(originally published in The
Jerusalem Post, March 2003;
revised December 2004
Lost in Cyberspace:
Search Engine Optimization
Many Web sites are painstakingly constructed, launched with
high hopes, and only then -- when they languish unvisited
on the Web -- do their owners begin to consider the issue
of search engine optimization (SEO). This is unfortunate.
It's similar to buying a house, repainting, refurnishing
and beautifying it right down to the arrangement of the throw
pillows, and only then considering whether the foundations
and plumbing are sound. Of what use are exquisite oriental
rugs when the toilet is backing up into the living room?
Done correctly, SEO comes into play from the initial planning
stages of the site and affects the most fundamental design
decisions. If you want people to find your site, build it
according to the criteria that search engines (SEs) use for
ranking sites. You not only want to be listed by the SEs,
you want to be listed as one of the top sites when someone
searches for a site using your keywords.
Take my Web design business, AtarTec, for an example. Someone
searching via Google for a Web site designer in Israel is
likely to enter the keywords "website design Israel".
This produces 3,820,000 results. Three
million, eight hundred and twenty thousand. What
are the chances that someone will find AtarTec if it ranks
in the middle,
Non-existent. Or #2,000,
or even #100? Very slim. If interested in getting clients
from search engine leads, I must optimize my site so that
it will be listed near the top for
Distilling the wealth of available SEO information into
one brief article is impossible. The main principle, however,
is quite simple:
SEs require text.
They will rank your site well if you follow three simple
- Provide plenty of well-written text (at
least 250 words per page) with relevant page titles that
employ your keywords.
- Have incoming links from high-quality
- Make sure that your index page contains text
links to pages deeper within your site.
- Update your site at frequent intervals
The list of what SEs require is brief; the list of what
they penalize is longer. Following are things to avoid if
SEO is important to you.
- Splash pages. Whether an image or a
Flash animation, a big picture with an "Enter" button
offers little hospitality to SEs.
- Developing an entire site in Flash.
For purposes of SEO, your site is essentially invisible.
(Note that this may change in the future, when SEs are
expected to acquire the ability to process "text" generated
- Structuring the site in frames, especially
the index page. The main frame, which is what the SE sees
first, often contains no text, but only reference to the
other frames. This can stop the SE in its tracks.
- Presenting your main navigation links as images rather
Why do some popular sites use some of the techniques I advise
you to avoid? The answer is that people don't need an SE
to find a well-known international brand name. They can type
officedepot.com or mcdonalds.com directly into their browser.
But if your business name is not a household word, SEO should
definitely be at the top of your design priorities.
Here are several other tips for SEO:
- Encourage high-quality sites to link to
your site. Link popularity is an increasingly important
factor for ranking, particularly in Google.
- Accompany photos and illustrations with "alt
tags" in the code. This is a text description
of the picture that can be read by SEs and audio browsers.
(Many regular browsers also show the information contained
in the alt tags inside a little text box that appears
when you place your cursor over an image.)
- Use an effective navigation scheme.
SEs move from page to page much as human users do. Make
sure that there are no dead ends and that a logical progression
can be made throughout the site without resorting to the
browser's "Back" button.
- Remember to submit to directories as
well as SEs. The most important directories are DMOZ and,
of course, Yahoo. Humans process directory submissions,
the sort of computer "bots" used by SEs, so carefully
follow their instructions. In particular, make sure the
description of your site uses well-chosen keywords in natural-sounding
sentences. Do not use advertising jargon such as "best,
unique, quality, guaranteed," etc. (Note that DMOZ
is staffed by volunteers and therefore may be painfully
slow to even examine your site. Look at the bottom of the
page on which you want your site to be listed. If it says
"Volunteer to edit this category", there's no editor at
present and therefore your site won't get added. You may
want to consider volunteering yourself.)
- Do not try to "trick" SEs with
techniques such as: overuse of keywords in invisible text;
doorway pages; meta tags using non-representative keywords;
placing text in invisible layers; "spamming" the
SEs by resubmitting to them too often, or not in accordance
with their individual requirements. Be aware that the penalties
SEs impose for employing such techniques can range from
ignoring your site to actually blackballing it, sometimes
permanently. (These methods are often prescribed by companies
and software that offer "quick, easy, foolproof, automatic" SE
submission services. Buyer beware.)
So you've followed these tips, optimized your site for SEs,
submitted to the leading SEs and directories in accordance
with the instructions found on each of their sites, and requested
links from high-quality sites. Does this mean that you can
now relax, put your feet up, and wait as new customers stampede
to your site?
A Web site is a crucial tool for doing business in the 21st
century, and SEO helps make it more available. But your site
must be part of a comprehensive marketing plan. Incorporate
your site address in all advertisements, news releases, and
office collateral (brochures, business cards, stationery,
etc.) These will help drive targeted traffic to your site,
where you can then provide your visitors with the quality
information and service that will encourage them to do business
Your site, search engines, and traditional promotional venues
augment one another in wonderful synergy. Let your business
benefit from their combined impact.
Easily find out how your site currently ranks on Google
Get help choosing keywords by using the research tools available
at Overture, Google, and Wordtracker.
The most important sites to register with:
For more than you've ever wanted to know about SEO:
Debunking some of the more common SEO myths:
Do you have any questions? Contact
me and I'll try to answer them in upcoming articles. Also,
you may subscribe for
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