Mass Historia
Hints, Tips and Musings on Living History and Vintage Dance
RSS Feed
The Gentleman's Page
About Mass Historia
Social Daunce Irregulars
Art Deco Society
Join the Dance & History mailing list
E-mail Address


« Video - An American Revolution 4th of July Theme Party | Main | Joe Wasielewski »

Web Suggestions - Being Found by Search Engines

As part of my continuing effort to help folks out there who are trying to maintain a web presence for themselves or their organization with little or no training, here are a few suggestions on how to be found by search engines like Google.

First, I am not going to tell you some secret to fool Google. There are occasionally such secrets discovered, but as the word spreads across the internet, the folks at Google hear about it and plug the hole. What I am going to suggest is working with the Google model rather than trying to beat it. In doing so, you will also position yourself to do well with the other search engines.

First, have something to say. Nothing works quite as well as actual content. Further, if you have something unique to say, and it is something that people might actually look for, that helps too.

Think about what words really matter to the sorts of people you are trying to attract and include them in your text. Further, make sure to use those words in the first or second paragraph. Search engines get bored as fast as actual humans, and aren't likely to read to the bottom of a wordy page. If two words belong together, like "victorian dance", put them together in your text, and if plurals and singulars are both likely search terms, then use them both in your text. HOWEVER, remember that your primary audience is humans, so don't make the text bizarre and stilted, just to please the search engines. If you annoy actual people, they will abandon your site pretty quickly, so it won't help for them to have found it on Google.

The best text to be found is plain old HTML text on plain old HTML (or XHTML or XML) pages. If you use ASP or PHP generated pages, it will be all right as long as you are using them to generate stable pages with stable links from other stable pages. If you use a "dynamic" database driven system, where a page doesn't exist until it is called from your database, then don't expect Google to find it.

Also, Flash is a really bad tool to use if you expect anything contained within the Flash animation to be indexed. Google claims it indexes Flash, but you are at a disadvantage over plain old text. The worst however is text contained in a graphic. If you have a really cool image driven site, with text overlaying your awsome background images, and it's all in a bunch of JPEGs or GIFs--forget it. You're doomed.

Frames: don't do it! Search engines will find the pages you were framing and not see the outer frame, so people, in the unlikely event they find your pages, will see them without any navigation, so they won't find anything else in your site. Remember that people will FREQUENTLY enter your site from a page other than your home page, so every page needs to make sense in itself, and needs to point to the rest of your site.

"Splash Pages", which are beloved of Flash animators are also of dubious value--search engine wise. Most have a link that says "click here to enter site" or something like that. In addition to annoying people like me who don't want to watch your dancing chipmunks, the search engine may index your REAL home page, and skip your pretty animation (there's some wasted time and money).

Links are vital. First, the links in your actual site need to lead the "spider" down useful paths from well composed text pages to other well composed text pages (or dead end picture pages). Make sure your links are expressed as stable URLs, and not JavaScript or dynamic queries (if you don't know what I am talking about--breath easy--you're not doing it). Also, image map links are not very search engine friendly, though image based "button" links are fine.

Next, it is important that other sites link to yours. This works best if the sites that link to you are on a similar topic and are well ranked. It never hurts to know somebody with a successful website who is willing to link. Bloggers are good for this as well.

One of the reasons blogs are popular with search engines is that Google rewards recent content. If Google sees a site that hasn't been updated in three years, it will punish it in the rankings. One little trick you might try, even if you haven't got anything new to say, is to make some meaningless change to your home page and then reload it on the server. It will then have a more recent "last updated" date. This isn't really cheating. It's just letting Google know that this isn't just another abandoned website. It is better however, to add actual new content.

And finally, the "metatags". These are tags contained in the "Head" portion of your web page and the most important of them is the title. Make sure your title accurately describes the contents of the page, and try to look at it from the searcher's point of view. Does it make sense and would it invite someone to click on it?

One of the most common title errors is having the same title for all your pages (e.g . "The Fungus Foundation" for every page), rather than just having that on the home page and having sub pages like "Contact the Fungus Foundation" and "Support the Fungus Foundation", etc. The worst of course, is to have every page titled "Untitled". Another common error is overloading the title with unhelpful text, like "The Fungus Foundation - A Non-Profit Corporation Dedicated to Fungus in All Its Forms - Contact Us".

It is also a good idea to have something brief and accurate in the "Description" tag. Search engines usually don't index the "description" and "keywords" tags, thanks to the abuses of those tags by the forces of evil, but a good description will help a searcher decide whether to click on your link and look at your site.

Another area of abuse, which could actually get your site targeted as evil, and punished in the rankings for it, is using "hidden text". This is text in the body of your page which is, for example, white text on a white background. If you are going to include random words on your page to attract search engines, be honest about it. Say "Here are some words to to get us found by search engines" and then put them out there for all the world to see. You can put them at the bottom of your page, provided that the page is not too text heavy already.

Well that's probably enough to absorb in one sitting. I hope it has been helpful.