Search for success

Owning a website is one thing, but it will be of limited value if new customers can’t find it online. Windows examines how you can help it rise up those all-important search engine rankings

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By  Matthew Wade Published  June 1, 2006

|~|Mazen---m.jpg|~|“Being associated in a Google neighborhood that is relevant to the content on your website is a big plus,” explains Cactimedia boss Mazen Ilyas.|~|The methods employed by engines to gauge the content of live websites, and rank these accordingly, are constantly evolving, however a few requirements remain key such as original content, a high density of topic-relevant keywords, and links to popular and credible related sites. Put yourself in the ‘virtual’ shoes of Google, Yahoo, MSN and their competitors for a second then; their aim is simple - to provide web searchers with sites that best fit what they need. The reason why Google is so popular - or at least the main reason it became so popular (as you might argue its name having become a verb helps) - is that its search results are highly relevant. They work; most of the time a site that meets your needs pops up on the first page of search results. Although every firm would, of course, like to be number one in the rankings of its most relevant keywords, just how is it done? And is it even realistically possible? The key is to give the search engines what they want: get your site listed on relevant directories’ linked through to by those that matter; and optimised so that it’s as friendly as possible to search engines’ roving ‘spiders’. As mentioned last issue, many web design companies now offer SEO (search engine optimisation) services as part of – or in addition to – their design services. But before we get to them, let’s look at how you can help yourself, even if you can’t afford to employ SEO specialists. Get in the list The web is packed full of directories, from general business to industry-specific listings. However… “If you’re looking at which search engines use, DMOZ (the site of the ODP – Open Directory Project) is the most important. Google Groups for instance uses DMOZ,” explains web development firm Cactimedia’s managing director, Mazen Ilyas. “You don’t have to submit your site directly to Google - this is a common misconception. Instead you should submit it to the library of sites Google uses. It searches www.dmoz.org first,” adds ‘Sharjah Wanderer’, who is DMOZ’s editor for the UAE’s Dubai and Sharjah emirates. Your partner web firm, or you yourself, can suggest your domain to DMOZ easily via its site. The more time you spend picking the right category in which to list it and accurately wording your site description however, the more likely you are to benefit in the long run and – crucially – even get listed at all. (Why? Bear this in mind: DMOZ editors are voluntary part-timers, with schedules of their own and only as much patience as everyone else). “DMOZ.org is divided into geographical and type categories so the more narrow/specific you are in terms of the category you submit your site to, the better your chances of your site being listed by us and picked up by Google,” Wanderer explains. Once you’ve worked out your category, you must fill out your site’s name, its URL and a description field. The URL must end in a proper suffix, such as .ae or .com, rather than the being one page of a larger site (such as amazon.com/books for instance) as it won’t be approved. Then in terms of the description itself, Sharjah Wanderer gives the following key ‘Do’s and Don’ts’ (more details are also available on DMOZ.org). • Don’t use promotional language in your site description, such as ‘The best site for…’, or ‘The top supplier of…’ • Do use clear language to describe your site and what it offers visitors, not what your business itself provides. For instance, Dubai Municipality’s near-perfect DMOZ description states that the site provides online application services, traffic fine payment, contact information for its various departments and so on. • Do make your listing country-specific. If you’re based in Riyadh and sell only to the Saudi market, list your site under Saudi Arabia/Riyadh (otherwise it might be rejected). If you operate regionally, a Middle East category listing will be fine. • Do make sure your site includes full contact details (a phone number, postal address etc.). “We don’t accept anonymous listings,” says Wanderer. • Don’t submit part of your site to a different DMOZ category (called ‘deep linking’) or use a ‘cloak’ (a redirecting web address) for your site, or any part of it. This tactic risks Google labelling you a spammer and deleting your site’s listing. • Don’t submit a site that includes any ‘Under construction’ pages. Then go on to list your site in any country or industry specific directories, such as www.uaebusinessdirectory.com. If your web partner doesn’t offer, also send press releases to relevant industry sites, such as AMEInfo, as links from these large news and information portals can be valuable. “We encourage clients to take the initiative and make submissions to sites and forums specific to their industry,” confirms Flip Media’s media manager, Mohammad Itani. “They know their industry best, so we do our best to empower them by giving them advice on how to submit their sites themselves. The more links to their site, the merrier!” A site that suits So DMOZ is one tactic, but it’s one of a huge list. We asked two firms, arguably some of the region’s most successful and SEO-aware website developers, Cactimedia and Flip