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Web Design Reference Guide

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About Search

Last updated Oct 17, 2003.

Search has become a critical component of Web activities. Whether you're searching for information via a major search engine such as Google or using search features on your Web site, search is a complex topic. Here, you'll learn a bit about rankings and search software.

Search Engine Rankings

Ranking your site for search engines has become a sophisticated science and art. As mentioned earlier, meta tags can help a great deal, but it's not the only concern, and it's become less important than other ranking techniques. Of growing interest in this regard is the use of structured markup and rich content.

  • Proper meta tagging. A page with properly tagged meta keywords and descriptions will influence rankings but are hardly the only thing you can do to improve rankings. This is an area of growing interest because so many Web designers aren't aware that getting good rankings relate as much to the way you write your documents as using meta tags effectively. Remember meta is not a magic formula and shouldn't be solely relied upon.

  • Use the title tag. The title tag is what gets bookmarked and search engines take note of it. Put the most important keywords in the beginning of the title tag not necessarily the Web site's or company name.

  • Structured markup. Another great argument for writing highly structured, standardized documents is that following these best practices can definitely aid in achieving better rankings. Why? Because many engines are looking at different aspects of your markup, including a page's title, its h# elements, its navigation, and whether images have alt attribute descriptions. The better structured your document is, the more effectively many engines can grab the information and catalog it effectively.

  • Rich content. The content in your document's paragraphs, particularly those directly under the first h1 heading, should clearly reflect and define the purpose of the site and/or page. This also helps during search because the results are more explicit, making it very clear to searchers just what the site they're looking at offers.

  • Frames and Flash. Frames and Flash can mame. Search engines get confused on frames- and Flash-based sites. Most Flash-based sites don't make it possible for search engines to "read" the content.

  • Move internals to external. Another way to boost rankings is by putting key words at or near the top of the page. But with the <head>, JavaScript, and other mark up stuff, it quickly pushes those words down away from a search engine's reach. CSS for positioning is advantageous here since you can put the navigation low on the .html page and it can still appear on the top of the rendered page. Another way to strip out non-key words is to put CSS and JavaScript into external files and reference them instead of embed them.

Search Tools for Web Sites

There are so many search tools available that it's impossible to discuss them all in this concise guide. However, understanding a bit about the types of searches available can help you hone in on what might work best for your Web site.

There are three primary types of searches available:

  • Open-source server-side solutions. The search software in this category is often free or low(er) cost, and offers a vast range of functionality and customization. Typically written in languages such as Perl or PHP, these solutions usually require servers that allow you to run your own scripts and have up-to-date Perl and PHP versions available. Installation and configuration of this type of software is usually for intermediate or advanced designers familiar with working in open-source environments. Do be sure to check with your ISP to find out whether the service you are receiving matches the requirements of the software package in question.

  • Proprietary server-side solutions. Proprietary search software usually ships out-of-the box with easy install on a range of platforms. Also ranging in features, many of these search solutions are limited to specific server platforms. As with open-source solutions, check with your ISP to be sure you can run the software you're interested in.

  • Search service providers. You can find providers—some free, some professional level—that connect your site to their servers for search capabilities. The advantage of these options is that they tend to be platform-independent and provide detailed search feedback so you can adjust keywords and improve your site on a regular basis.

So how do you figure out which search software or service will be best for you? Accurately assess your site and available services, including size of site, flexibility and accuracy of search, and, of course, the cost! Be sure to visit the Online Resources portion of the Resources section for more information.