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Search Engine Optimization & Submission Strategies - A Beginners Guide

Paid search engine listings

Way back in 2000, the thought of paying to have sites ranked on a search engine or included in a directory was laughable; very few companies were asking for payment. But as commercialism of the World Wide Web has taken hold, more and more search engines now require payment for listing or ranking - and it's not just the big boys of the search engine world; many of the less popular engines also use PFI (pay for inclusion) or PPC (Pay per Click). 

Most popular engines have a mix of both results - paid listings at the very top and also at the side. Usually, there will be a distinction between free and paid listings with paid listings having accompanied text such as "sponsored listings".

The engines that provide paid listings require that you bid for position on an pay-per-click basis. Other companies now require payments costing hundreds of dollars to to have them review your site for inclusion in their directory, and then pay a further annual fee if your site is accepted into their directory. Some will require payment to index your pages, and usually there's a fee per page that you want included - and then you still need to compete for rankings.

In some cases, there is no guarantee that you will be listed once you have paid initial fees, or how much traffic you will receive as you'll be in competition with other sites. 

Search engine optimization strategies become even more important with some paid listings, otherwise you'll be simply burning good money. Maintaining paid rankings can be a time consuming and expensive process.

These rankings/listings models present a number of challenges to those web site owners on a limited budget as the costs are out of reach for many, so the focus for them is on the organic (free listings) - but the competition for free listings grows more fierce each day.

A few years ago, if you were listed within the first 3 pages on a particular search term in the organic listings, that was sufficient to gain you decent traffic levels. Nowadays, you really need to be on the first page and preferably in the top 5.

Optimize your organic (free) rankings

Some web masters may tell you that as the search engine landscape is rapidly changing, optimization for free listings is a waste of time. Nothing could be further from the truth! 

The majority of our new visitors come from what's known as organic (free) listings on search engines. While we have experimented with paid listings (either PPC or PFI) in the past, to get the same amount of traffic via paid means as we do from free listings would run into many, many thousands of dollars per month.

The effort we've put into gaining high organic rankings has paid off and we receive tens of thousands of visitors a week. There's nothing more satisfying than achieving higher rankings on important keyphrases over a company with a multi-million dollar advertising budget ;0)

Optimization is a legitimate promotion strategy

Search engine optimization is a buzz phrase that has been around for a long time, but it's surprising how many people still do not properly understand the concept. It's only been in the last couple of years that general awareness has been raised somewhat, but also with many associated misconceptions.

"White Hat" search engine optimization is not about scamming or fooling search engine "spiders" (the software used by the companies to crawl through your site and index it). It's about making the best of what you have and making what you have the best. "Grey hat" optimization is using techniques that are sometimes just inside the boundaries of what search engine companies consider good practice. "Black hat" optimization is pretty much about tricking search engines - strategies you shouldn't risk unless you can afford to get banned altogether and as such, something I don't really get involved with.

Much of the white hat optimization is about content. Solid content is still king - the more valuable information you have, presented correctly, the more that other sites will link to you - but you need to let other sites know about your content. These inbound links, known as backlinks, are given great importance in ranking calculations as is the search engine's own "opinion" of your content.

Search Engine Optimization Professional (SEOP)

Competition for high search engine rankings has given birth to a new industry - that of the SEOP (Search Engine Optimization Professional) and SEMP (Search Engine Marketing Professional). Many of these "professionals" charge around US$150 per hour for their skills. Very few are worth this kind of money. If you choose to utilize the consultancy services of an SEOP, make sure you carry out exhaustive background checks on the person/company first as there's many tricks that can be played.

Anyone can arrange to have tens of thousands of visitors sent to you (for a fee), it's not that hard to achieve, but in most cases, this will be garbage traffic - people not interested in what you are offering. If someone approached me today wanting 50,000 visitors directed to their site by tomorrow, I could do so - it would only cost them a few hundred dollars, but it would likely be a waste of their advertising budget.

There are a number of automated URL submission software programs available which promise to increase your traffic. Few do and many will cause damage to your listings. Many so-called "bleeding-edge" black hat strategies and optimization techniques are bandied about in forums and by optimization companies - be very wary as some of these strategies will not only damage your listings, but may get you kicked out - forever.

Tried and true optimization techniques

The following is a list of tried and true strategies for increasing your profile in search engine rankings - stick by these to begin with before trying the more exotic strategies, and remember - don't gamble what you can't afford to lose. These techniques apply to most paid and free listings. 

