Search Engine Considerations


Note: This article was written back in 1998 and is woefully out of date.
Here’s a newer version which isn’t quite as out of date.

In the past few months I’ve received a number of questions from clients
about why they can’t find their site when they use a search engine.
There are a number of reasons why this might be, including the site is
too new, the topic too broad or their search query is too vague. Sometimes
there’s no good reason, and a resubmission of the site takes care of the
problem. Many search engine gurus suggest resubmitting your site once
a month to avoid disappearing.

In this article I’m going to give you a basic overview of search
engines. There’s more information on search engines that I could
ever put into one article, and if you’re interested in this topic
I suggest you look at by Danny
Sullivan. It’s just one of the search engine resources you can
find on my resources page at

While search engines are a very common method that people use
to information on the web, they’re not the only way. The latest
statistics (as reported in the Wall Street Journal) put the number
of web pages at 350 million and growing exponentially, so it’s
going to become harder and harder to get your site into the top
ten most relevant pages in a given search. Especially if your
type of business is well represented on the Web; i.e. graphic
designers, X-Files collectibles, or sadly, web site designers.
In other words, don’t ignore search engine considerations, but
don’t lose sleep over them either. (That’s my job.)

Before we start, some quick definitions. (Don’t worry, this
will be painless.) Search engines are applications that “search” the
web, using programs called spiders or robots to gather information
from web pages and bring it back to a search engine’s database.
When you enter a search query, (i.e. Tibet,) the engine generally
searches against its own index, not the entire web. This is why
some search engines won’t show your pages for up to a couple
of months even if you submit the pages to them. Also, services
like Yahoo! are not search engines, but directories. This means
there is a team of humans–those living, breathing bipeds–who
take submitted URL’s (uniform resource locators or “website
addresses”,) review them and add the page to their directory
if they see fit. There are several major search engines and directories,
and everybody has a favorite. Some of the most popular are Yahoo!
(, Alta Vista (,
HotBot, (, Excite! (,
Lycos, (, Webcrawler, (,
and Northern Light (you guessed it,

When you enter your query the engine looks through its database
and pulls up documents–web sites in most cases–that it thinks
meets your criteria. The number of documents returned depends
on how broad (Tibet) or narrow (Tibetan rap bands) your query
is, bringing the results to your browser window, generally 10
or so at a time.

Search engine administrators are constantly trying to improve
their products so that they return more targeted and relevant
results while many website creators are constantly trying to
tweak their websites so they come up higher in the ranking. These
two goals often come into conflict as many website owners continually
try to push the limits of acceptable behavior while the search
engines are trying to keep the playing field level. Some tricks
website owners use fall into the category of spamming. Some examples
include over-repetition of keywords, using same color text and
background (so the search engine sees the text but not the viewer)
or using keywords that don’t reflect the site’s topic. For instance,
sites may add a mention of “Monica Lewinsky” because
they know people will perform searches on her, (so to speak).
Search engines have moved to disallow pages using these techniques.

However, what passes for spamming isn’t universal. Also, many
of the engines continually change their own rules to further
frustrate spammers. They believe that if people searching for
information feel the search engine isn’t returning relevant documents,
they’ll stop using that engine for another one, which then brings
down the search engine’s value to advertisers. (Doesn’t it always
come back to money?)

Tips: Although every search engine has its own mechanism for
determining relevance, there are some tips you can use to improve
your ranking. Perhaps the most important aspect of your page
is the title. “Welcome!” or “My
Company’s Home Page
” are not good. Nobody searches for these words. (If
they did, they would receive over a million irrelevant documents.) “Tibet:
The History of a People
” or “New Techniques
for Fighting Halitosis
” are more likely to bring people to your site
who are interested in these topics.

Meta-Tags: These tags aren’t seen by visitors, but many search
engines use them for relevancy ratings. It allows the creator
to give the search engine a brief description of the page, the
keywords, who the author is, and any other information the creator
wants to pass along. Certain search engines ignore meta-tags
since some website designers use inappropriate keywords. For
example, a children’s clothes shop may use “child safety” to
lure parents to their site. Many sites use adult-oriented keywords
to attract visitors even if their site is about real estate.
(Adult topics are still the most popular queries.)

