Search engine optimization: Higher rankings with FrontPage 2002

November 2002

By Tiffany K. Edmonds

Applies to
Microsoft FrontPage® 2002

The rule of thumb for opening a successful business is to get a great location and then advertise. If your idea of commerce is e-commerce, search engine optimization is very important. Your challenge, as a savvy online entrepreneur, is to master search engine optimization techniques. The goal is to get your e-commerce Web site listed in the top 10 search engine results when someone searches for your product using relevant keywords.

Current estimates show approximately 1 billion Web sites competing with you for your customer's attention. Over 80 percent of Web site traffic is attributed to good search engine listings.

What is a search engine?

A search engine is a program that searches for keywords in files. It's important to distinguish between indexes and directories, both of which provide search engine capability. The difference is in how indexes and directories collect their information.

An index is a database of Internet addresses generated by a program designed to search the Internet for new and existing content. This program is typically referred to as a spider, robot (sometimes bot), or crawler. The spider crawls through the data on the page, collecting keywords, phrases, and hyperlinks (and then follows those links as well) and adds the data to the index. Currently the most popular indexes are MSN, Google, Excite, HotBot, Lycos, WebCrawler, Overture, and Northern Light.

A directory is edited by humans who manually assess a site, categorize it, and provide descriptions of the content. Often you can submit your site for review. The editors also might find your site and include it in their directory themselves. Yahoo! is a popular directory.

Choosing your keywords

The keyword metatag used to be the primary way that the major search engines used to categorize your site. Most search engines no longer use keyword metatags, but glean the searchable keywords from the body of the HTML page. Creating a keyword metatag is not a waste of time, however. Taking the time to determine which words you would have included in a keyword metatag will help you determine which words are most likely to be noticed by crawlers. Establishing a keyword metatag can help you keep track of which keywords you used in any particular page and remind you which words to use when creating ALT tags, descriptions, and keyword-rich content.

There are several third-party solutions for the Microsoft FrontPage Web site creation and management tool that help you to build a solid keyword list, including the Overture Search Term Suggestion Tool and Wordtracker. There are some helpful third-party add-ins to FrontPage available from the Microsoft FrontPage Add-in Center in the Publishing/Site Management category.

Applying your keywords

Now that you have compiled a list of keywords, let's look at how best to apply them to your site.

The title and description tags are used by most indexes as headings to display to the public when they search for a subject. Without a description metatag, the first group of characters on your Web site is used for the search results display. Include your primary keywords in the title and description tags.

To add the title tag in FrontPage 2002

  1. In Page view, in the Normal pane, right-click your page and choose Page Properties.
  2. On the General tab, type the title that you want for the page.

To add the description

  1. In Page view, in the Normal pane, right-click your page and choose Page Properties.
  2. Click the Custom tab.
  3. In the User Variables section, click Add.
  4. In the Name box, type Description.
  5. In the Value box, type the description of your page.

Few search engines use the keyword metatag anymore. But for the few that do, the keyword metatag will help categorize your Web page and improve your rankings.

To add keyword metatags

  1. In Page view, in the Normal pane, right-click your page and choose Page Properties.
  2. Click the Custom tab.
  3. In the User Variables section, click Add.
  4. In the Name box, type Keywords.
  5. In the Value box, type your keywords, separated by commas.

Using specific product names or keywords as the names of folders and Hypertext Markup Language (HTML) files also can be helpful. These folder and file names are recognized by search engines as keywords. Repeating keywords throughout your folder names, file names, title tags, description tags, and body text will boost your ranking in searches for those particular keywords.

There are helpful third-party add-ins to FrontPage that will aid in search engine promotion, specifically the HiSoftware Website Promotion Suite 2002 and Web Page Tune-up Utility. Additional tools can be found at the Microsoft FrontPage Add-in Center in the Publishing/Site Management category.

Keyword page relevancy

The spider's job is to crawl the page and gather data, including assessing the relevancy of your keywords to the actual data on the page. The keywords are gathered from the title tag, description tag, keyword tag, folder and file names, body, links, and other data contained within the HTML. The spider will compare the keywords with the text data found on the Web page. The more the spider encounters the keywords found in the tags and file names, the higher your page will rank in its category.

Avoid listing a bunch of keywords at the top of the page and find ways to gracefully include the actual keywords in the text of your Web page.

"Tricking" the search engine spiders—for example, loading your page with hidden keywords at the top of the page in small fonts that match the page background color—is considered spam. Attempting to trick search engines will result in your Web page being blacklisted by the search engines that you're trying to have crawl your site.

