It’s not enough to just make a professional Web site…you need to get search engines to notice it
t last estimate, there were over 40 million (that’s four crore) registered domains. You need to keep in mind that this is just the number of TLDs (Top Level Domains) that have been registered, not the number of Web pages there are on the Internet. A simple experiment: search Google for the word “the”, and you get over 6 billion results—and none from the “Deep Web,” or what search engines don’t scour.
These numbers can make you feel really, really small. And you thought of setting up a Web site, for personal or professional reasons, hoping to find some business online, or just to let the world know you exist! So what’s so special about you and your site? For one, you’re armed with a copy of Digit!
As a follow up to the article in Digit’s November 2004 issue, titled “www.mybusiness.com”, on page 84—which dealt with how to buy a domain, set the DNS forwarding and cloaking options to make your site look professionally hosted—this article will focus more on how you can create a professional Web site, and then get search engines to sit up and take notice.
The Bundled Builder
Not everyone can afford Web site-building software such as Macromedia Dreamweaver, but a lot of people have Microsoft Office. The beauty of MS Office is that it comes with Microsoft Frontpage—an easy-to-use Web site builder.
If you have Microsoft Office installed, you will find Frontpage by going to Start > Programs > Microsoft Frontpage. If you don’t have Microsoft Office installed, you can purchase it from http://www.microsoft.com/india/office/default.aspx.
When Frontpage is installed, it will create a folder called “My Webs” in your “My Documents” folder, where all Web sites you create will be stored. Go to File > New > Page or Web…, and you will see a panel on the right that asks you what you want to build. Click on “Web Site Templates...” to build a site from the templates that Frontpage offers, or choose “Page Templates...” to build a single page from the templates. If you are familiar with HTML or Frontpage, you can also choose the “Blank Page” option to build a page or site from scratch.
Your Organisation Online
Let’s say you want to create your company’s presence online. Click File > New > Page or Web…, and choose the “Web Site Templates…” option. A box pops up, informing you of the currently available templates.
Choose “Corporate Presence Wizard”, which is the easiest way to build a company Web site. The Frontpage wizard will now ask you a series of questions.
You can choose what pages your Web site will contain—What’s New, Products/Services, Table of Contents, etc. Then you get to choose topics that will appear on your home page, such as an Introduction, a Mission Statement, your Company Profile, etc.
Next, you choose whether you want pages to display Press Releases, Articles and Reviews, etc. Now when you click “Next,” you get to choose what is displayed on the top of each page, such as your company logo, the page title, a link bar, etc.
Next, you can set Frontpage to use its default “Under Construction” icon for unfinished pages, so that people don’t hit dead links in case you forgot to create a page.
Now all that’s left is to fill in your company details, choose a colour scheme and button images (called a “Web Theme” in Frontpage), and then click “Finish.”
A new folder will be created in “My Documents\My Webs” called “My Web”. This folder will contain the Web site you are currently designing. Depending on what pages you chose to include in your site when using the Wizard, you will find a few .html or .htm files in this folder. You need to edit these according to your needs.
The beauty of Frontpage is its sheer simplicity, and this is evident when you open an unedited page. You are instructed through everything from adding your Web site’s logo, to adding contact information.
Frontpage advises, “Tell readers how to get in touch with you. Remember that people can connect to your web from anywhere in the world, so provide international versions of telephone and fax numbers. It’s also customary to provide e-mail addresses for key contact points, such as sales and customer support.”
Every detail is explained similarly, and all you need to do is double-click on text or images to edit them. Just go through the pages one by one, adding images, text and various details that Frontpage puts dummy text or images for.
Keep It Simple
People often get carried away and try and pack too much into their Web sites. Your goal should be to inform people about your company, what you do, and how they can contact you. Anything more will be wasted, and will clutter your page.
As a rule of thumb, remember that people have short attention spans these days, and this becomes even shorter when they are surfing. Long paragraphs of text that describe your products and the various stages of ideation your company went through, etc., are a sure-fire way of losing a visitor’s interest.