Media, to outline the key features that can help improve a site’s ranking on search engines (primarily relating to Google, as this is used by roughly 80% of searchers). “Search engine optimisation involves many activities,” explains Cactimedia’s Ilyas. “The first important thing is the page structure. If you have a page that’s badly linked, or you have a link out that doesn’t work, or code error, a spider can’t read it, and the search engine has a problem. For us, getting the structure right is so important.” As for keywords, these are still very much a key tool for telling search engine spiders about the topic your site covers, however not necessarily when they are only within HTML metatags. “Spiders will land on a website,” Ilyas says, “it will start understanding the keywords that are in there, and what topic a website is about. It will then report this information back to Google. Although I don’t truly believe in metatags, I still use them – just in case some search engine algorithms change. More than metatags however, the keywords you’re using should be there, densely, in the copy (text) on your website. We use a specialist SEO copywriter to help clients do this.” “We include a keyword density analysis in our SEO offer,” states Itani. ”If you now have a keyword too many times on the page, Google will penalise you for it, whereas in the old days that was a bad thing. It’s almost seen as unethical now. So it’s as much about having the right keywords as having lots of keywords there.” In terms of the help available when determining the best keywords to include on a site, obviously both Cactimedia and Flip run systems designed with this in mind and can advise. Alternatively, for the user on a budget there are free yet very valuable sites and tools listed in the box opposite. In terms of on-site content, original and regularly updated content is king. ”We have a system that we developed called DragonFeed, which rotates content between our websites,” says Ilyas. “Content has to be unique in most cases, especially for effective searches. Thanks to this our client Landmark Properties’ website is now number three on Google under its preferred keyword, basically for the simple reason that a lot of the content is unique and updated regularly.” However, if content is dynamically generated, this can result in long-winded and hard to understand URLs that confuse search engine spiders, so measures to rename these links (to give the impression of static and thus engine-friendly pages) are valuable. “Search engine-friendly URLs are important,” says Itani. “Our CMS generates search engine friendly URLs which aid a site’s indexing. Google, for example, would much prefer a link like .com/aboutus/ourteam as opposed to index.asp?=IDCAT. Therefore, all our content-managed sites display URLs in plain English. It’s easier for the search engines, and for site users. In addition, our CMS allows users to insert a short paragraph of text that describes a page. This is then picked up by search engines to give a clear explanation of the site in the summaries that accompany a search-engine query.“ Equally important are relevant back-links (i.e. links to your site from credible and popular peer sites). “Google tends to classify websites into neighborhoods, and to be associated in a neighborhood that is relevant to the content on your website is a big plus,” explains Ilyas. “Google’s way of determining a website’s importance is that if CNN is an important website, and it links to us, then obviously we’re of importance. Building links remains very important to Google. For MSN and Yahoo I would say it’s more about the content that’s within a website. If you have the keywords, the density of keywords, that’s important.” Flip’s Itani concurs, adding that his firm is very keen on e-mailing relevant industry and news sites press releases when a client’s site launches, in order to help build such backlinks. “We ensure that we generate as much publicity (and therefore links) for a site as possible.” For more details of how Google ranks websites, keyword choices and Google’s paid-for AdWords services, check out the resources below. --------------------- Useful Resources http://labs.google.com/ Choose ‘Google Suggest’ to find the best keywords for your website. Type a keyword and it will show you related keywords based on their search popularity. To then learn more, try keyword plus ‘a’, ‘b’ etc. https://adwords.google.com This pay per click (PPC) ad service connects you with potential customers at the precise moment when they're looking for your products or services. Create ads, align them to keywords and set your own budget. www.dmoz.org The website of the Open Directory Project (ODP). When you have decided which category to list your business in, navigate to that category page and click ‘suggest URL’. www.goodkeywords.com Good Keywords is a free downloadable app for Windows that offers similar functions to Google Suggest (only you don’t have to be online to use it). www.googlerankings.com Check the ranking of a web page in Google with this free search engine optimisation tool. Google’s own ranking tips www.google.com/support/webmasters/bin/answer.py?answer=34397 www.google.com/webmasters/sitemaps/about?hl=en Google Sitemaps is an easy way to submit all your URLs to the Google index and get reports about their visibility on Google. (Note: submitting a Sitemap doesn't guarantee all your pages being crawled.) Learn how Google ranks websites here: www.google.com/technology/index.html. --------------------- ||**||

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