Search Engine Optimization

July 2002 by Philipp Lenssen

To optimize for a search engine also means to optimize for your reader, as there's barely any easy trick to it but to provide lots of quality content and structuring your data in meaningful ways.

It's in the content

Before you try to find an easy "workaround" to score high in search engines, rest assured; everything will depend on your content. That's what you feed the search engines. Trying to find simple tricks might be considered spamming by their otherwise ever-hungry spidering bots: they might lose appetite.

And, it's in the structure

Now that we got that out of the way, there are many things how you should structure your data. What follows is a check list for your reference.

Your page is on a highly descriptive domain, and file names are self-descriptive

If you have information on Hawaii surfing, make sure those two words are in your URL, and separate them by a dash. Here's some sample URLs that contain important keywords:

Title, headers, and emphasized parts

You got a great domain name, but what should your HTML file contain?

This sample HTML file illustrates the approach:

HTML source:
<!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD XHTML 1.0 Strict//EN" "DTD/xhtml1-strict.dtd">
<html xmlns="" xml:lang="en" lang="en">
    <title>Hawaii Surfing Tips</title>

    <h1>Hawaii Surfing Tips</h1>
    <p>This page is all about <strong>Hawaii</strong>, and <strong>surfing</strong>
    there especially. Also, we focus on ...</p>


But where's that important meta element?

So far, I did not mention meta-elements. Those are keywords and page descriptions contained in the <head> part. Shouldn't they be very important?

First of all, the description is merely what might be displayed in a search result.
But keywords, shouldn't they surely be the most important data for a search-engine? The answer, you might have guessed, is no. Meta-keywords are often misused by so-called keyword-spammers; that is, people creating sites which contain a lot of keywords with little content to back it up. But search engines have learned, and they mostly don't regard meta-keywords as crucial information these days.

If you still want to include meta-keywords (as they won't do much harm, either, when done right), keep a limit of about 10 words, and make them highly related to your page content. For the description, use a short & precise sentence of about 80 characters.

HTML source:

<meta name="keywords" content="hawaii surfing beaches tips" />
<meta name="description" content="About Hawaii Surfing, with top ten tip list" />

As you see, I used spaces as separators between keywords. This will allow for phrases to be made out of several word combinations and should be preferred to a comma-separated list.

Black boxes

Often, people have lots of content. Or so they think. But what actually counts as content for a search engine? Flash, images? Well, it might be nice once your readers are on the site, but will they ever find it?
Likely not, if Flash and images is all you provide.

Accessibility is the key issue here. Imagine how your site will appear to people who have turned off Flash, images/ animations, music, JavaScript, and frames.
Is it still possible to navigate your site and read up on interesting content?
If not, rethink your approach:

Getting the word out

Google, arguably the most used web engine today (and fueling many others with its data), has a system called Google PageRank. This determines at which position your site will be listed. The difference between listing 2 and 50 is crucial, because most people will simply not make it to number 50 and your site will lack those desired hits.

How does PageRank work? Google's intent is to try to determine how relevant your site is to the keywords entered. For that, it analyzes how many people link to your site, and how relevant those other sites are to the search. In other words: if nobody likes your site, Google won't like it either. So, it's time to get the word out!

Publishing your URL in newsgroups

You should publish your homepage address in relevant newsgroups. Don't cross- or multipost however, that is: keep your information distributed in a non-aggressive way and compose a unique, special-tailored message to every newsgroup. The Open Directory is the most important web catalog today. A great many voluntarily working editors select web content by hand. Make sure your site is working & looking good before you go to the Open Directory. If it is, select a relevant category, and submit your URL with a short description. It may take a while, but after about 3-6 months, you will suddenly find your page be listed in 100s of online catalogs (like the Google Directory), because most of those use the data provided by the Open Directory.

Write to friends

Ask friends with relevant sites to exchange links with you. The more hits they will get, the more you will get in the end. Trade links, be nice to everybody, and you may even want to create an award for other pages. This is a good opportunity to give them a reason to link to you; to display your award on their page!

Submit your site

Don't overdo it, but take the time for one or two search-engines and submit your site manually. Don't expect fast results from that, however. By making sure you follow the other tips your site will be found anyway.


You've done everything you can, and what will you do now?
Of course, work some more on the content, and update your pages often! Besides the fact that search engines may notice, this will be the reason why people come back a second time once they found your page.