Get to the point. Make sure everything you’re trying to highlight is visible straight up—if you’re trying to sell a product, make sure its picture and a brief explanation show right in the centre of the window.
Keep the text simple, and use numbers in text—writing four thousand three hundred and seventy five instead of 4,375 is a big thumbs-down. Also, break the paragraphs up with sub-headlines, and use bulleted lists and a single column format to improve readability.
Make sure that all pages you create have the same link bar, so as to prevent visitors from getting lost. In Frontpage, you can choose to create a link bar by going to Insert > Navigation. A box will pop up. Choose “Link Bars” and click “Next.” Now choose the page theme, click “Next” and choose the orientation of the link bar—horizontal or vertical. Click “Finish,” and then add the pages you want to on the link bar. Remember, not every page on your Web site needs to be mentioned here—just the most important pages. You can always link to lower-level pages from within other pages.
Though you can insert backgrounds and background sounds, this will only increase the time it takes to load the pages. If you absolutely must have a textured background, use the same background for all pages—this will ensure that the background image needs to be downloaded only once. Avoid animated images like the plague, because if you go too far, you might end up with a site like www.seizurerobots.com, and no one wants to see that sort of thing.
Once you have created your Web site, you should check and re-check all links, spellings and images thoroughly. Nothing makes a site look more unprofessional than a link that leads nowhere, images that don’t load, or spelling mistakes in the text.
|I hate Web sites that…|
|We asked people in Digit what they hated most about some Web sites. This is a list of definite no-no’s when designing your Web site.|
“…have Flash interfaces. When I see a flash site loading, quick as a flash, I click on the little X on the top right.”
Ahmed Shaikh, Senior Writer
“…have ads that come in from a slow server, so the entire page gets held up just for an ad or two.”
Ram Mohan Rao, Copy Editor
“…are badly designed, are difficult to navigate, or ones that sport loud, garish colours”
Meera Vankipuram, Writer
“…have a million pop ups, pop downs, pop unders, pop anything. Pop ups make me pop my cork!”
Garfield D’Souza, Copy Editor
Searching For Salvation
There are millions of Web sites out there which could be useful to us, but just haven’t been discovered by search engines yet. The problem with most of these sites is that they are not designed with search engines in mind.
These sites fall into a category called the “Deep Web,” and if you are setting up a business site, this is one category you want to steer clear of.
The biggest mistake people make when checking their rankings on a search engine is searching for the domain name. For example, if you go to Google and search for “thinkdigit” or “thinkdigit.com”, the first search result is www.thinkdigit.com. This is pretty much akin to walking into your home and asking your mother where you live!
By entering your domain name in the search field, you are giving the search engine no other option but to find you. We don’t want a search engine to find us in a group of one; we want it to pick us out from billions of other pages.
As an exercise, enter, into Google, the product or service that your company provides. Let’s say you manufacture and sell painted pottery. A search for “painted pottery” in Google throws up more than 12 lakh results.
Let’s say your site manages to get listed somewhere in the middle of all these pages—a potential customer would have to search through 60,000 pages of results in order to find you.
Interestingly, you should also know that an estimated 90 per cent of Internet searches end on the first search result page—either the searcher finds what he is looking for, or he refines or changes his search.
Admittedly, our example search term, “painted pottery,” seems a little too generic. Let’s try “poetry painted on pottery in Patna”! Now this search term sounds like a tongue twister, and will probably throw up nothing, right? Wrong! As this article was being written, Google threw up 57 results, and the first 10 results are from 10 different sites—there could be more, but a searcher never goes past the first results page, remember?
Now imagine you are a second-hand car dealer in Mumbai! What chance do you have against the thousands of pages that search engines will throw at surfers when they search for “second-hand cars in Mumbai”?
What’s In A Name?
The most basic way to optimise your site is to make proper use of HTML tags. In order to view a page’s HTML source in Frontpage, all you need to do is look for a little tab called “HTML” at the bottom left of the page that you are editing. In order for your site to ascend in the search rankings, all your tags need to work together and contain the same keywords. Choose your keywords very, very carefully.