Since some search engines count the number of words on the page
as part of their relevancy testing, a short page that mentions “New
England Patriots” twice might be deemed more relevant than
a longer page that mentions next year’s Super Bowl champs five

Duplicate pages: I’m not sure if this is considered spamming,
but I’ve had some luck creating duplicate versions of the same
page, changing around some keywords or shortening the page, and
submitting both pages. (I generally don’t submit them on the
same day as some search engines consider that to be spamming.)
Sometimes it’s just interesting to see where almost identical
pages match up.

For example, if your media relations company has offices in
Boston and L.A. you could duplicate your home page and put Boston-related
keywords on one page, saving it as boston.html and L.A.-related
keywords on the other, saving it as la.html. Submitting both
pages might get you a higher rating if someone searched under “Boston

Search Engine specific pages: If a search engine ignores meta-tags
it might be good to duplicate a page, take out the tags and submit
it specifically to that search engine.

There are many other variables that affect relevancy including
JavaScript, use of frames or tables, subject matter, the waxing
and waning of the moon….If you are still hungry for information
please go to [Defunct]
and check out some of the links there.

Remember, search engines aren’t the only methods of bringing
people to your site. Traditional media, banner swap programs,
online malls, and web rings are just a few alternative methods
to alerting people to your offerings.

–Rich Brooks

President, flyte new media

10 Questions to Ask Before Setting Up a Web site


Important: This article was written back in 1997. Here’s
a newer version

Most of these questions don’t have one right answer, they’re meant to
get you thinking. However, as always I’ll put my .02 in wherever I get
a chance.

Will my website be for marketing or sales?

answer could be both of course. However, it’s important to
outline your goals before throwing money at the internet. If you’ve got
goods or services to sell, by all means do it. If you plan on taking credit
card orders online look into getting a secure line from your ISP (Internet
Service Provider) . Plan on having pictures of your wares (if applicable)
so people can browse your inventory.

However, it may be that you just want to advertise or market your services
online, create awareness of your organization or just disseminate information
to your members. Although you can change your decision later on you should
have a goal when first starting out.

Back to Questions

Are my customers online?

If you love new technology
you may want to put your business or organization on the web
regardless of whether your customers are online. This is a foolish mistake,
and you know what they say about a fool and his money.

A few years ago my first website was for my then employer, a medical
supply company. We sold to nursing homes and home health agencies as well
as some homebound patients. Most of our end users were 65 or above. Although
the demographics on the web have changed, at the time few seniors were
online. We ended up gearing the website towards caregivers and children
of seniors and got better response. However, we were still a little ahead
of the curve on that one.

Look at what you sell: who buys it? Are your customers spending time
online looking for what you have to offer? If the answer is no, your resources
could best be used elsewhere.

Back to Questions

What are the components to getting a website up and running?

1. Designing the site: creating graphics, text, content, etc.

2. Getting someone (most likely an ISP) to host your site.

3. Getting access to the internet (often through a dial-up account).

4. Managing your site: answering email, creating fresh content, redesigning
the site to keep it fresh.

Back to Questions

Do I hire somebody to design my site or do I take
it inhouse?

Do you do your own taxes or hire an accountant? Do you change
your own oil or go to Jiffy Lube?

It all depends. If you don’t have the budget to hire someone, or if you
or an employee feel comfortable in creating a site then you should consider
keeping it inhouse. However, if you do have the budget or you don’t have
a lot of experience creating sites, you should look to hire someone. Like
any other type of marketing your website should look professional or don’t
bother getting one at all.

Like any business decision you have to decide if you’re creating more
value for your company by doing something yourself or sourcing it out.

Back to Questions

How much time each month, each week and each day
can I set aside for my website?

