With billions of Web sites on the Internet, fighting to attract visitors to your site is no easy task. Luckily, search engines provide an easy, effective and inexpensive way to edge out the competition and win the war for eyeballs.
In last month's column, I covered part one of search engine tactics, explaining the importance of using metatags. In this month's column, you'll learn how to optimize the title tag, page copy, "alt" attribute image tags and site design. I'll also discuss some good resources for submitting your optimized site to the major search engines and directories.
Proper use of the portion of the Web page header is critical for a high ranking in the search engines. In addition, most search engines use the title tag for the results listing, so this tag is your chance to create a one-sentence summary describing what your Web site offers to entice engine users to click on the link to your site instead of your competitors'.
If your Web site is dedicated to selling Web hosting, your title might read "HostPro: The Leader in Affordable Web Hosting." This sample title not only gives your visitors an accurate description of your Web site, but also holds the keywords "Web hosting" and your company name, "HostPro." I suggest that you keep your title tag within 50 to 80 characters in length. Also, be sure to find a good balance between an accurate description of your Web site and the insertion of important keywords that search engine users may search for.
Because search engines index more than just the index page of Web sites, it is important to add a title to all pages within your Web site. On back pages, don't repeat the same title you used on the index page; instead, describe what each page offers. "Contact information for HostPro" for the contact page; "Web hosting pricing and information" for the product information page, and so on.
Some search engines also scan the text on your Web site to pick keywords for your listing and to make sure that your site is accurate for the keywords you entered in the metatags and title. If you entered "Web hosting" as a keyword in the metatag keywords section or title section, then you should also use that phrase a couple times in the body text of the page to get really good accuracy and a high ranking in the search engine. The best way to do this is by creating a short introduction paragraph for your Web site. Write a few sentences about your company and what you have to offer. Not only will this help with search engine listings, but it's also a great way to let your visitors know immediately what you have to offer.
Be careful not to add text to your Web site that is the same color as your background. Webmasters began hiding keywords on their sites by making them blend into the background so visitors wouldn't see them but search engines would. This doesn't work, and in fact, most search engines are programmed to figure this trick out and penalize you for it.
Images also provide an excellent opportunity to throw keywords onto your Web site. The "alt" attribute tag is hidden behind images and is only visible while the image is loading. It was created years ago when images took an extremely long time to load and was intended to let visitors know exactly what would eventually be seen. Today, images load so quickly that the alt tag is rarely seen by visitors, but is frequently scanned by search engines. Add two or three words to each image in this manner: .
Search engines not only index the front page of Web sites, but also scan and list back pages. They do this by following the links on each page, which is why it is very important to add links on all pages of your site that link to each other. The best way to do this is to make a links section at the bottom of each page made of text, like this: | Home | Products | Services | Contact Us | About Us |. Look at the bottom of this page or visit eBay.com and drop to the bottom of any of their pages for some great examples.
Your Web site is now optimized for search engines and ready for submission! Visiting search engines and submitting your Web site information manually is free but extremely time-consuming. Luckily, there are many submission services on the Internet that can submit your Web site to the major search engines and directories for you for a small fee. My favorite is Microsoft bCentral's "Submit It." For $79, you can submit your Web site for one year. After you initially sign up, Submit It will even submit your site automatically each month.
Joel Holland, age 17, has been starting and running businesses since he was 12 and is currently the chief marketing officer for Nortel Networks Kidz Online, a digital studio that creates educational content about technology for schools nationwide and in Canada. Holland is ranked in the top 10 nationwide for his marketing skills through DECA, a national organization with more than 300,000 teen members, and was named Business Student of the Year by the McLean, Virginia, Chamber of Commerce. To contact Holland, write to firstname.lastname@example.org.