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Designing Pages for Search Engines

Introduction

Producing a fabulous Web site will do you no good if no one can find your information. If you've used Web search sites, you know how valuable it is to be highly ranked in an index. Using some simple techniques, you can improve the likelihood that your pages will be!

What are search engines looking for? Essentially, it's frequency and location of key words and their use in <meta> tags. The theory is that if a word appears several times and it is close to the top of a page, chances are it is highly relevant. Looking for terms in <meta> description and keyword tags is a method that is used by some, but not all search engines.

Techniques

These techniques are written specifically for the UW-Eau Claire search engine. While not all search engines use the same methods to index a page, if you follow all of the techniques listed below, you will be assured the best results.

  • Use descriptive <title> tags that include possible keywords. The title becomes the link that is displayed in the search results. If you do not have a <title> tag in your page, the page's URL becomes the link
  • Use descriptive text (not graphics) in the first few paragraphs of your page
  • Use descriptive terms for the alternate text description for all your graphics
  • Use <meta> description and keyword tags. If you have a <meta> description it will be used as the summary in the search results. If not, the first few words of text found on the page is displayed
  • Make sure the same keywords are reflected in the body of your page
  • Identify page contents using heading (<h#>) tags
  • Be careful not to repeat the same term too many times (referred to as "spamming") or your page will be penalized
  • Use JavaScript carefully! Text displayed using it is NOT indexed

Criteria Ranking

The following helps explain why these techniques are important. The UW-Eau Claire search engine uses the following ranking system to measure the importance of terms:

Criteria Weight
Title tag 8
Meta description tag 4
Meta keyword tag 4
Alt text on images 1
Remote anchors (others linking to you) 4

Code Examples

The following example demonstrates the use of <meta> tags in a document, which are used within the <head> element at the top of a page:

  • *<meta name="description" content="This is the University of Wisconsin - Eau Claire home site.">
  • <meta name="keywords" content="University of Wisconsin - Eau Claire, university, college, campus, academic, liberal arts">

There are variations of the <meta> tag for other purposes. For instance, you can use it to ask your page NOT to be indexed:

  • <meta name="robots" content="noindex">

For information about how to add <title> and <meta> tags and alternate text for images using FrontPage or Dreamweaver, see our Online Help Collection.

Special Functions

The UW-Eau Claire search engine also has some special functions that might be helpful for you:

  • Quick Links
    • This feature allows the search engine administrator to associate a term or phrase to a unique web page. For instance, the phrase "mission statement" is associated with the UW-Eau Claire mission statement web page located on the Academic Affairs web site. When a person searches on the phrase, the page link is displayed under a "Quick Links" heading at the top of the results set.
  • Thesaurus
    • The thesaurus is meant to be a look up for similar terms that a user might not know or to anticipate a user who has difficulty spelling. For instance, if a user searches on "outreach", an older term for "continuing education", a thesaurus entry can be made by the search engine administrator. At the top of the results page, an option is displayed that reads "Did you mean?" with a checkbox attached to the term "continuing education". If a user checks the box and submits a new search, the results are for "continuing education". The thesaurus might be used for typos as well. For instance, "registrar" for "registar".
  • Dictionary
    • This is primarily a stemming feature. For instance if you would like instances of "catalogue" to result from a search on "catalog", the search engine administrator can add it to the dictionary, if it is not already in the extensive stemming dictionary Inktomi provides. A user is not notified that results include items other than what was explicitly entered.

If you have suggestions for the use of these functions, please contact the search engine administrator by sending an email message to web@uwec.edu

For more extensive information about search engines, connect to Search Engine Watch.

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