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Search engines use algorithms to match search terms to sites and return results. Different search engines use different methods to obtain results, but most look at similar aspects of a site to determine if it matches a search term.

This page is devoted to those similar aspects, which you should focus on in optimizing your site. The information for this page was gathered from a variety of sources, including the online sources BraveNet Web Services, JimWorld's Search Engine Forums, Search Engine Watch, Rank Write Roundtable, and Spider Food, as well as the tutorials offered in Web Position Gold's software.

On this page, we take a look at:
Titles - Keywords - Keyword Weight - Keyword Prominence
Descriptions - Body - Headings and Subtitles - Alt Tags - Link Exchanging

All search engines examine the title of a page for keywords. Plus, they usually list your page title on the page of search results. Therefore, this is arguably the most important area to utilize your best keywords. Here's a few tips:
  • Longer titles are more effective, but try not to use more than 80 characters if possible. Remember, if you're hand submitting your site to search engines, you may have to conform to a set number of characters that they will prescribe. Keeping the titles under 80 characters from the get go will save you time in the long run.
  • Do not use all caps in a title. Not only does all caps make the text scream, it is difficult to read.
  • Try to place the most important keywords at the beginning of your title.
  • You can repeat keywords, but not in a row, and it's a bad idea to repeat them more than three times.
  • Make your title compelling to readers.
  • Make sure all of the pages in your site have titles. Your home page isn't the only page that can be searched or can show up in search results.

Not all search engines examine this area of code. However, some do; therefore, it still is an important aspect of your site. Here's some tips for drafting your keywords:
  • Use two to four word phrases instead of single words if possible since most people now search working from specific to general. Plus, the individual words within your phrases will be searched anyway.
  • Don't go over 25 phrases or 500 characters. As is the case with titles, if you're hand submitting, you'll have to conform to a set number of words or characters, so this number will save you time down the road.
  • Put your most pertinent keywords towards the beginning of your keyword list.
  • You can repeat keywords, but do not list the same keyword twice in a row, and don't repeat it more than a few times. Following this advice will keep you from being labeled a spammer.
  • List your keywords in lower case, and separate them by commas. No space is needed.

Keyword Weight
Many search engines use keyword weight, the proportion of keywords present in a site to the number of all the words in a site, when considering how to rank a site in the results. Because of this, you should use your keywords often in your site's content. However, you should be reasonable with how frequently you use them, since spamming is greatly frowned upon by search engines. There are no set rules as to how much is too much, so use your keywords as many times as they are relevant. If the keyword is not relevant, don't use it more than 10 times in your body text.

Keyword Prominence
Keyword prominence is looked at by most search engines, especially directories like Yahoo. Prominence really just means how close a keyword is to the beginning of an area of a site, such as the title, description, tag, or body text. Obviously, you should try to place your keywords toward the beginning of your code for each section in your site. Of course, it is still important to place your keywords near the middle and end of your text, but the front or the beginning is the most important position for keywords when it comes to being spidered.

On most search engines, a description appears after a site's title on the results page. Sometimes that title is one that you've created, and sometimes it's one that an editor who has nothing to do with your site has created. Compelling and informative descriptions can help drive traffic to your site. They can also help your site rank well on results pages. According to most sources, the best descriptions do four things:
  • Solve a problem.
  • Solve the problem quickly.
  • Solve the problem for a reasonable amount of money.
  • Make the reader curious to learn more about the site's topic.
One more tip on descriptions: try to keep the description down to approximately 200 characters, or 20-25 words. Again, this will save time when you are hand submitting your site and have to conform to the search engines' rules.

Some search engines look for a theme in the body text area of a site. So, try to use the main keywords more than once in the body text, but never repeat them in a row, since you could be penalized for spamming. Here are some tips for drafting your body text:
  • Repeat main keywords throughout the body text, but never multiple times in a row.
  • Try to place your keywords at the beginning of your text.

Headings and Subtitles
As stated above, search engines tend to look for themes in the body text of a site. Headings and subtitles are a handy, if not obvious, way to define themes in your body text. Tips include:
  • Size does matter. Longer headings are generally better than short ones because you can pack in more keywords. However, extremely long headings are unnecessary. A good rule of thumb is two to eight words.
  • Always use main keywords at least one or more times in your headings.
  • Try to place keywords at the beginning of the heading or subtitle.
  • Try to use headings and subtitles throughout the site, filling them with main keywords.

Alt Tags
Some search engines look to the pop-up description that a designer gives to photos or other graphics within a Web site, otherwise known as alt tags. Since you should always have alt tags for every graphic image on your site, and search engines do spider them, alt tags are a good place to use keywords. Here are some tips:
  • Use precise tags. Don't apply an alt tag like "photo1" to a graphic because it's absolutely useless both to users and search engines.
  • Don't use abbreviations unless the abbreviation itself is a keyword.
  • Don't spam with your alt tags; try not to use the same keyword too many times in your alt tags.

Link Exchanging
Some search engines, like Google, rank sites by their link popularity, meaning how many other sites link to a specific site. This is where networking in the social sense comes in handy. It never hurts to have other people linking to yor site, so seek people out in whatever manner you see fit. You can search for sites similar to yours and contact the creators regarding exchanging links. Another way to get more people linking to your site is to join a Webring, which is a string of linked sites dedicated to a certain topic. You can find Webrings on almost any topic (and hopefully one that applies to your site) on just about any search engine.

On this page:

Titles - Keywords - Keyword Weight - Keyword Prominence
Descriptions - Body - Headings and Subtitles - Alt Tags - Link Exchanging

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Contact Robin Morris
Contact Robin Morris

Original Content and Design by Robin Morris
Copyright © 2001

This page was last updated on November 28, 2001.
This site is posted for information purposes only. I make no guarantees that your site will be number one in search engine rankings. However, following the advice given herein can only help. Good luck!