As web developers, some of the first questions
we are asked are about search engines.
Many people believe they can attain first place
on a search engine in a short time, quickly make
millions and retire.


The reality is, this is just not true. For a start, many search engines can take between six weeks and three months to add a site once it has been submitted.

Let me backtrack.

When we design a site, we pay particular attention to certain search engine friendly elements. We place those elements exactly where a search engine will look for them.

Of course, in an ideal world, this would be simple once you knew where a search engine was going to look, and what it was going to look for.

Unfortunately, there are thousands of search engines (Yahoo, Google, Altavista, AOL, Webcrawler and Ask, to name a few of the larger ones) and each of them look for something different.

With one type of search engine, such as Yahoo, people from the company visit submitted sites and then add them to the search according to certain criteria.

This is where your site's name, design and user friendliness take a lead role in getting a good placement.

Scam web sites come and go so fast and are usually hastily put together. This in mind, it wouldn't matter if your designer employed all the latest search coding techniques if the person judging your site thinks you don't look like a legitimate business.

The other, more common, type of search engine is automated. When a site is submitted, a program called a spider visits your site. It looks for certain elements in the underlying code on your pages. These are the real tricks, since no two search engine spiders search for the same things. To make this more challenging, each search engine changes the way it searches on a regular basis to prevent abuse by unscrupulous sites.

One important factor to keep in mind is that spiders cannot see Flash web sites or menus. Special techniques need to be employed when these elements are included on your site.

There is another very common mistake made by inexperienced designers regarding things called 'meta tags'. These are keyword lists hidden in the code at the top of a web page. Many inexperienced designers hear about these and think that they are the fast-track to search engine positioning. Many go overboard and put literally hundreds of these hidden words in your page thinking you're sure to get a good placement.

Meta Tags Rule #1: If you put over 20 keywords,
or if you overly repeat words to try to get
more chances, you only increase the chance that a
search will ban you, permanently!

That said, if your designer has done his or her work correctly, and your site does get into the search listings, the real work begins. It is essential you have the means to observe your site traffic for this stage. A site counter is not good enough. You need to be able to see not only how many hits you are getting, but also where people come from, when, what system/browser they have and, extremely important, the search engines people used to find you and which words they used.
Armed with all this information, you now play a trial-and-error game.

Every few months, not too often or you risk getting banned from a search engine, you and your web developer need to get together and go over these statistics. You need to analyze which searches are working for you and which aren't. Also look at which keywords are working and which aren't. That done, you simply drop out words that don't work, or rewrite your pages if necessary, then resubmit them to the searches again.

This process must be carried out on a regular basis, even if your site reaches the first page, because it can just as easily slip away when someone else's site overtakes yours.

Next Month - You really do get what you pay for.

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