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Optimizing Websites for Search Engines

Website authors often wonder why their site is not found by search engines. Here are some tips to increase the chances that your site will be indexed and found successfully by other users:

Frequency and location
One of the the main rules in a search engine's ranking algorithm involves the location and frequency of keywords on a web page. Pages with the search terms appearing in the HTML <title> tag are often assumed to be more relevant than others to the topic.

Search engines will check to see if the search keywords appear near the top of a web page, such as in the headline or in the first few paragraphs of text. They assume that any page relevant to the topic will mention those words right from the beginning.

Frequency is the other major factor in how search engines determine relevancy. A search engine will analyze how often keywords appear in relation to other words in a web page. Those with a higher frequency are often deemed more relevant than other web pages. If you want users to be able to find your page about gardening, but the word "gardening" only appears once on the page, it's not likely to be successfully indexed by a search engine or found by a user.

The keywords you expect people to find your site by need to be reflected in the page's content. In particular, that means you need HTML text on your page. Sometimes sites present large sections of text via graphics. It looks pretty, but search engines can't read those graphics. That means they miss out on text that might make your site more relevant. Use HTML text whenever possible.

Meta tags
Use proper meta tags on pages that you want to be easily locatable by a search engine. Meta tags are information inserted between the <head> tags at the top of your web pages. Here's an example:

<TITLE>High Energy Physics Department Home Page</TITLE>
<META name="description" content="Everything you wanted to know about high energy physics at Brookhaven Lab.">
<META name="keywords" content="physics, accelerators, quark gluon plasma, ions, relativistic heavy ion collider, alternating gradient synchrotron">

The meta description tag contains the text you want to be shown as your description. The description goes between the quotation marks after the content= portion of the tag (generally, 200 to 250 characters may be indexed, though only a smaller portion of this amount may be displayed).

The meta keywords tag allows you to provide additional text for crawler-based search engines to index along with your body copy. Most crawlers now ignore this tag but it is sometimes useful as a way to reinforce the terms you think a page is important for on the crawlers that still support it. For instance, if you had a page about stamp collecting -- AND you say the words stamp collecting at various places in your body copy -- then mentioning the words "stamp collecting" in the meta keywords tag might help boost your page a bit higher for those words. Remember, if you don't use the words "stamp collecting" on the page at all, then just adding them to the meta keywords tag is extremely unlikely to help the page do well for the term.

Helpful Links

Below are external links that provide more detailed information on how to use Meta Tags and online generator applications that will generate the code for you with a few point-and-clicks.


If you have a question that is not addressed in these pages, please send an email to

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Last Modified: February 1, 2008