Think about your company, what products you offer, and what the most basic and generic description you can come up with is. What you sell and where you are located is a good bet. So, “second-hand cars Mumbai” for a Mumbai-based dealer who buys and sells used cars would be the ideal set of keywords.
The first tag you need to edit is the “Title” tag. This is the tag that search engine spiders read first: it is the description that will show up on the top left of a browser’s window, and also the text that search engines will display when they come across your site. Needless to say, this is the most important tag of all!
Whether or not you get a visitor to click on your site depends almost entirely on this title for each page. Think of it as a really, really short description of your company. Most search engines will display only a part of a long title tag, so make sure to keep it below 65 characters.
As a hypothetical test, let’s imagine that you are from Mumbai, and want to buy a second-hand car. You are Net savvy, and obviously hit the search engines immediately. You search for “Second-hand cars Mumbai”. The search engine throws up the following results:
“Welcome to Yoursite.com.
“Yoursite.com. Unbelievably priced second-hand cars”
“Second-hand cars in Mumbai; 15 years; 10 lakh satisfied customers”
|If you have purchased hosting, it’s a good idea to know whether your server supports Frontpage extentions. If it does not, you are likely to get a feedback and search section that does not work. If you are using the free options, such as Geocities.com or Freewebs.com, you cannot use Frontpage extensions. You can always add a Google search to your Web site later—you will need Google, Yahoo!, etc., to index your site first.|
The problem with the first is that there’s no information provided—people do not need to be welcomed to your site. They have a need; if you appear to satisfy that need, they will enter your site. Unless your site is ranked first in the search results—which will not happen with a title such as “Welcome to yoursite.com”—no one will click on your link.
|When you want to add or modify tags in Frontpage, you need to know what to look for. Here we show you exactly how each tag looks when you view a page in HTML.|
The Title tag: <title> Secondhand cars in Mumbai; 15 years; 10 lakh satisfied customers </title>
The Meta Description tag: <META content=”Mumbai Secondhand car Mart, the largest secondhand car dealer in Mumbai. With over 10 lakh satisfied customers all over Mumbai, Mumbai Secondhand Car Mart has proven to be Mumbai’s most reliable secondhand car dealers. If you have a secondhand car to sell within Mumbai, give us a call at 91 - 22 - 2XXXXXXX. If you want to buy a secondhand car, just walk into our Mumbai showroom.” name=description>
The Meta Keywords tag: <META content=”secondhand, cars, Mumbai” name=keywords>
The Alt Tag: <IMG src=”car1.jpg” border=0 width=”327” height=”219” alt=”You can a car like this for as cheap as Rs XX,XXX”>
The second title is definitely an improvement over the first, but is still a little vague. It sounds too much like an advertisement, and by instinct the e-human will ignore online advertisements.
The third is better, and even that can be improved upon. Let’s dissect the sentence: “Second-hand cars in Mumbai” will give a potential visitor the most important information—what you sell and where you are located. “15 years; 10 lakh satisfied customers” builds the image of a company with a reputation, a company which has a lot of customers.
All search engines will show the page titles in bold, the first paragraph of your Web site’s text in normal text, and the URL of the site. Make sure you spend enough time ideating the titles of each of your pages.
Meta Tag Maestros
Now you get a chance to use Meta Tags. These are HTML tags that search engines read when indexing your site. In order to really rise up the search ranking ladder, you will need to fix upon the keywords you chose for your site.
The first tag you should add or change is the Meta Description tag. This tag describes your site, and should be as informative as possible. The keywords we are optimising our site for, in the above example, are “second-hand,” “cars,” and “Mumbai.” Your Meta Description tag should read like an introduction to your company, and also repeat your chosen keywords as much as possible.
A good Meta Description for the above example would be: “[Your company name], the largest second-hand car dealer in Mumbai. With over 10 lakh satisfied customers all over Mumbai, [your company] has proven to be Mumbai’s most reliable second-hand car dealers. If you have a second-hand car to sell within Mumbai, give us a call at [phone number]. If you want to buy a second-hand car, just walk into our Mumbai showroom.” Though you can include the keywords as often as possible, you should ensure that the description makes sense and reads like one.
