Your competitor's site is always listed at the top of the search results page, while yours languishes near the bottom. What's the problem? You may be committing one of these common mistakes that will bungle your chances of a higher ranking. Below are a few of the most common problems:

Lack of HTML links

Some companies have designers create elaborate image maps or frames linking their home page to inside pages. They look great, but search engines have a hard time reading them. As a result, search engines may give your site a lower ranking because they can't access your full site to measure important elements like the number and selection of keywords. To avoid this problem, make sure your homepage has HTML hyperlinks to internal pages. If you insist on having that snazzy image map, put hyperlinks at the bottom of your homepage, where a search engine will find them and they won't intrude on your desired aesthetic. Another way to do this is to create a page with a "site map" that contains a list of hyperlinks to different sections under different headings, such as "About Us," "Product FAQ," and "Company policies."

Dead links

Once your site is listed in a search engine database, check it often to make sure internal links aren't broken and that pages load properly. Dead links and pages may cause search engines to downgrade your ranking. Also, re-submit your site whenever you make major changes to the site. This alerts them to the new content and will freshen your place in their index.

Spamming the engine

Some webmasters stoop to search engine spamming, or "spamdexing" (spamming and indexing) in an attempt to influence their ranking. The source code is stuffed full of keywords, keywords are disguised by making them the same color as the page background, or multiple websites are created that only link to each other. Search engines do respond to the quantity and importance of keywords, but these attempts will usually backfire in the long term. If search engines detect spamdexing, they will downgrade or delete your site from their database entirely.

Bad keywords

Choose your keywords wisely. Don't be too general, which will put you in competition with too many sites and leave yours undistinguished; or too specific, limiting the possibility of user typing it into a search engine. Either extreme will hurt your chances of a top listing. Several free keyword research tools are available online; Overture is one worth reviewing when making such an important decision. Also, be sure to include the keyword in the title tag, which appears in the browser bar and is read by spiders. Instead of a generic "Welcome to my Site," opt for a more specific "Bali Vacation Services" or "Rudy's Automotive Repairs."

Unpopular links

Most major search engines determine ranking based on the number and quality of other sites that link to yours. They figure that good sites link to other good sites, and vice versa. If a high number of sites that the search engine has already deemed important point to yours, you'll have a better chance than a site without any links pointing to it or poor quality links. Ask sites that complement yours -- but aren't direct competitors -- to list your URL. They may request that you also link to them as a common courtesy.

Published on: Sep 1, 2006