From time to time, I get visitors to thesitewizard.com requesting that I take a look at their website. This time, I received a request to look at a site that had been indexed by Google, but not showing for any relevant search queries. A quick look at the visitor's site revealed the problem. Since many websites that I have reviewed in the past exhibited the same types of problems, I've collected some of the common reasons why a site may not be ranking in the search engines in a single article. This will hopefully help you when you design or update your own website.
Note that most (if not all) of these points have already been covered in my other articles on website promotion and web design. You should read them in order to get a better idea of getting your site into the search engines. Here are some important ones:
Your home page is an extremely important page on your site. It should tell people what your site is all about. Very often, when I'm asked to review a site, I find a site that has the following characteristics:
The home page has nothing but a Flash splash screen with some fancy animation.
If there are any words on the page at all that are not embedded in the Flash animation, it's "Enter Site".
The HTML title tag of the page says "Flash Intro Page".
Ask yourself what the search engines will index in such a case. Chances are that your home page will probably only rank for "enter site" and "flash intro page" since those are the only words on the page many search engines can pick up. In fact, since there are so many sites with those words, you may not even rank for them (not that you'll want to).
Title tags are vital: Google uses it heavily and it's a fundamental part of any search engine friendly web design.
Text content that can be indexed is also vital. The search engine cannot know intuitively what your website is about if it doesn't have words to index. Embedding text inside Flash content and expecting search engines to be able to recognize them is a risky business - Google may be able to read some types of text, or it may not. The other search engines probably won't be able to even extract anything.
Get rid of the Flash splash screen for your home page if you have one, and replace it with a normal web page. Not only will your site rank better, it will also look more professional. Restrict your use of Flash to things that really need Flash, like interactive online games and videos, and not pages that you want indexed.
I'm sure you've heard the saying, "a picture is worth a thousand words". Maybe that's true to a human being. But to a search engine, using current technology, a picture is useless for determining what the site is about. The engine cannot see a picture and tell that it's a picture of Britney Spears or your favourite cat. If you want the engine to know that you have a picture of some pop star, write words to that effect. You can find more information on how to tag your pictures in a way search engines can understand at http://www.thesitewizard.com/sitepromotion/search-engine-friendly.shtml
As mentioned in my article on How to Create Your Own Website, if your site is not linked to by any other site, some search engines, notably Google, may not even bother to visit your website to index it. Read that article for pointers to how to get started on getting some links to your site.
This is not a foolproof solution for checking your website though, since Opera is a modern frames-capable browser, so sites using something called "frames" will still show up correctly in Opera, even though they won't necessarily be indexed properly by a real search engine. But for quick checks, this is by far the most user-friendly way to do that works on all the major desktop operating systems. Note that I'm not forcing you to switch to Opera or anything like that - use whatever browser you like as your normal browser. But as a web developer, since you will probably have all the major browsers around to test your site anyway, you should use Opera's additional convenience features to give your web pages a quick going-over.
(Additional tip: while you do this, you can also check how your site will appear in small-screen devices like mobile phones by hitting Shift+F11 on Windows/Linux or Shift+Alt+F11 on the Mac. Hit the same key again to return to normal mode.)
A very important thing to bear in mind when designing your website is to ask yourself what your site is all about. What do you want to rank for? If you want to rank for "Widget X", the words "Widget X" must appear on your website in ordinary, visible text. This may seem obvious when I say it, but judging from what I see when I review some websites, it may not necessarily be apparent to some people. (Don't take this as an accusation or anything like that, it wasn't obvious to me either, when I first started.)
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