Attracting Search Engines: What Not to Do
Intentionally launching a Web site that could not be found in any of the major search engines would be a lot like opening a mail-order business and not publishing your phone number. On the Internet, the major search engines such as Yahoo, AltaVista, and Snap are the equivalent of the yellow pages. No matter how pretty and interactive your new Web site, if it can't be found in one or more of the major search engines, you're the proud owner of a billboard in the woods.
A good friend of mine, a professional copywriter, just launched a great-looking Web site -- AKBWriting.com. She spent months preparing the right words to describe her service offering. She solicited testimonials from her satisfied clients - I'm one of them. She sent out a broadcast e-mail to everyone whom she had ever come into contact with. There was just one problem. Her site is practically invisible to search engines. Because of the way it's designed, the Yahoos and AltaVistas of the virtual world -- not to mention potential customers -- will ignore it.
To give you a better understanding of search engines, we've done a little constructive criticism of AKBWriting.com, looking at how it uses graphics, frames, and keywords to attract search engines.
Site Assessment: AKBWriting.com
Problem 1: Content on main page is in a graphic
Copy on the main page is created as a graphic, not HTML text. The first page of the Web site describes the service offering and lists contact information. Unfortunately, the Web site designer chose a graphical representation of this message. Search engines cannot read text contained in graphics; they can only read HTML text. If the Web site design does not include text, the search engine has no content to index. The Web designer sought to overcome this problem by including copy in a NO FRAMES tag, a useful tactic, but not as valuable as making text readily available to feed to the search engines.
Problem 2: Frames are used
The remainder of AKBWriting.com uses frames, meaning the site is displayed in a split screen. Most sites use frames to keep important links, navigation, and contact information static on the left side of the screen as visitors scroll through. But search engines have problems with frames. First, only about half of the search engines can traverse split screens to index all of the site's real content displayed on the many pages on the right-side frame. Second, frames prevent people from setting a bookmark in their browser to a particular page within the site. For the same reason, major search engines are often unable to link to internal pages.
While several search engines now claim to support framed pages, most search engine positioning professionals tend to agree: "Don't use frames in your Web design unless you absolutely have to use them." If you insist on having a framed Web site, the NO FRAMES tag is your best hope for getting listed. For a lengthy discourse on how best to implement a NO FRAMES strategy, check out this article at Search Engine Watch.
Problem 3: Not trapping "404 Not Found" errors
Web pages change. People add pages to their Web site and remove pages they've changed. However, if an internal page of Web site attains a high ranking but is taken down at some later date, what happens to that ranking? Well, it remains, and anyone who visits that page from the search engine is served a "404 NOT FOUND" error. Sooner or later the search engine's automated agent revisits the page to see if it still exists. When it sees it doesn't, it instantly drops the page listing and ranking from its index. However, a little-known switch can be flipped on most servers that will cause the server to present a predetermined page instead of any 404 NOT FOUND error. For example, go to the following URL:
You get a message from inc.com that the page was not found. But inc.com navigation appears at the top, so there is still hope for finding the page you are looking for. However, try the same experiment on the AKB Writing site:
A 404 NOT FOUND error is displayed -- a dead end in cyberspace.
Problem 4: Poor keyword selections in the keyword metatag and commas separating keywords in this tag.
The keyword metatag on AKBwriting.com is shown below:
meta name="keywords" content="copywriting, writing, content, marketing, communications, freelance copywriter, web copy, Alexandria Brown, Ali Brown, AKB, newsletters, brochures, e-newsletters"
The words included in the keyword metatag are good, but separating them with commas is not the best strategy. That makes search engines consider them individually, but most people do not search on single-word phrases anymore. (Just think of how many sites pop up when you search on "business," for example.) If the commas are left out of the keyword metatag, the search engine will consider several possible combinations of keywords. That could generate additional unanticipated traffic. So, AKBWriting.com would likely get more mileage out of the following:
meta name="keywords" content="copywriting writing content marketing communications freelance copywriter web copy Alexandria Brown Ali AKB newsletters brochures e-newsletters"
Stay tuned for the next three parts of this series, from Frederick Marckini of iProspect.com.
- II: Final Keyword Target Universe
- III: Site Remediation and Optimization
- III: Search Engine and Directory Submission
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