If you are going to put your music on the web, you might as well try to get the best search engine placement as possible...here are some tips to do just that.
While somewhat off topic of a home recording site, the topic of web sites, search engines and online promotion comes up quite frequently...frequently enough that I decided to impart my knowledge of the subject to HRC in the form of this article rather than repeating the same information over and over again in forum threads as the subject comes up.
Web marketing is a trade-off of creativity vs. effectiveness...of form vs. function. Many of the most common things people do with their web sites are the very things that help make sure that they never get seen by anyone because search engines do not list them, or not high enough to every get seen. If you show up on page 50 of Google's results, you might as well not be on there at all, have you ever paged through that many results? I would doubt it unless you were on a very specific mission.
In this article I will attempt to take you through better optimizing your web site for better placement in search engine results, so more people get to your site and hear your music. This art form (and it truly is an art form) is known as SEO, search engine optimization.
Checking Your Current Ranking
Alright, you have a web site already, but are disillusioned with the lack of visitors. Understandable. You have done submissions (which, by the way are not even necessary) but they still don't come. Frustrating.
So, you go to Google and start typing in your domain name to make sure it's there. So you type in www.yourdomainname.com and sure enough, it's the number one result...what the heck?
First, all that type of search does is tell you that your domain is in their index, not true rankings. How many people are really going to go to Google, or any search engine, and search for you by the domain name? I dare say few...if they know the domain name they will just type it in the browser and get right there.
What you need to do is pick keywords for your site.
"Keywords" are words and/or phrases that you want your web site to be found with. For example, take HRC for an example. I want to get this site found by more queries than just "homerecordingconnection.com", I also want it to be found under "home recording", "home studio", "multitracking", "audio recording", etc. You get the idea.
What you want to do is sit back and think about your web site and the content with in it. What words would people logically look for a site like yours with? "free mp3s" maybe? How about "indie music"?
There is also software available to help you in your keyword search. My personal favorite is WebCEO. With software like this, you use the keyword research tool, enter a keyword, such as "mp3" and it will return, from it's database of keyword usage, the most common search engine searches that contain that word. This can sometimes even bring up keywords and phrases you may have not even thought about.
Alright, you've studied your web site, researched your keywords and have 5 or 6 good keywords and/or phrases (start small, just target a small list of keywords at first, but make them important ones). So, what do you do with them?
Web Site Structure
When designing your site for the first time (hopefully, the first time, but presumably your site is already built) there are several things to keep in mind when building it that may surprise you.
While some of these may seem silly or illogical, they will help make your site more easily and quickly crawled, plus give yet a little bit more space in which to add keywords to toss at the search engine in ways it can use to potentially list you higher.
Meta tags are HTML tags that are not visible on the web page, they are part of the document header and only read by the browser and spiders, and perhaps anyone snooping through your code. These tags can declare anything from copyright information, to who authored the page, to the program that generated the page to if you want robots to index them or follow the links within them.
I will leave it to HTML forums and such to explain all of them; we will concern ourselves with three, those being robots, keywords and description.
"Robots" has two simple parameters, whether to follow links in the page and whether or not to index the page. Be aware that not all robots follow these rules. The content in the tag simple reads "index" or "no index" and "follow" or "no follow".
"Keywords" will only contain a comma separated list of words and phrases that you want to be indexed with. As you will see later, this tag really isn't as important today as it once was...however, if you want to have it in your code, it surely will do you no harm. Be sure to keep it short, less than 100 characters or spiders get border and/or mad and can penalize you for "word spamming"
"Description" is just that, a short description of your site, and this short description is best when littered with as many of your chosen key words as possible while still keeping it readable. Here as well you want to keep it short, sweet and keyword-laden.
That is a short and simple introduction to meta tags, but, contrary to popular opinion, you need a lot more than that. Now it's time to write you content.
Writing for your web site is more than just picking flowery words and having it navigate easily. You have to choose your words carefully and link between pages properly. For a page to be indexed well most people recommend having between 200 and 500 words on each page. Write the text somewhat like you meta description, that being, using keywords and phrases throughout the text.
Additionally, consider these little tidbits of info when writing, designing and linking for search engines.
When deciding what from the above list to use, and how, you must obviously never loose site of the human visitor, and must always keep you site usable for them. Many studies indicate that a navigation column on the right is best for usability, but then it forces the spider to read it first unless you use some tricks to get around that issue. While that is just a single example, the main point is that you need to weigh the cost and benefit of each change and find that happy middle ground between usability, indexability and how much trouble it will be to maintain the site from your end.
Links and Popularity
Yup, just like being in high school again, SEO is one big popularity contest. Some search engines, Google being one, weighs the popularity of your site heavily in your rankings. Popularity is judged by how many web sites link to yours. The more link to your site it sees, the more popular, and therefore the more important, it judges your site as. But, don't go put your links everywhere; it is weighed much more heavily if the links are from related sites.
Don't spend any time or effort on the silly free-for-all links sites, link farms, link exchange services and other such non-sense. They do nothing for rankings, and really get you nothing but spam and poorly targeted traffic.
There are a few ways to go about getting links. One is to have a links page yourself, find sites that the typical visitor to your site would find useful and list them on it, then, contact those site owners and request a reciprical link from them. Also, find links to your competition, as those sites may well be willing to link to your site as well.