Look at your schedule. Do you tell people
that you can’t meet them for lunch until sometime next month?
Do you have trouble returning all your calls the same day? Are you booked
solid through next April? As simple as HTML is, it still takes time to
learn how to make it work best. Besides the learning curve of HTML or
an HTML editor, it takes a lot more time to learn how to make a website
attractive, how to upload your pages, how to make it rank higher in search
engines, and so on. If you plan on having fresh content that takes time,
too. The women selling rubber sunglasses on the AT&T ad are not real.

Back to Questions

What should I budget? For start up? For monthly

If someone else is creating a site for you their prices may range
from a few hundred to several thousand dollars depending
on your needs. If you’re planning on creating your own site you may want
to invest in an HTML editor ($150 or so,) and at least one
book on HTML ($30-50.) Mac users can scrimp on the editor by writing the
HTML in SimpleText and Window’s users can do it in Notepad, but editors
make it quicker and simpler. How much is your time worth?

You should already have a good image editor on your computer, Photoshop
if you can afford it. Often a Limited Edition version of Photoshop comes
bundled with a scanner ($400 and up) which you may need to scan in your
brochures, pictures, etc. You can avoid some of these costs by having
literature scanned at a local copy shop and working with it on a friend’s
image editor.

If you choose to get your own domain name ( it will
cost you $100 to register it for 2 years, $50 a year after that. You can
expect $20 or so dollars from your ISP as a one time fee as well.

As far as monthly fees go, you can expect $10-25 for a dial-up account,
and $30-60 and up to an ISP for virtual domain hosting. Getting a secure
line for online transactions will run you more in most cases.

Of course, this is all assuming you already own a decent computer.

Back to Questions

Should I get my own domain name? (

Although it isn’t essential, the cost isn’t a lot (compared
to renting space for a storefront, printing a catalog, etc.) and not having
one makes you look unprofessional. Fewer and fewer people will take you
seriously with a ` (tilde) in your URL.

Back to Questions

Where do I advertise my site?

Everywhere you can.
Put your URL on your business card, literature, stationery,
faxes, yellow page ads and so on.

Look into banner exchange programs such as LinkExchange and others. Search
the web looking for sites that may complement what you’re selling. If
you sell travel videos try finding sites that deal with travel or that
advertise bed & breakfasts where your videos were shot and try and
trade links.

Use a small tag line as your signature to your emails. Many mail programs
such as Eudora have a signature file so you don’t have to repeat your
signature for each email. It might go like this:




Jane Doe Productions

Travel Videos for the Couch Potato


Taking the example of travel videos you should check out some newsgroups
that deal with your topic, such as Don’t just post an advertisement
for your site, however, many newsgroups frown on such blatant displays
of capitalism. Lurk for a few days, and if appropriate respond to a question
that someone might pose, and don’t forget to leave your signature.

Back to Questions

How do I attract more traffic to my site?

(See above.)

Also, consider adding fresh content on a regular basis. By content I’m
talking about information that people who are interested in your goods
and services can get from your site. If you are selling gardening supplies,
a weekly tip or article explaining the intricacies of horticulture will
bring back a steady stream of visitors. Try putting a couple of appropriate
hypertext links within the article that link to a specific gardening tool
within your catalog.

Back to Questions

How do I know that my site is successful?

back at your goals. Have you met them? If your plan was have
your website increase sales are you moving more product? If it was to
market your business is it generating more leads for your sales staff?
If it was to disseminate information to your members is your receptionist
having to field less questions about next month’s speaker?

Back to Questions

–Rich Brooks

President, flyte new media

What’s More Important: Content or Presentation?


Important: This article was written back in 1997, and a lot of the information
has changed. You’ll get more
out of the updated version here

I don’t know, what makes a rectangle bigger: its height or its width?
Although content is king, presentation is essential to a successful site.

Why do people say “Content is King”? Because alliteration is
fun. And because visitors won’t continue to come back to a static website.
This summer I took my five year old cousin to Universal Studios. He had
no problem seeing “E.T. The Adventure” twice and was upset when
I refused to stand in line for a third go round. I’m sure he would have
gone on that ride a dozen times if I had been willing. When I was a kid
at Canobie Lake Park I rode the Turkish Twist ten times in a row. What
does this prove? Kids are easily entertained. (Just look at Barney.) However,
adults need more varied stimuli.