Content is king

A well worn term, but of critical importance. Provide valuable information, lots of it, ensure that is relevant to your subject and that it contains popular keywords and phrases in relation to your topic or industry. Learn more about selecting good keywords

Ensure you use correct meta tags

Meta tags are the sections of your HTML that provide direction and information for search engine robots. To get the best rankings possible in some search engines, be sure to use keywords, description and title tags every web page. Meta tags are not viewable to Internet users unless they examine the source code of your pages. 

Try to use different description tags for each page. This is a point I ignored as I thought I didn't have the time to create a set of tags for each page. It was a big mistake. While our search engine referral stats are nothing to be sneezed at, there is always room for improvement and a few extra minutes spent on description tag optimization can literally translate to thousands of visitors and dollars. 

For further information on these aspects of optimization, read our articles on meta tags and title tags.

Formatting your text

It's important to use heading tags (h1, h2 etc.), bolding and italicizing in your content - just don't overdo it. Use heading tags for breaking up your page content into subject areas - it's not only good for search engines, it's kinder to your visitors as well. Use bolding and italicizing for emphasizing key points, preferably words that are related to queries you wish to rank well for.

Inbound links

The more "right" sites you can have linking to you, the higher you will be ranked in some of the major engines. In fact, a site without inbound links is liable to never do well. Also link out to other sites in your genre, bearing in mind that not all links are created equal - beware of linking to bad neighborhoods.

Try and exchange links with other quality sites which are *relevant* to yours ; but don't become a link farm; i.e a site with little content compared to the number of link pages. Search engines can detect this type of activity. Links coming in from FFA sites can also damage your rankings. Aim to be linked from popular sites if you can. Learn more about link exchange strategies.

It's also becoming increasingly important that the anchor text of incoming links is relevant as this relevancy will also effect your rankings on some engines. For further details on this aspect, read our tutorial on anchor text optimization.

Alt text for images

Search engines can't read images, so ensure that descriptive "alt" text is added to your image coding. Some sample coding:

<img border="0" src="../images/iconarticle1.gif" alt="Article section - Web development, eCommerce and site promotion tutorials " width="50" height="50"> 

Be careful not to go overboard with your alt text - this is known as keyword stuffing. For the best results, ensure your images are linked to relevant pages.


I once received an from a major engine stating that they wouldn't include a site I had submitted because there wasn't an email address on the home page. While this was a glitch on the engine's part as there was an email address, it was a good reminder that some companies demand that your site contain proper contact points, privacy statements etc. - and that they do enforce their policies. 

The major engines don't require an email address be displayed on your pages, in fact, that's just inviting spambot headaches, but it's my belief that search engines do factor in to some degree such items as the presence of privacy pages, company profile pages and contact forms when ranking as they could be perceived to be indicators of quality and trust.

Study submission guidelines 

Take the the time before hitting the submit button to study the URL submission guidelines of each site - they will vary. To ignore even one small point can prevent your site from being listed.

Target your optimization efforts 

Just as your site's content should be focused, so should your search engine optimization strategies initially. Submit to all engines, but focus on gaining high rankings on one or two before moving on to others. If you try and optimize for all, you may only achieve mediocre rankings across the board. The difference between No.1 position and No.30 position can literally translate into tens of thousands of dollars of income a year. How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time. It's my view that most site owners should focus on Google. It has around 60% of the market share and the only other two real players at present are Yahoo and MSN. If you focus on Google, chances are you'll do okay on Yahoo and MSN; but if you focus on MSN, it's my experience you're generally less likely to do well on Google.

Frames are evil 

Framed sites can be optimized for search engines, but it is very, very time consuming. If your reason for using frames is to make the editing of common elements such as menus a simpler task, consider implementing server side includes (SSI) or FrontPage Includes as an alternative. You can learn more about these elements, plus other search engine friendly elements that can also save you time in our article about web site upgrades. 

Can't get ranked or listed?

If you've observed all of the above, but still aren't having any luck with getting listed, try my article: "Why some sites aren't listed on search engines".

Current search engine URL submission overview

The following is a brief rundown on the major engines/indexes and their paid/free listings policies (current April 2008). NOTE: If you run a community/non-profit based site, in many instances the company can be approached directly and you can have your web site listed for free in sponsored search and premium directory options. 

Google paid listings

Still by far the most popular search engine, Google also runs PPC ads for top "sponsored links" and side boxes via their Adwords program.

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