It is not enough to register your URL with the major search engines. You also have to tune your HTML so that when people who are looking for your kind of page enter a reasonable search request, your page is one of the first ones shown.

Search Engine Optimization has evolved greatly since I first put up this site. In the early days, there was a clear "arms race" mentality pitting the search engines against people trying to influence their rankings in the search engines. But these days, things have quieted down quite a bit, for several reasons.

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Believe it or not, 11.13% of the people who use SelfPromotion.com support the site!
First of all, the search engines (in particular Google), have wised up to a lot of the tricks that optimizers used to get higher rankings for undeserving pages. More and more, you can get decent results by following the advice I give in the Preparing your Site for the Search Engines tutorial -- write good pages with good, useful content, decent title and meta tags, and get people to link to it. 95% of the readers of this page need only do that, it simply isn't worth your time to do more.

The second reason things have calmed down is that the average update time for search engine listings (the time between your submission and when your revised page appears in the search engine) is now in the multiple months - often 3-4 months. This means that you can't quickly test changes to your rankings on most search engines. Inktomi and Altavista are exceptions as they offer Paid Inclusion programs (see Search Engine Trends for more info).

But for those of you who have the spare time to devote to extensive analysis of search engine rankings, this article may be of some assistance. I'll give you a brief introduction to competitive analysis (aka "espionage")

BTW, one of the advantages of supporting SelfPromotion.com is that if you pony up $10 or more, you get access to some Secret Net Tools that can help you improve your rankings. What a subtle plug!

OK, let's get started. By way of example, I'm going to try and improve the rankings of the other company I run, AnimEigo.

First, I used the Rankulator Secret Net Tool to query some search engines about my AnimEigo website. I entered 3 keywords; "bubblegum crisis" (the name of one of my products), "japanese animation" and "anime." The Rankulator queried the search engines with all the permutations of the keywords. Here is the report it emailed me:


