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How to get a site indexed and highly ranked

Mailing Number 11 - 31 January 2003

This non-standard, "single issue" mailing, is an amended version of a short document written by and discussed extensively with Dick Moore. It is based mainly on direct experience of successfully obtaining high search rankings, and on the experience of others who have also succeeded. This article now (14/5/2003) also appears on Dick Moore's Muck and Magic: "looking at learning technology" site. It is also overlaps (14/4/2004) a lot with Google's Webmaster Guidelines which "will help Google find, index, and rank your site". Feedback on this mailing, including comments about content, design, errors, improvements, is welcome. If you want to send me some, please email me.

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Ensuring that pages are found and indexed [back to top]

The problem

We cannot be certain what causes a search engine to index a site because search engines don’t publish the workings of their ‘spiders’ (the software systems that traverse the web and index pages on the web). However:

  • pages generated from a database, in such a way that a “?”, or a complex character string is placed in page URIs, tend to be given low weightings by search engines, or ignored altogether;
  • pages with significant content which are deep within the structure of a site, may fail to be indexed at all.

Each of the search engines has one or more spiders that have a distinctive ‘finger print’ entry in the site web logs. There is a list of these on Search Engine World. A way to test these points on a specific site is to examine the log-files for the site.

Two remedies

Have at least some static HTML pages high up within the site’s structure, or on a separate server, but linked to key dynamically generated pages, if you also use the latter.

Get at least one other indexed site to link to a static area of your site. (There is more about inward linking below.)

Getting a high ranking, once indexed [back to top]

Here are some tips which have proved successful on other sites (as well as this one).

Use of Title Tag. Ensure that each page title contains a short piece of text which is specific to the content of the page, and built from the sorts of terms which are likely to be used in a search. This should not contain the name of the web site, nor, necessarily, use the same text as the page title within the body of the page. Example. The title of this page contains the text "How to get a website highly ranked".

Use of Meta-tags. While it is good practice to populate the standard meta-tags within the page header, the more popular search engines now ignore these tags and rely instead on the full text held within the page.  For this reason it is important to ensure that there is target text in the page body that describes the page-contents using words you think a searcher might use when searching.

Standard HTML. The spiders used by the search engines need to be able to understand the target pages in order to parse them appropriately. For this reason alone it is good practice to ensure that all pages are made up of standard-conformant code, for example HTML 4.01, or XHTML 1.0, for which there are excellent explanations, and validation tools on, or linked to from, the validation area of the W3C site. (This is separate from the usability benefits which users will get if the site is standards-compliant.)

Paragraph placement. There is some evidence that words held within the first paragraph and the last paragraph on any page are given a higher weighting than words in other paragraphs on a page.

Inward links. There is strong evidence that the greater the number of links on other sites that reference your site, the higher your page will be ranked. For this reason it is a good idea to ‘assist’ as many advocates as possible to reference your site.  For example, organisations which have members or affiliates, may wish to provide HTML code snippets to enable members to signify their membership by linking to your site.

Registration on internet directory sites. Google has a relationship with the Open Directory Project. Directories like DMOZ are moderated by people, which increases the likelihood that listed sites contain quality content. For this reason, all other things being equal, a listing in DMOZ seems to result in a high ranking in Google, and possibly other search engines.

Outward Links. It seems that the inclusion of outward links to high quality sites will define your site as a portal, and will tend to raise its ranking. This runs counter to the commonly held view that outward links should not be included on a site because this looses you visitors, who supposedly follow links away from your site, never to return.

Repeat of key terms. Some claim that the repetition of key search terms in the text of a page will increase its ranking. However, some search engines are thought to reduce a site’s ranking, or ignore it altogether, if this practice is adopted.

News-feeds. It is unlikely that providing a news-feed from your site will have a direct impact upon your ranking. But if your news-feed is picked up by other content aggregators with links pointing to your site, this will ensure that your site gets scanned more regularly, and it will increase the number of inbound links to your site. provides a good technical introduction, while gives a set of examples.

Assess this mailing [back to top]

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Last updated - 2/6/2003; Licensed under a Creative Commons License.

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