Content, not trickery, key to Web visibility

In the world of online business, having a Web presence does not guarantee that the market you want to reach will actually reach you. Instead, a site’s visibility within popular search engine results can be the true determinant between profit and loss.

The “look-and-feel” factor of a Web site does not land it on the top ten search results of Google, Yahoo or MSN. In the search engine game, it’s not how you look that matters most — it’s what you know and who you know.

“The problem on the Web today is that we live in a visual world and we’re used to…eye appeal, but this should be the last thing you do when putting up a Web site, not the first thing,” said David Jonah of Jonah and Associates, a consulting firm based in Moncton, N.B. that specializes in Web site optimization.

Determining content and deciding which categories you want all your content to be found under on the Internet should be the first order of business, said Jonah.

Creating a navigation bar within your site makes it easier for a search spider to index the content.

A search engine spider is a software program used by major search engines like Google and Yahoo to essentially search and identify a Web site, determine what it is about and index the content on its central database.

“Remember, you really want to create the path of least resistance for any search spider program to go in and index the content you are trying to be found under,” said Jonah. “There are millions of sites that are invisible on the Web because the content has not been placed in a structure that allows or encourages the search spider to index it fully.”

Putting a title on each page of the Web site increases the chances of a search spider easily understanding what the page is about and under what category it should be indexed, he said. To be effective, however, the title must only contain up to 70 characters with keyword or keywords relating to the content in which you want the search spider to index the page, Jonah added.

The work doesn’t stop there if the objective is to maintain search engine visibility, as fresh content needs to be uploaded on a regular basis, he said.

Who you know on the Web could also increase your chances of getting found. Creating content that would cause a reputable Web site to create a link to your content can elevate your level in the hierarchy, said Jonah.

Google’s search engine process came under scrutiny recently after the German Web site of carmaker BMW was taken off the search engine’s index database for “violating Google’s Webmaster guidelines,” Google software engineer Matt Cutts wrote on his blog.

Cutts said BMW Germany was removed because certain pages on the site would show up one way to a search engine while, through a redirect mechanism, a completely different page would display to a Web user. The company’s Web site was later reinstated on Google after BMW removed the redirect pages.

The incident highlighted the need for the search engine firm to enhance its algorithms to deal with tricky search manipulations that some companies employ to ensure top search ranking, according to Hellen Omwando, principal analyst at Forrester Research.

Jonah, however, said the search engine technology has become “incredibly sophisticated and accurate” over the last 10 years. And Google’s innovation of allowing its own search engine spiders to look for Web content, haul it back to its data centres and perform its own categorization became Google’s ticket to success.

Previously, individual Web sites would perform their own categorization of their content then submit them to Yahoo for a fee, which in turn would put these sites in a central directory, and then point back to these Web sites as users perform searches.

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— with files from IDG News Service

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