The Most Frequently Asked Question...

..I get in my email is "how come my listing hasn't appeared in AltaVista/Excite/Lycos?", or, if it has, "How come I'm not on page 1?"

First of all, keep in mind that submitting to a search engine or index doesn't guarantee that they will actually list you! They probably will, but all I or anyone else can guarantee is that (1) we sent a request and (2) they told us they received the request, and it seemed to be OK.

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What they do with it, and HOW LONG it takes them to do it, depends on them. Some indexes and search engines list you instantly. Others take days, weeks or even months. Hotbot, for example, took 3 months to list me!

Secondly, while getting into an index (an index is a site like Yahoo, as opposed to a search engine, like Excite) usually means you are in there forever, getting into a search engine doesn't. Sometimes your URL will just vanish from their database, often because when they revisited you to reindex your pages, your site was unreachable for some reason.

That means that it's a good idea to resubmit to the search engines every time your pages change substantially, and every month regardless, just to remind them that your site still exists! The "Search Engine Resubmit" feature, and the "Multisubmitter" Secret Net Tool (available to contributors) make it easier to do this on a regular basis.

Finally, getting your URL into a search engine doesn't mean that you're going to get a high ranking when people do particular queries. Anyone who promises that they'll get you on page 1 of all the search engines for particular keywords is probably not telling you everything. I will. Here's what I think:

1) If you optimize a page for one keyword or keywords, you'll often make it worse for other important ones.

2) If you optimize a page for a high ranking on one search engine, you'll often make it worse on the others.

3) The real dirty secret; if you are on page 1 of a search engine this week, you may not be next week, as the search engines are always changing their criteria.

The bottom line is, if you want to make it your life's goal to get on page 1 for particular keywords, you can probably do it, by using different pages for different search engines, etc. But it will be your life's goal, because you won't have time to do anything else! For almost everyone, getting on page 1 isn't worth the effort. Quite frankly, optimizing your Yahoo listing will generate more good quality clickthroughs from much less effort. So instead, try to write good pages with good meta tags, and use tools like my Keyword Diffusion secret net tool to make it more likely that at least one of your pages will come up on the first page or two of search results for your favorite keywords. If your pages are truly useful and on-topic, then as the search engines refine their ratings systems, your pages will become more prominent. I highly recommend the advice you can find at SearchEngineWatch about creating Search Engine-friendly pages, by the way! Spend an evening or two browsing that site, it will be time well spent.

An important and crucial decision you have to make is, "What are my important keywords?" Actually, it is more accurate to say that you need to worry about "What are my important keyphrases?" Think about what queries people who actually want to find you are likely to type in. Don't target specific keywords -- everyone does that. Rather, target keyphrases that other people aren't going after but that ARE relevant to your site. It is my strong opinion that the QUALITY of clickthroughs is directly related to the COMPLEXITY of the query. Clickthroughs from specific queries (as opposed to single word keywords) are much more likely to deliver a customer. I get more users from queries like "register website at search engines for free" than "add url", for example. So keywords aren't as important as keyphrases.

For example, one of my users asked me how to select keywords for his site, that sells antique woodworking tools. I told him to forget about "antique", "woodworking" and "tools," and target things like "antique saws", and so on. After all, the only hits you really care about are those from people who are really interested in what you're doing, right? It doesn't matter how many hits you get, it only matters how many customers you get.

A good resource for determining what keyphrases are important to you (in other words, often searched for but not often targeted) can be found at Mall-Net Search Engine Keyword Report.

Since one of the major tricks that the search engines are starting to use these days is rating your site based on how many other similar sites link to you, getting a lot of people to link to your site is crucial. You'll be much better off doing that than wasting your time tweaking keywords.

Oh, by the way, you DO have a link to on your site, don't you? ;^)

Finally, I'm often asked my opinion of services that promise to "get you on page 1." It is my strong opinion that the tricks these services use are (a) an attempt to subvert the usefulness of the search engines, and (b) rarely cost-effective on a cost/customer basis. You may get more traffic but your cost per new customer will be very high, because these "services" charge a lot of money. And don't be fooled by a money-back guarantee. It will probably be worded in such a way that it will be useless. Furthermore, search engines are always trying to ferret out these tricks, and as they change their systems to block them, guess what? Your friendly service will be back to sell you the next system for "beating them." And if they promise instant results, they're lying, because right now most of the search engines take weeks or months to add new listings.

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

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