ALT tags as keywords

Is your message embedded in a graphic? Like accessibility wizards and text readers, spiders are not capable of reading graphics, Flash files, sound, or video. ALT tags, in addition to meeting World Wide Web Consortium standards and accessibility guidelines, qualify as searchable keywords, unlike messages embedded in nontext formats.

A good ALT tag for a product photo or graphic would be:

alt="Image of our product"

with the name of your product where "our product" appears.

An even better ALT tag would be:

alt="Image: our product and its purpose"

Get into the habit of adding good ALT tags to the graphics that you insert on your Web pages.

To add ALT tags

  1. In Normal view, right-click the picture and click Picture Properties.
  2. Click the General tab.
  3. In the Alternative Representations section, type your ALT text in the Text box.
  4. Click OK to add the ALT attribute to your <img> tag.

Picture properties dialog box

Popularity links

Links from other Web sites to pages on your Web site are commonly called popularity links. The more links from other Web sites, particularly sites with content related to your site, the more popular the search engine spiders will think your site is. If your site is popular among other sites with similar content, the higher your search engine ranking will be.

Once you have published your site, begin looking on the Internet for related sites. Send an e-mail message to the Webmaster and request a link to your site on their Links page. If the related site has good information, you may want to consider linking to that site, as well. When creating a Links page, include keywords in the description of the link that also relate to your site.

Publish your site map

Often, navigation links on home pages consist of dynamic links or are generated by JavaScript or dynamic HTML (DHTML). Search engines cannot read or follow these links, so it is a good idea to include plain text hyperlinks. Because inner site pages (especially product pages) usually contain the most detailed information (and therefore the best keywords), you want to be sure that the search engine spiders are able to locate these pages.

Publish a site map with text links to all pages in your Web site and submit this page to the search engines. It will help ensure that search engines find all your inner pages.

To create a site map with the Table of Contents feature

  1. Place your cursor on your page where you want to insert a site map or table of contents.
  2. On the Insert menu, click Web Component.
  3. In the Component Type section, select Table of Contents.
  4. In the Choose A Table Of Contents section, select For This Web Site and click Finish to view the Table of Contents Properties box.

Table of Contents dialog box

  1. Click the Browse button, locate and select your home page file, and then click OK.
  2. Select the options you want, and then click OK.
  3. Save your page and publish it.

When you view your site map in the browser, you will see links to all pages in your Web site in plain text. Each of these links will be followed by the spider when it reaches your site.

Submitting your site

Search engines do not regularly revisit your site. As your content is updated, or new pages are added to your Web site, you may want to resubmit your site to the search engines. Submitting your site for a free listing more often the every 30 to 45 days, however, could be interpreted by the search engine as spam, so it is important to schedule site submissions to occur at least 30 to 45 days apart. Check for international versions of the larger engines, too (AltaVista and Yahoo!, for example, each have U.K. versions). There are also programs (such as Hi-Visibility™) that will run your search engine submissions directly from FrontPage, while taking specific guidelines for individual search engines into consideration.

There are many Web sites that will do automatic submissions for you, which is great for submitting to minor search engines and directories. It can hinder you when trying to get listed in some of the larger search engines, however. Many larger engines restrict automatic submissions by requiring a user to retype a word that appears in a graphic on the Add URL page, for example. Manual submissions to the major indexes and directories are worth the extra time and garner better results.

To manually submit your site, visit the search engine's Web site. There will be an Add Your Site or Add URL link, usually at the bottom of the page. Follow the instructions. It may take four to six weeks before your site is indexed. But as soon as a search engine begins to scan your pages, you have created a popularity link.

Paid listings

Most search engines now offer paid listings. Some guarantee top rankings for the terms that you "purchase" within a day or less. Most, however, merely guarantee a listing without specifying a rank. You might want to explore paid listings as a short-term solution while you manually submit your site to the major directories and wait for the search engine spiders to index your site.

Conclusion

Optimizing your Web pages for search engine listings with FrontPage 2002 will help you achieve higher search engine rankings and increase traffic to your Web site. While there is no guarantee that your site will be listed in the top 10 search engine results for your category, optimizing your site for search engines will help users find your products more quickly and more often.


Tiffany K. Edmonds, author of Essential FrontPage 2002 for Web Professionals, is the owner of Dynamite-iT.com, at-frontpage.com, and FPlist@yahoogroups.com. She is also a Microsoft FrontPage MVP.