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Search Engines from a Webmaster Perspective
by: Mel Strocen
By now, virtually every webmaster has heard or read that the major search engines are responsible for 80% or more of the traffic received by most web sites and that most searchers never look beyond the first 20 - 50 search results. Not surprisingly, an entire industry devoted to search engine ranking and search engine optimization (SEO) has sprung up to capitalize on these well known facts.
Tens of thousands of web sites compete to achieve top ranking for their chosen keywords and keyword phrases. We've published numerous articles by various SEO experts on linking strategies, optimizing meta tags and page content, and relevant page content. And, undoubtedly, we'll publish many more. Achieving a top ranking for a particular keyword or phrase is a major accomplishment, but the sad fact is that most web sites will never come close to reaching a top 10, a top 30, or even a top 100, listing in any major search engine.
Is it possible to be listed in the top 10 - 30 search results of a major search engine? Yes, possible, just not very likely for the average web site. It's a lot like playing the lottery and with the same appeal. Get your site in the top 10 search results and the payoffs are big - you just need to knock out a few million competitors.
THE RISE OF PAY-PER-CLICK
The difficulty in achieving a top ranking for a free site listing has in recent years given rise to the pay-per-click search engine phenomena. Overture's singular success with this model has resulted in hundreds of search engines jumping on the pay-per-click bandwagon. Pay-per-click is a great idea and taps right into the frustrated webmaster/site owner market. Many site owners simply do not want to be bothered with checking keyword density, tweaking their page content, fiddling with their meta tags and undertaking linking campaigns.
With pay-per-click, you get the site ranking you can afford. A simple, understandable concept. If money isn't a problem, the PPC system is hard to beat.
Most experts would probably recommend combining search engine optimization with PPC for maximizing traffic. And, there you have it - the two dominant methods for driving targeted visitors to your web site. Dominant, but probably irrelevant to the vast majority of site owners and webmasters who don't have the time to learn the ever-changing art of SEO or the budget for PPC's and SEO firms.
What should be relevant is how to get traffic to your site without breaking the bank or having to earn a degree in SEO techniques. Where it comes from should be secondary. Don't limit your traffic building efforts to just a few of the majors like Google, Yahoo, Inktomi and Overture. The top 8 or 10 search engines may be popular but that doesn't mean that your site will reap the benefits.
Here are several reasons why:
1. Sometimes the numbers work against you. Another billion pages added to Google or AlltheWeb are NOT going to help the average site owner - they are just going to bury the needle - your website - deeper in the haystack. And search traffic is only important, if your website can be found.
2. The major search engines cater primarily to searchers not webmasters. Why? Because more search traffic means more revenue and there are far more searchers than webmasters.
3. Even PPC engines deliver more than top 50 search results. That means unless you're a high bidder, your website may still not be seen by many.
From a webmaster's perspective what you should be looking for in a search engine is the right balance of search traffic and understandable site listing/ranking options. Engines like Google, Yahoo, MSN, AOL, and Ask Jeeves have massive traffic, but you need to evaluate your chances for having your web site added and then ranked well. You also need to determine if a search engine is more focused on revenue generation through ads, paid inclusion and Sponsored listings than they are in catering to your concerns about where your web site appears.
More specifically, when evaluating any engine regardless of size or traffic, you should consider the following factors:
1. Free Site Listings
A few years ago, you could submit your site to almost any search engine, small or large, for free. But times have changed. Today, even many second tier engines have PPC or paid inclusion programs, and free submissions, where offered, are often given little attention. This ties right into the second feature you should be looking for in a search engine.
2. Indexing Speed
The usual pitch is that free listings can take a month or more to be added (with some SE's, never is more likely), but a paid listing will be added within 48 hours to a week. Does this make sense? Most search engines don't manually review site submissions so whether a submission is free or paid shouldn't affect indexing speed. Slow indexing for free site submissions is most often nothing more than a deliberate ploy to get your money.
3. Ranking Options
Look for a search engine that offers some clues on how to improve your site ranking, short of emptying your wallet. Few engines reveal all the factors they use in ranking sites but knowing where the emphasis is (content, link popularity, meta tags, etc.) can be enough to point you in the right direction. There are also a handful of engines and directories that offer innovative listing options that give your website a much better chance of being seen.
4. Quality Searches
Important to site owners and searchers alike. When quality sites are buried in a sea of second rate listings, no one benefits.
If you want your website seen, the traffic a search engine attracts is important, but don't be too quick to write off smaller, up and coming engines. Not too long ago both Google and Overture were considered long shots in the search engine wars. Also, keep in mind that top ranking in an engine that receives a few million searches per month may be more important to you than no ranking in an engine that receives millions of searches per day.
6. Paid Listing Options:
Look for paid listing options that offer more than fast inclusion in a database. With PPC, you get what you pay for, but with paid inclusion, you should receive more than you would with a free listing.
If you're not familiar with any search engines other than the big players, check out FreeWebSubmission.com (http://www.freewebsubmission.com) where you can find a list of the 50 top search engines that still offer free site listings. Engines are ranked by their Alexa rating which indicates their user popularity. Here's a list of the top 10 from FWS with current Alexa rankings:
- Google - 5
- Lycos - 44
- AltaVista - 64
- About - 86
- Open Directory - 157
- AlltheWeb - 215
- ExactSeek - 1,999
- ScrubTheWeb - 2,483
- What U Seek - 2,868
- SearchHippo - 2,905
Some other engines and directories worth considering in your promotion efforts are Gimpsy (http://www.gimpsy.com/), RoList (http://www.rolist.com), SitesOnDisplay (http://www.sitesondisplay.com) and National Directory (http://www.nationaldirectory.com).