Here are your Rankulation Results.  If a query is listed as "not
performed", it means that a more general query failed, so it wasn't
worth doing a more specific one.
I'm currently making changes and improvements to the Rankulator, so if
you think something isn't working right, let me know and I'll check it.
Search Request 1 : "bubblegum crisis" "japanese animation" anime
   AltaVista (Simple Query) : found on page 1.
      Excite (Simple Query) : found on page 3.
       Lycos (Simple Query) : found on page 1.
    InfoSeek (Simple Query) : found on page 1.
These were the first URLs returned by the above queries.
        AltaVista (Top URL) : <http://www.animeigo.com/Resources/Liner/CRISIS1.html>
           Excite (Top URL) : <http://www.aloha.net/~ts-2/bgc.htm>
            Lycos (Top URL) : <http://www.animeigo.com/Images/CRISIS.html>
         InfoSeek (Top URL) : <http://www.animeigo.com/Products/Videos/All/>
Search Request 2 : "bubblegum crisis" "japanese animation"
   AltaVista (Simple Query) : found on page 1.
      Excite (Simple Query) : found on page 2.
       Lycos (Simple Query) : found on page 1.
    InfoSeek (Simple Query) : found on page 1.
These were the first URLs returned by the above queries.
        AltaVista (Top URL) : <http://www.animeigo.com/Resources/Liner/CRISIS1.html>
           Excite (Top URL) : <http://www.aloha.net/~ts-2/bgc.htm>
            Lycos (Top URL) : <http://www.animeigo.com/Images/CRISIS.html>
         InfoSeek (Top URL) : <http://www.animeigo.com/Products/Videos/All/>
Search Request 3 : "bubblegum crisis" anime
   AltaVista (Simple Query) : found on page 2.
      Excite (Simple Query) : found on page 2.
       Lycos (Simple Query) : found on page 1.
    InfoSeek (Simple Query) : found on page 1.
These were the first URLs returned by the above queries.
        AltaVista (Top URL) : <http://www.interlog.com/~granl/bgc.htm>
           Excite (Top URL) : <http://www.wsu.edu/~mickey_k/andrea/links.html>
            Lycos (Top URL) : <http://www.animeigo.com/Images/CRISIS.html>
         InfoSeek (Top URL) : <http://www.animeigo.com/Products/Videos/All/>
Search Request 4 : "japanese animation" anime
   AltaVista (Simple Query) : found on page 1.
      Excite (Simple Query) : No hits on first 6 pages.
       Lycos (Simple Query) : found on page 1.
    InfoSeek (Simple Query) : No hits on first 6 pages.
These were the first URLs returned by the above queries.
        AltaVista (Top URL) : <http://www.bolthole.com/whyilikeanime.shtml>
           Excite (Top URL) : <http://www.mit.edu:8001/afs/athena.mit.edu/user/r/e/rei/WWW/Expl.html>
            Lycos (Top URL) : <http://www.freenet.mb.ca/community/entertainment/anime.html>
         InfoSeek (Top URL) : <http://anime.berkeley.edu/~suizi/HTML2.html>
Search Request 5 : "bubblegum crisis"
   AltaVista (Simple Query) : No hits on first 6 pages.
      Excite (Simple Query) : found on page 2.
       Lycos (Simple Query) : found on page 1.
    InfoSeek (Simple Query) : found on page 1.
These were the first URLs returned by the above queries.
        AltaVista (Top URL) : <http://www.auburn.edu/~millebw/anime/anime101/asm/asm/bgcrisis.html>
           Excite (Top URL) : <http://www.wsu.edu/~mickey_k/andrea/links.html>
            Lycos (Top URL) : <http://www-inst.eecs.berkeley.edu/~ctsay/bgc.html>
         InfoSeek (Top URL) : <http://www.animeigo.com/Products/Videos/All/>
Search Request 6 : "japanese animation"
   AltaVista (Simple Query) : No hits on first 6 pages.
      Excite (Simple Query) : No hits on first 6 pages.
       Lycos (Simple Query) : found on page 2.
    InfoSeek (Simple Query) : No hits on first 6 pages.
These were the first URLs returned by the above queries.
        AltaVista (Top URL) : <http://web.syr.edu/~kjhorne/JAC/>
           Excite (Top URL) : <http://icdweb.cc.purdue.edu/~apoon/assign4.html>
            Lycos (Top URL) : <http://www.erols.com/nealis/anime/anime.html>
         InfoSeek (Top URL) : <http://www.yahoo.com/Entertainment/Comics_and_Animation/Animation/Anime/Clubs_and_Organizations/index.html>
Search Request 7 : anime
   AltaVista (Simple Query) : No hits on first 6 pages.
      Excite (Simple Query) : No hits on first 6 pages.
       Lycos (Simple Query) : No hits on first 6 pages.
    InfoSeek (Simple Query) : No hits on first 6 pages.
These were the first URLs returned by the above queries.
        AltaVista (Top URL) : <http://ftp.sunet.se/pub/tv+movies/anime-manga/anime.stuff/stuff9/>
           Excite (Top URL) : <http://www.mit.edu:8001/afs/athena.mit.edu/user/r/e/rei/WWW/Expl.html>
            Lycos (Top URL) : <http://www.aloha.net/~rj/>
         InfoSeek (Top URL) : <http://www.csclub.uwaterloo.ca/u/mlvanbie/anime-list/>
This shows I'm doing a decent job, and in a lot of cases, I'm not only on page 1, but often have the #1 position! It's going to be tough for me to improve my ranking on general keywords like "anime" and "japanese animation," (because of all the competition) but I certainly want to be on page 1 for the combinations "bubblegum crisis" + "anime" and "bubblegum crisis" + "japanese animation". Looking carefully, I see that my ranking on Excite isn't as good as on the other engines (I need to work on that!).

The next tool to use is called the Espionage tool; it retrieves pages and displays the page as a typical search engine might see it, and so gives me some clues as to what those pages are doing right, and what I'm doing wrong. I used the Espionage tool on the top competing pages, which tells me:

