Custom Search


Lost and Found
By Laura Lemay

Few people actually surf the Web anymore. Or at least, not in the original definition of the word. Plenty of people explore the Web. Lots of people, myself included, spend far too much time reading pages (and waiting for them to download). But few still jump from one site to another site to another followed by links, hoping to find something interesting.

There’s simply too much stuff on the Web these days wander aimlessly in search of good stuff. Many Web surfers these days rely on word-of-mouth to find interesting sites (URLs sent to them by friends reviewed in magazines or other sites), or they use one of the half-dozen or so professional search engines such as Alta Vista, Yahoo, or Excite to locate sites that focus on a particular topic.

While all of us would love to have our site profiled in a magazine or on TV, search engines are the most immediately useful tool for getting noticed on the Web. After you’ve finished designing and creating a site, the next step is to get it listed in as many search engines as you can and to tailor your pages to take advantage of a search engine’s features.

Getting Listed in Search Engines

The first step, of course, is to get your site and its pages listed in as many search engines as possible. Different search engines have different ways of accumulating pages for their databases. Indexes such as Yahoo rely on site managers to add their own listings to the index. More popular are the Web spiders or robots, such as Alta Vista, that jump from link to link and accumulate pages on their own. The former allows for a more organized set of pages, but the latter allows the entire Web to be collected for searching.

If you publish a site on the Web, and someone, somewhere links to it, eventually the Web, and someone, somewhere links to it, eventually the Web spiders will find it and list it in their databases. Given that some 50 million pages are published on the Web, however, this may take some time.

A much better solution is take the initiative and let both the indexes and the spiders know you exist. There are friendly services on the Web that will cheerfully submit your site to many search engines for only a couple hundred bucks. But if you’d rather save your money, you can do it yourself.

Every major search engine has a page for adding your own URLs to their index. Go to those pages, fill out some basic information, and submit the form. The index should visit your site in a matter of days.

Some sites will submit your site to several search engines at once. Submit-it is one of the best; the free version will submit your site to a dozen or so major search engines, while the forpay service will submit it to many more.

Note that for sites such as Yahoo that don’t use robots, you must add your site to their index manually either using a bulk submission or by hand.

Improving Your Listing

Getting listed in a search engine will go a long way towards drawing people to your site, but don’t stop there. The second step is to tailor your pages such that they either appear higher in result lists or are easier to pick out from those lists. You can, for example, include keywords for indexing that might not necessarily be included in the actual text of your page.

Isn’t this cheating? Isn’t tailoring your Web page to show up in certain search ethically wrong? To some extent, yes, depending on how you actually tailor your page. But in many ways, Web indexing is similar to book indexing - often a book index will include cross-references to concepts whose names do not actually appear in the book. It’s simply a way of making the index and the book more useful. Tailoring a page has the same effect.

Here are several tricks to improve your chances of being selected by a search engine and seen by more readers, as well as things to avoid that may hurt your chances of being seen.

Use <META> Tags

Most search engines use tags to help index your page. Because they are so popular, <META> tags are probably the best way of tailoring your site for better results in search engines. <META> tags store information about the page itself-information that may be useful but isn’t intended to be actually displayed. <META> has been around in HTML for a long time as part of the official HTML 2.0 spec, but lately it’s been gaining in popularity. <META> tags are commonly used, for example, to identify who or what produced the page; to indicate special server options for processing a page, such as automatic reloading or no caching; to provide page ratings; or, in the case of search engines, to include keywords and a description intended specifically for use by those search engines.

The <META> tag is one-sided-there is no closing </META>- and has two basic attributes: NAME and CONTENT (there is also HTTP-EQUIV, but it’s less useful for search engines, so I’ll discuss it another time). You put <META> inside the <HEAD> tags in your HTML page, alongside the <TITLE>;

<TITLE>Wicker Chairs: Useful or Just Annoying?</TITLE>
<META NAME=“keywords” CONTENT=“Chairs, wicker, furniture”>
<BODY BGCOLOR=“white”>
. . . . .

Search engines use two different forms of the <META> tag. <META NAME=“keywords”> indicates indexable keywords that describe the content of your page. For example, for a page about chairs, you might want to include keywords for “chairs,” “furniture,” “housewares”, “decorating,” or other similar topics. Put the actual keywords, separated by commas as the CONTENT attribute to a <META NAME=“keywords”> tag...

<META NAME=“keywords” CONTENT=“Chairs, furniture, housewares, decorating”>

The other form of <META> is <META NAME=“description”>, where the description is a short paragraph that summarized the page and tells your readers why it will be useful to them. Descriptions are often used in search engines after the link to the page itself to give some kind of context for the page. Without a description, the search engine may include just a link to the page, or it may include just a link to the page, or it may include the first couple of lines of text in the page itself (which may not be a useful description at all).

Include the descriptions as the CONTENT of a <META NAME=“description”> tag. A description of that Web page on chairs might look like ...
<META NAME=“description” CONTENT=“Visit this site to learn about and order our fabulous handmade wicker chairs!”>

Use a Descriptive <TITLE>

The page’s <TITLE> is the bit of text that appears in the top of the browser window when you visit that page. The title should provide a general description of the contents of each page; it’s what appears in your history menus and identifies a page in your bookmarks or favorites files.

Most search engines use the title of your page as the link to that page in their listing. Some also use the words in the title as part of the indexing process. And yet, despite all this, many pages have a meaningless title or none at all.

Creating effective titles can help your site get indexed correctly and help people find your pages more easily even if your page isn’t at the top of the list. Don’t put keywords in titles; that what <META> is for. And, when you’re done, search for your own pages to see that the result you get is indeed useful and descriptive.


Do you use frames or extra windows for your Web-site design? If so, you need to know that because there are no actual links to the pages inside your individual frames, there isn’t any way for search engines to find them (unless, of course, someone has linked to them outside you frame design). Frames effectively hide your pages from search engines and keep them from being indexed.

Probably the easiest and most effective way of getting around this is to make sure that each page containing <FRAMESET> also has a set of <NOFRAMES> tags. This is a good idea regardless of search engines, as <NOFRAMES> is intended for browsers that don’t understand frames. To use <NOFRAMES>, create a plain HTML alternative to your frame-based site and include that page inside the <NOFRAMES> tags; Below you see a simple example. Everything inside the opening and closing <NOFRAMES> tags is ignored by browsers that understand frames and displayed by browsers that don’t. More to the point, all the HTML content inside <NOFRAMES> can be indexed by search engines, including links from that content deeper into your site.

<TITLE>Point of No Return
<FRAME SRC=“title.html”>
<FRAME SRC=“body.html”>

<Hi>Welcome to the Point of no Return
...more HTML goes here, including links to other pages

Don’t Spam the Search Engine

Back when search engine algorithms were fairly simple, the number of times a keyword appeared on a page could often make a difference between whether a page appeared as number 1 or number 100 as the results of a search for that keyword. As a result, people began to “spamdex”: They’d include hundreds or even thousands of repetitive keywords, either in a comment in the page’s text, in the same color as the background text, or inside the <TITLE> or <META> tags.

Spamdexing is a definite Web-design “don’t.” It’s rude to clutter up the page with meaningless, unrelated words, making it larger and slower to load, and it also no longer works. Today, most searching algorithms ignore such obvious attempts to attract attention. Some search engines, notably Alta Vista and WebCrawler, will remove your page from their index and ban you from adding it back if they catch you adding huge lists of keywords.

End Note

Instead of spamdexing, use a good description and a meaningful title. Excite, which refuses to index from <META> because too many people were spamdexing, says it best: “Create a home page dominated by whatever theme or concept you want people to query.”