Next, you look at the Meta Keywords tag. At one time, all search engines would rank sites based on this tag alone. However, people have learned to exploit, or rather, abuse this tag to gain rankings. Today, this tag has little or no effect on your rankings, and most search engines ignore this tag. You should, however, enter your keywords into this tag-anyway: a little optimism never hurt anyone!
The last tag, the Alt Tag, is the tag you add to your images. This pops up text as a tooltip when your mouse hovers over an image in a browser.
Try and insert your keywords into most of your Alt Tags, but make sure they make sense. Also, try not to go overboard with really long Alt Tags because some people still use non-graphical browsers to navigate, and will see your Alt Tags as text instead of as images—this will ruin the way your page looks when viewed in a non-graphical browser.
Before you scorn this minority, remember that all major search engine spiders—the very bots that rank our site—crawl the Net non-graphically.
A Thousand Words
The second-most important search engine optimisation is the actual body text of your site. Make sure that the keywords you are optimising your site for are repeated as often as possible within the body text of your site. Don’t just go about adding “second-hand”, “cars” and “Mumbai” everywhere! Instead, write intelligently and work your keywords into the text so that it reads well, and most importantly, makes sense.
…A Little Help From My Friends
By far, the most important criterion for your site’s ranking with any search engine is one you do not control. The majority of search engines give the highest importance to how many other sites link to your site. This seems to be the only fair way of ranking a Web site today—if it were left to just the tags and body text, we would find nothing but useless sites with every search we did.
The logic is simple. If you are as good as you say you are, others will acknowledge it, and inform people about your products and services. It is a good idea to start off by getting a friend or non-rival company to add a link to your site from theirs, as soon as your site is up. Of course, you should also repay the favour, and make sure to add links to their sites in return.
If the sites that link to you have already been indexed by search engines, the spiders or bots will soon be back to find changes in them. When the spiders return, they will find a link to your site, and will automatically pay your site a visit. You should make sure that the link from the other site contains your site’s keywords. Sometimes, it may seem strange to have a link exchange with, say, a textile company. It would really look odd if your auto dealership linked to a textile site, and vice versa. You can overcome this by adding ghost links or hidden links to the other Web site.
|After you are done creating and optimising your site, don’t just sit around and wait for search engines to discover you. Instead, make them take notice by submitting your URL to them. Here are the major search engines around the world that people use. Once they have you on their database, pretty soon everyone else will too.|
All The Web / Yahoo!
The Open Directory Project (DMOZ) / Ask Jeeves / Lycos
In order to make a hidden link, just create a small picture that is the same colour as your background colour. Now, place this image at the very bottom of your page, and link it to whichever site you want. This link will not be visible, but search engine spiders will find it nonetheless. The reason you should always place it at the bottom of your page is so that search engines do not show its Alt Tag when displaying your site in the results.
Justifying The Means
The more effort you put into optimising your Web site, the higher your rank will be. Link exchanges are always a good thing, though you should be wary of which sites you link to—even with hidden links. You do not want your reputable auto-dealership linking to a pornography Web site, for example. Your customers would not like to even accidentally click on a hidden link and be taken to a porn site when shopping online with the family for a new car.
In just a few days, you should be able to have a well-designed and well-optimised site up and running. Typically, it can take anywhere from a week to 3 months for your site to be found by search engines—depending mainly on which sites link to you. You should also submit your site to the top search engines manually—see box “Get Proactive” above.
Once you are done, all that’s left is to make sure your site is updated regularly, has no dead links and always has relevant content. Whether or not you actually make it to the top depends solely on the dedication you put into constantly optimising your site, and getting popular Web sites to link to you. All you need is the will, Microsoft Frontpage, and, of course, Digit, to do so. If you manage to reach rank number one on major search engines, send us a mail at firstname.lastname@example.org and share your experience.