Espionage results for http://www.aloha.net/~ts-2/bgc.htm:
Non-tag text in the first 2K of the page body: tasha's page!!   hello!
how are you? i'm fine...oh, wait, never mind! anyways, welcome to my bgc
site, it's not really as complete as some others but, unfortunately, i
don't seem to have much free time. so, enjoy [whats here anyway]! about
bgc links about me pics e-mail me (tasha) and tell me what you think!
last modified- 10/24/97 best viewed with:
META : CONTENT-TYPE = text/html; charset=iso-8859-1
META : GENERATOR = microsoft frontpage 2.0
TITLE : this is the bgc page that tasha built
LINK : about bgc
LINK : links
LINK : about me
LINK : pics
LINK : e-mail
Espionage results for http://www.interlog.com/~granl/bgc.htm:
Non-tag text in the first 2K of the page body: mike's anime page --
bubblegum crisis it's a fact file for the knight sabers and their
friends! (amazing!) i want to stock up on sylia! i'll die if i don't
become the dali llama of linna! you'll perish if you don't tell me about
priss! let me know about nene! learn about a continuity error in bgc!
mail me! back to main!
TITLE : mike's anime page -- bubblegum crisis
H1 : mike's anime page -- bubblegum crisis
H2 : it's a fact file for the knight sabers and their friends! (amazing!)
LINK : i want to stock up on sylia!
LINK : i'll die if i don't become the dali llama of linna!
LINK : you'll perish if you don't tell me about priss!
LINK : let me know about nene!
H2 : learn about a continuity error in bgc!
LINK : mail me!
LINK : back to main!
Espionage results for http://www.wsu.edu/~mickey_k/andrea/links.html:
Non-tag text in the first 2K of the page body: bubblegum crisis pages
what is bubblegum crisis? or mirror so who are the knight sabers? or
mirror is there more bgc than the eight oavs? or mirror how about bgc
soundtrack cds? or mirror what bgc fanfictions are there? or mirror afs
bubblegum crisis film gallery bubblegum crisis characters and mecha
bubblegum crisis pwad for doom ii or download here (440kb) get the bgc
frequently asked questions list (october 1995) bubblegum crisis
theme-pack for win95 bubblegum crisis by ben kosse or with
TITLE : the link to the world of bubblegum crisis page
LINK : what is bubblegum crisis?
LINK : mirror
LINK : so who are the knight sabers?
LINK : mirror
LINK : is there more bgc than the eight oavs?
LINK : mirror
LINK : how about bgc soundtrack cds?
LINK : mirror
LINK : what bgc fanfictions are there?
LINK : mirror
LINK : afs bubblegum crisis film gallery
LINK : bubblegum crisis characters and mecha
LINK : bubblegum crisis pwad for doom ii
LINK : download here
LINK : get the bgc frequently asked questions list (october 1995)
LINK : bubblegum crisis theme-pack for win95
LINK : bubblegum crisis by ben kosse
LINK : no frames
LINK : bubblegum crisis documents (faq,review,dyn,bgc-crunch)
LINK : bubblegum crisis role-playing games shadowrun
LINK : bubblegum crisis & crash cd-listings
LINK : the bubblegum crisis synopses
LINK : bubblegum crisis sound library
LINK : the bubblegum crush homepage
LINK : bubblegum crisis anime review (coming soon)
LINK : bubblegum bullet (links page)
LINK : konya wa hurricane mod - bubblegum crisis (165k zip)
LINK : kodoku no angel mod (angel of loneliness) - bubblegum crisis (124k zip)
LINK : bubblegum crisis
LINK : bubblegum crisis anime page by tomar
LINK : bubblegum crisis short review
LINK : the interactive map of megatokyo
LINK : raven's garage - the technology of bubblegum crisis !
LINK : bubblegum in progress 
LINK : no frames and gif-animation
LINK : bgc shadowrun rpg gallery
LINK : tasha's megatokyo 2033 bubblegum crisis page
LINK : http mirror for ftp.std.com
LINK : the bubblegum crisis drinking game rules v1.1
LINK : check this html
LINK : the bubblegum zone homepage (fanfic site)
LINK : the linna yamazaki shrine
LINK : bgc images on venice
LINK : venice bgc images (other directory)
LINK : bgc images on sunset
LINK : bgc images on iczer1
LINK : bubblegum crisis images
LINK : the bubblegum crisis image index (afs)
LINK : bubblegum crisis images
LINK : zometer's bubblegum crisis image gallery
LINK : bubblegum crisis
LINK : image ftp-site at swedish university network
LINK : bubblegum crisis images on the web
LINK : the official a.i.c. homepage
LINK : a new bubblegum crisis series coming up ?
LINK : animeigo home-page
LINK : nvi's anime archives (videos)
LINK : uci bubblegum crisis products !
LINK : ad-police headquaters
LINK : ad-police files
LINK : the ad-police synopsis index
LINK : bubblegum crisis: grand mal
LINK : bgc grand mal
LINK : bubblegum crisis grand mal
LINK : crash!
LINK : bubblegum crash soundtracks
LINK : bubblegum crash 'did you notice ?'
LINK : bgc-list-request@edmonds.home.cs.ubc.ca
LINK : bgc-list@edmonds.home.cs.ubc.ca
LINK : owner-bgc-list-digest@edmonds.home.cs.ubc.ca
And for comparison purposes, here is the espionage report on one of my top pages:

