webmaster Tools account and submit your sitemap. Google will typically crawl your site within 24 hours but it can take a couple weeks before anycontent is indexed.
  5. We would recommend doing all of the above if possible. If you need help or want to be sure you're doing the best job with getting your site crawled and listed, hire a professional Search Engine Optimizer. They will know the tactics to get you listed accurately and as soon as possible.
  6. You can buy special software that will submit your site to various search engines and directories.

How long does it take to be index in a search engine?

It depends on the Search Engine and how you're trying to get listed. Ideally, you can obtain a valuable, high-profile link on another Website that gets crawled daily. With this, you could be indexed and listed in the Search Engine within a day or two. If you're relying on manual submission, the process can take a month or longer before your site is indexed.

To see if a search engine has indexed your Website, type in the Search query box and perform a search. Look at the number of results found by that search engine – this is the number of pages indexed by this Search Engine.

Important Page Elements

Why is the title tag important?

A TITLE tag is an important indicator of what a Webpage is about. In most major search engines results pages (SERPS), the Title tag of a Web page becomes the clickable link text that is displayed. You should place a unique TITLE tag on every web page of your site. Most spiders will first look to the TITLE tag to decipher the web page content. It is advisable to title your pages accurately, using specific keywords for that page within a reasonable length (no longer than 12 words).

What are META tags and why are they important?

These are special tags that sit in between the HEAD tags in your HTML code and are invisible to the viewer. META tags should be used on every page of your website. For an example, look at the source code for this web page. META tags belong below the Title at the top of the Web page source code.

The two most popular META tags are the META description tag and the META Keywords tag. Most search engines no longer attribute much or any value to a META Keywords tag, but the META description tag is still frequently used. It is advisable to use both to accurately describe the page content and list the most relevant keywords related to the page. Be wary of repeating keywords or listing more than 20 – it begins to look like Spam and you will risk your site being removed from the Search Engine.

Why are ALT tags important?

ALT tags assist users as well as Search Engines. For users, if they are using a non-image Web browser, the ALT text are the words that appear in place of the image is supposed to be. They also assist blind users with voice operating Web browsing to know what an image is. Search Engines cannot "see" and interpret what an image is like a human being. Therefore, they rely on the ALT text description to know what the content of an image is. We recommend that you always use ALT tags with your images. They should not be longer than a few words, and ideally will use a specific keyword relevant to that image and to the page it is sitting on. This boosts page relevance and these images can also bring added visibility by appearing in Image search engines.

Why is having HTML text important?

Text is "spider food" – what a Search Engine spider is really after. Search Engines want to present the most relevant information possible. They do this by "reading" the Web Page code and to see the content as a human visitor would. If your Web page is composed only of images and image embedded text, the search engine spider will have no idea what your content is about since they cannot interpret the information inside of an image.

This is why it is good to have text navigation (even as a supplement to your graphical navigation) and text content that is readable from the source code.

It is also a good idea for accessibility to try to raise your HTML text content up in your code as high as possible, ideally within the first 200 lines. Some search engines limit the amount of data that it will scan for its database and you will want them to find all of the text conetnt on a page.

What is search engine spamming?

Each search engine has a policy on spamming, usually in their Webmaster guidelines or Terms of Service. "Spamming" in this sense is employing a tactic that has the sole purpose of manipulating search engines without providing any value to a visitor to that page.

Some popular forms of "spamming" since SEO has grown: loading pages with keywords with the smallest text possible (almost non-visible), hiding text by making it the same color as the background of a page, building pages of "scraped" content from the Web and injecting keywords, duplicating identical content, or purchasing links on sites whose sole purpose is to manipulate search engines by increasing their "link popularity".

All of these tactics have been employed and some "clever" Webmasters still try these tactics. Some Webmasters simply don't realize they are employing something that is dangerous to Search Engine rankings. Google, Yahoo, and MSN all have spam filters that will typically flag and automatically remove a site from its index for using such tactics. The "common sense" in SEO is to avoid any activity that has the sole purpose of manipulating search rankings without having any value to human visitors.

If you are concerned about spamming, you should visit the search engines and read through the help documentation to know what is and what is not acceptable. Each search engine will have different criteria and spamming policy.

What types of things should I avoid when developing my site?

There are some technologies and forms of Web development that are not SEO friendly. It is important when developing a Website to have an understanding of the things you should and shouldn't do for your long-term Website planning. Let's discuss a few of the most common technologies that can cause SEO issues:

Frames– Frames are an older Web technology that is not used much anymore. However, it's worth noting since some older sites are using frames. FFrames cause issues because of how the code is structured, it reads each page within the "Frame" seperately. It also can cause issues with how a search engine crawls the Website. If your site is using frames, it is recommended to move your site to a non-frames site or create a non-frames version of the site for the Search engines to follow. You would then allow users to choose which version of the site they want, and block Search Engine Spiders from accessing the Frames version so you don't have to worry about duplicate content.

Javascript– Javascript is useful and often necessary for a lot of Web technology. The issue with Javascript is that search engines cannot read and interpret what is in Javascript. Using it is OK, but do not embed important content or links within Javascript code. It is advisable that any script on the Webpage is moved to an external file (e.g., code.js) and then call that file onto the Web page you want to use it. This will shorten the code on the actual page and make it as simple as possible for spiders to crawl it.

Flash– Flash offers many of the same issues as Javascript and text embedded in images, which make it difficult or impossible for Search Engines to see its contents. There have been ongoing advancements in Search to recognize content and links within Flash files, especially with Google. However, it still presents crawling issues if not properly designed. This the developments are still relatively new, optimizing for Flash. As a best practice for SEO when Flash is used, keep your site content within the code and not in a Flash file, and text navigation on each page that the Search Engines can easily crawl.