“If you build it, they will come.” However, if you don’t change
it, they won’t be back. Perhaps a couple of years ago all you needed to
do was put up a page with your business’s hours and phone number and you
could count on some local newspaper coverage to get you traffic. Now most
people are savvy enough to search out new information, and they will only
become “regulars” if your site presents fills this need.

You can create fresh content on a regular basis. (You can also buy content
from companies that specialize in that market, but for the time being
we’ll just concentrate on your own work.) Content updates can be handled
in two ways. If you know the basics of HTML and how to upload files you
can do it by yourself. However, if you are unsure on either of these steps,
you should work with your webmaster. You might be able to email, (or even
snail mail,) the fresh content to your webmaster, and they can upload
it for you.

The other side of the equation is presentation. When was the last time
you went to a good restaurant and they served you a steak without at least
a sprig of parsley on the side? I’m sure you didn’t eat the parsley, it
was just there for presentation’s sake to make the steak look more appetizing.
(Vegetarians can substitute a garden burger for steak if they prefer;
but I’m afraid they might eat the parsley, thus ruining my analogy.)

An old Jewish tradition has teachers putting honey on their students’
writing tablets at the beginning of the school year to symbolize that
learning can be sweet. Although I find this practice to be slightly disturbing,
or at least unsanitary, the point is that presentation allows your visitor
to be enticed into your site and will appreciate your content even more.

However, no one will hang around your site if they have to wait for slow-loading
graphics, or if the navigation is confusing or if the colors are garish,
(a common problem at all Grateful Dead fan sites.)

When it comes to presentation, there is no one right approach. Certain
sites try to be attractive by using large graphics, Java applets, Shockwave
by Macromedia, sound effects and so on. However, for most sites this is
unnecessary and perhaps detrimental. All of these techniques take a long
time to download to your visitors computer, and if they are on a slow
connection, they’ll go find one of your competitors. If you are advertising
a new blockbuster movie, or a new Netscape Plug-In, or if you know most
of your prospects are using a cable modem hook-up this might be appropriate.
If not, you should try and find another way.

At some point in the future we will all have lightning quick access to
the internet, and then file size will no longer matter. Until that time
comes, however, there will be a constant battle to reduce the size of
your files, (text documents, pictures, sounds and so on.) Since using
images is the most common way of spicing up a site on the web, here are
some quick tips to shrink downloading time.

Small graphics load up faster than big ones. Well, duh. However, as you
surf the web, you will notice that many designers have forgotten this.

Use GIF’s and JPEGs appropriately. Both of these platforms are used to
compress images over the internet, and both have pluses and minuses. GIF’s
are best used for simple images, such as buttons, small icons, company
logos, etc. They can show up to 256 colors in a single image, but can
be made smaller by reducing the number of colors. They also have the ability
to be interlaced (browsers will show a low resolution version while the
high resolution image is loading,) and they support transparency, allowing
part of the background to show through. JPEG’s on the other hand display
thousands of colors; however, they do not currently support interlacing
or transparency, though both of those attributes may soon be implemented.
Also, JPEG’s use a “lossy” form of compression, meaning that
they throw away information to reduce their size. Saving a JPEG of a JPEG
is like making a copy of a copy at the office. You lose something each

Recycle your images. Most of the wait for an image to appear on a web
page is due to the transfer time of the file to a visitor’s hard drive.
Once it’s on the hard drive it displays fairly quickly. You can cut down
the wait by reusing images. This also sets up a feeling of repetition,
which is important in design. (So I’ve been told.) One good way of implementing
this is by having your company logo appear at the top of every page.

These three tips just scratch the surface and in upcoming articles I’ll
go into more detail on how to best use graphics throughout your site,
and navigation tips to make getting around your website easier.

Remember to balance interesting, changing content with a quality presentation
and you will be well on your way to having a well-travelled website.

–Rich Brooks

President, flyte new media