Espionage results for http://www.animeigo.com/Products/Videos/All/:
Non-tag text in the first 2K of the page body: linkexchange member ad
police files arcadia of my youth baoh battle royal high school bubblegum
crash bubblegum crisis crusher joe the dagger of kamui genesis surviver
gaiarth kimagure orange road kimagure orange road - tv series news
kimagure orange road - tv series preorder list
TITLE : bubblegum crisis (anime) - anime (japanese animation) by animeigo
META : DESCRIPTION = the japanese cyberpunk classic! it is the year 2032 a.d.
like a phoenix, the city of megatokyo is rising from the ashes
META : KEYWORDS = bubblegum crisis, bubblegum, crisis, bubblegum, bgc,
megatokyo, cyberpunk, genom, priss, linna, nene, sylia, mackie, leon,
2032, sf, science, fiction, science, fiction, scifi, sci, fi, images,
free, products, videos, all, crisis, animeigo, anime, japanese
animation, video, videos, tape, tapes, laserdisc, laserdiscs, ld, lds,
movies, japanese, japan, asian, cels, chat, cartoons
META : PICS-LABEL = (pics-1.0 "http://www.classify.org/safesurf/" l by
"trebor@animeigo.com" r (ss~~000 1 ss~~001 4 ss~~002 4 ss~~004 2
ss~~005 5 ss~~006 5 ss~~009 2 ss~~100 3))
LINK : linkexchange member
LINK : 
LINK : 
LINK : 
LINK : ad police files
LINK : arcadia of my youth
LINK : baoh
LINK : battle royal high school
LINK : bubblegum crash
LINK : crusher joe
LINK : the dagger of kamui
LINK : genesis surviver gaiarth
LINK : kimagure orange road
LINK : kimagure orange road - tv series news
LINK : kimagure orange road - tv series preorder list
LINK : madox-01
LINK : oh my goddess!
LINK : otaku no video
LINK : otaku no video - laserdisc preorder
LINK : riding bean
LINK : rupan iii
LINK : shonan bakusozoku
LINK : the spirit of wonder
LINK : super-deformed double feature
LINK : urusei yatsura
LINK : vampire princess miyu
LINK : you're under arrest
LINK : blue tape specials
LINK : science fiction
LINK : comedy
LINK : action
LINK : horror
LINK : family fare
LINK : samurai cinema
LINK : new market sales
LINK : character goods
LINK : cels
LINK : ramen
LINK : about us
LINK : images
LINK : registration & price lists
LINK : resources
LINK : weird stuff
LINK : site index
LINK : samurai cinema
LINK : new market sales
LINK : famous kid concoctions
LINK : search
LINK : chat
LINK : bosscam
LINK : awards
LINK : questions
LINK : order status
LINK : buying cels
LINK : website problems
LINK : click here if you need 
LINK : proud to be a 
LINK : $17.95
LINK : $22.45
LINK : $35.95
LINK : $17.95
LINK : $22.45
LINK : $35.95
LINK : $17.95
LINK : $22.45
LINK : $35.95
LINK : $17.95
LINK : $22.45
LINK : $35.95
LINK : $17.95
LINK : $22.45
LINK : $35.95
LINK : $17.95
LINK : $22.45
LINK : $35.95
LINK : $17.95
LINK : $22.45
LINK : $35.95
LINK : $17.95
LINK : $22.45
LINK : $35.95
LINK : $17.95
LINK : $35.95
LINK : $17.95
LINK : $35.95
LINK : $171.00
LINK : the complete sylia stingray database
LINK : the unofficial bubblegum crisis website!
LINK : the shrine to sylia stingray & largo
LINK : the linna yamazaki shrine
LINK : an as-yet-unauthorized ani-mayhem collectible card game home page.
LINK : for the love of anime - bgc, info, links.
LINK : knight sabers homepage.
LINK : bubblegum crisis in depth by brian angliss.
LINK : bubblegum crash in depth by brian angliss.
LINK : r talsorian games bubblegum crisis rpg page.
LINK : kristopher's bgc-rpg home page.
LINK : bubblegum crush - links & fanfic.
LINK : andrew fors' bubblegum & more!
LINK : payndz's homepage, featuring bgc online atoz.
LINK : bgc: testament - illustrated fan fiction.
LINK : the original bgc homepage.
LINK : raven's garage: a database of megalocity tokyo technical information.
LINK : the bubblegum crisis synopsis index.
LINK : bubblegum crisis fanfic & pics.
LINK : bubblegum crisis information.
LINK : the anime madness collectible card game home page.
LINK : the authorized ani-mayhem collectible card game home page.
LINK : joshua lusk's megatokyo 2033 home page.
LINK : madhouse collectibles - sf, anime, ufos & more!
LINK : dark horse comics.
LINK : software sculptors.
LINK : link your anime resource page to our site!
LINK : search the site.
LINK : [top]
One thing I have to keep in mind is that because of the structure of my page, with a navigation menu to the left and the content on the right, the top of the page is all links, not content. I might consider reversing this structure, which might look weird but perform better on the search engines.

