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Getting Your Page Found

Tips on How to Improve Your Page Ranking in Search Engines

How you ever searched for your own web site using a search engine? Is your site well indexed? Is your site easy to find? If you have answered no to the above questions, you should adjust and optimize your site to make it more accessible to search engines and to the people that arrive at your site from the search engines.

How do search engines work?

Search engines use programs called "spiders" or "crawlers" that visit web sites and index the information on those web sites. It is important to optimize your pages for search engines before you develop your web site. Luckily, you can also perform this task after a site is built, but will require making changes to your site. If you do make changes to your site, it will likely take more than a month before you see the results of your change. This is due to the fact that it takes time for search engines to update their databases of indexed web sites.

So, how do crawler-based search engines rank and retrieve results, when confronted with hundreds of millions of web pages to sort through? They follow a set of rules, known as an algorithm, which differs from one search engine to another. Below are general tips that apply to most major search engines, including Google.

How do I optimize my pages for search engines?

A query on a crawler-based search engine often returns thousands or even millions of matching Web pages. However, as is true with most search engines, only the ten most "relevant" matches are displayed on the first page. How can you ensure that your Web site is listed in the "top ten" results? The tips below will help you improve your page ranking on search engines and work towards this goal.

Pick and position your keywords

What keywords would people use to search for your site? Those words need to appear in your site, otherwise the search engine cannot match the user's search to your site. Come up with 6 to 20 keywords that accurately describe your site. Two and three word phrases are okay and in some cases may improve your results!

The most important place to put keywords is in the Title of your page. This is the field search engines weigh the heaviest and should act like a newspaper headline for your page. Use the Keywords meta tag can also be handy for some search engines (see below). Other keywords should appear within the first screen's worth of your HTML code (you can select View Page Source in your browser's options to see your HTML as code). If you have javascript or CSS styles, consider putting them in separate files rather than in your HTML code.

Some search engines, like Google, look at the hierarchy of your site's code, as well. Make sure if you use heading tags, that they appear in numerical order (<h1> comes before <h2> comes before <h3> and so on).

Build links to your pages

Some search engines cannot get inside your site to find all your rich content without links to those interior pages. Theses links need to be in HTML links, rather than links from images, and the link text should be the title of the page linked to. You can put these links at the bottom of your page if your design calls for image links. Google recommends you have a static HTML link somewhere for every page in your site. You might want to build a sitemap page with links to all your pages on it. If you have more than 100 links, break your sitemap into multiple pages. You should link to your sitemap from your main page, so that crawlers will find it (and all you other pages) quickly.

It also helps if you can get other sites to link to yours. Perform a search for the keywords you think should find your site. Look at the other Web sites that already exist and are ranked high with those keywords. You can ask the site administrator if they will link to you (if they are in direct competition with you, do not expect anything, but it never hurts to ask). These links from other, high-ranked sites will help improve your ranking.

Avoid search engine spamming

Nobody likes spam. This includes search engines. If you get caught up with the schemes to improve your page ranking through spamming, chances are your site will be down-ranked, or possibly even dropped from the search engines index altogether. The content of your site, both displayed text and metadata should be enough for users to find your site when they are searching for it. Focus on accurately representing your unique content, rather than trying to 'outwit' the search engines.

Add meta tags

You can add information about the nature of your site without putting it into the part your users see by the use of meta tags. These tags are placed within the head of an HTML document, and take the form:

<meta name="Type of Metadata" content = "What that Metadata is"/>

Below are the most common meta tags and their usage:

Title:

<title>Welcome to the University of Rhode Island</title>

While the title tag is not strictly a 'meta' tag per se, it is the single most important piece of information you can provide about your page. Search engines look at the title element heavily in their ranking algorithms, and users utilize it to judge whether a specific page is relevant to their search or not.

You should always create concise, descriptive and meaningful titles for your pages. Google and other search engines down-rank very long titles, as they are deemed an attempt to artificially inflate page ranks. Do not use generic names like "Home Page". If you want to put your department's name or acronym in every title, put it at the end. Similar to a newspaper headline, it should quickly and accurately summarize the content of the page.

Description:

<meta name="description" content="A brief and accurate description of this page or site"/>

The Description meta tag allows page authors to add concise (200 characters or less) summary of their pages. Most major search engines keep track of this and Google will display this text in its search result list. This is a good place to include more keyword phrases that will not necessarily fit in the Title field, but makes sense in a brief descriptive paragraph.

Keywords:

<meta name="keywords" content="keyword1, keywords, keyword2, keyword-phrase"/>

Google and other major search engines no longer look at this tag. It can be easily abused by spammers to increase page ranking by adding numerous junk keywords or repeating the same keywords. While the major search engines do not use keywords anymore, older or smaller search engines may still. Adding them to your site costs a small investment in time and might increase your ranking on some search engines.

The key is not to repeat a keyword too many times or your site will be down-ranked by the major search engines. It's a good idea to restrict your keyword list to fewer than 20 keywords.

Robots:

<meta name="robots" content="noindex, nofollow, noarchive, nosnippet"/>

If you do not want your page to be crawled by search engines, you can use this meta tag.

  • noindex - prevents the page from being added to the search engine's listings.
  • nofollow - prevents the Web crawler from following any of the links on the page.
  • noarchive - keeps the page from being archived by the search engine (removes the 'cached' link from Google search result).
  • nosnippet - is used by Google to indicate that you do not want a snippet of your page to be displayed under the title.

You can use any combination of the above options.

<span class="robots-nocontent">This text isn't crawled</span>

If you want your page to be indexed by a search engine, but believe that some of the content may be misleading (a quote that could be easily taken out of context) to the search engine's page ranking algorithm, you can enclose that information in a tag with the class "robots-nocontent". Search engines will then no longer use that span of text to index and analyze your page. You do not need to have an associated CSS style for this class.

Related Resources and Links

For more information on search engine optimization, please visit the following sites:

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