However, consider http://www.aloha.net/~ts-2/bgc.htm. It got a top ranking from Excite, but has no meta tags or anything! When I viewed the page using the View HTML tool, however, right at the bottom, I found this:
Search Engine Stuff
Bubblegum Crisis Bubblegum Crash Knightsabers BGC bgc hardsuits Boomers Sylvia Stingray Pricilla Asagiri Priss Linna Yamazaki Nene Romanova AD Police Japanese Animation Anime Bubblegum Crash Bubblegum Crisis Megatokyo hardsuits Scoop Chase Leon Mad Machine Natasha Wong Tasha BGC bgc BGC bgc Bubblegum Crash Bubblegum Crisis bubblegum crash bubblegum crisis bubblegum knightsabers
Seems like the page author is adding keywords at the bottom of the page, and Excite is noticing them (or at least, at the time I wrote this article, it considered them important; by the time you read it, their ranking algorithm will be very different). How interesting. It might be worth testing out such a change on my site. However, I want to be careful not to trigger "spam detectors" on the other search engines, so I'll do it on only a few pages, and test the results. In any case, it is clear that the key to getting a good rating on Excite is multiple repeats of the keywords, in the actual text of the page. One thing that is probably helping me get to page 2 on Excite is all the links to other Bubblegum Crisis resources I have on my page. What I do is maintain a database of fan websites, and have these automatically added to the end of each appropriate page on my site. In my opinion, the more links you have going out of your pages to other sites, the better your ranking is going to be, because this is an indication of how useful your page might be. Interestingly, I first wrote this article about a year before Google came to life; Google ranks your website by how many good sites link to it!

By doing this kind of research, you can get a decent idea of what a particular search engine is looking for, and adjust your pages appropriately. But there's a problem - what works for one search engine doesn't work for another, in fact, a change that improves your ranking on one might destroy your ranking on another one. And that means you'll have to start maintaining copies of your pages optimized for each search engine. It starts to become a real nightmare -- and it just isn't worth it for almost everyone.

That's why I don't chase after search engine rankings, and why I don't recommend that most people do either. I advise you to spend your time improving your website, making it more attractive for people. As the search engines get more sophisticated, they'll eventually notice this, and reward you with better rankings. And if you decide to "game" them, well, they'll eventually notice that too, and punish you for it.

That said, it doesn't hurt to become more knowledgeable about search engine optimization; if nothing else, it'll help you recognize when you're doing something wrong so you can correct it. And there is certainly nothing wrong with making your site as friendly as possible to the search engines, as long as you're not trying to fool them. Apart from the articles on this site, you should check out this Hotwired WebMonkey article about search engine optimization that contains good, no-nonsense advice on how to approach the topic, as well as the Search Engine Watch and WebMasterWorld websites.

If you would like to reprint this article in your online or paper newsletter, please contact me for permission.

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