One quick way to find links to sites is to go to Google, and type in the query "LINK: yourdomain.com" (obviously changing "yourdomain.com" to whatever URL you want to find links for) and it will return a list of sites that link to the URL you requested.
No discussion of SEO would be complete without mentioning Google's infamous "PageRank" system. Personally, I feel FAR too much attention is given to PageRank when it comes to SEO.
Yes, it is something to pay mind to, but, it is not the be-all, end-all of SEO. PageRank, as we, the end users see, is a 10-scale of page importance. This ranking can be viewed on the Google Toolbar; when viewing a page, the page rank will display on it. Sometimes these numbers are grayed out, while the reason is unclear, there is speculation that this means that page or site is somehow penalized by Google.
The reason I think it is paid too much mind is because even Google says it is only one of many criteria it uses when returning results of a search. However, it is worth checking because if you do have a low page rank, it is an indication something is wrong with your SEO effort...if it's high, well, you must be doing something right. If you have a 5 out of 10, you are doing OK.
PageRank should also be considered when having sites link to you, or you to them. If you have pages with high PageRank linking to you, that's better for you in terms of importance.
To Submit or not to Submit
There are so many services out there, some for free and some that charge a lot of money, that offer to get your URL submitted to 'x' number of search engines and directories. Is this necessary? Well, no, not really. Is it helpful? Well, no, not really.
Let me explain...
it's not advisable to use the submission services and applications, as these are often automated processes that, like any automated process or internet application, carries as useragent or other type of "fingerprint" with it. Some search engines know these tools, and delete, penalize, or even ban the URL that is submitted with them. Also, if you read the TOS of many of these search engines, using these tools is stated as being against their rules.
Is it helpful...hmmmm, well, in reading many of the search engines TOS's they state that it can take anywhere from 4 to 8 weeks to get your submission processed. More often than not, if you get a link to your site on a site that the spider already has indexed, the spider will find you and index you long before anyone ever gets around to processing you submission.
That said, for a first time submission, it's not necessarily a bad thing to submit, what the heck, you have nothing to loose. However, do not make the mistake of resubmitting yourself every time you edit content on your page, no matter how dramatic the change is. If the spider already has you indexed, they'll be back.
One useful tool, if you web host has it, is some sort of log analyzer. Many of these will track known spiders and tell you how often a given spider has visited, when the last time was they were there and information like that. You can start watching those log reports to find out if/when you get crawled.
Pay to Play
There are a couple ways that search engines try to con money out of the web site owner. These payment, while in some situations are beneficial, sometimes they are unnecessary depending on your patience (or lack of it) which is often dictated by the client and their willingness to pay.
Let's take a brief look at these schemes...er, I mean "business models":
There is also any combination of the two balancing the cost ratio between the services. Pay more yearly and less per click, or less yearly and more per click. Those ratios differ from place to place.
Beyond This Article
There is soooooo much more information to be had on this subject, as many search engines have such intelligent algorhythms behind them it is borderline artificial intelligence. Google, for example, looks at over 100 different types of criteria while figuring your ranking others do more or less. There are other tactics that are beyond the scope of this article such as "gateway pages" which is a single page optimized for a specific search engines, but that is impractical for maintenance for most people and considering that with common sense tactics your single page can still do quite well.
Many people claim to have "tricks" that will get you in the top 10 immediately for a couple hundred dollars. Don't fell into this trap. NOBODY can promise you top 10 on the query of your choice because each keyword and phrase has different competition. The only way to be able to get top 10 is often times to pay the search engine a fee. Many people also have tricks such as hiding text in comment tags, putting white text on a white background crammed with keywords. All of these may work for a time, though many are so old that search engines now look for them. Be wary of "tricks", as some can get you penalized if caught.
Paying is unnecessary, because it isn't that hard. When I sat down to tune HRC it only took a couple hours work coding (and a few hours work thinking) and I saw major rank improvement very quickly and continue to see them. There are many books on the subject available as well.
As Soon As You Know Everything...
...everything changes. It's the nature of technology, the internet and life. The big players in the field of search engines are often updating their algorhythms for ranking sites, editing their bots for indexing new statistics about a site and that like. So it is in any webmaster's best interest to stay current in regards to search engines technology.
The "for Dummies" series from Wiley has a couple of new books that are quite good.
Search Engine Optimization for Dummies is a very good book that looks at all types of search indexes and search engines (and explains the difference between them). How to optimize your pages, which techniques work best for which search engines, tricks and tips for SEO. It looks at how search engines get their results and the what SEO tactics are most heavily weighted. Additionally, it gets into the downside of SEO, such as what happens if you get caught trying to manipulate search engines or break the rules of the search engine itself. All very good infomation to make you a fully informed webmaster.
I only recently read this book, and even after working with SEO for a good long time, I still learned a bit from it regarding topics and ideas I had never thought about before. Not only is it full of all the useful information I already described, but it also points you to web sites that will help keep you up to date with all the search engines. The search engine landscape is always changing, and the proactive webmaster would be well-served by keeping him or her self informed.
Building Your Business with Google for Dummies targets specifically Google and how to use it's many features to further promote your business' web site. It discusses the AdWords and AdSense programs as well as many other topics regarding the Google search engine, which is widely regarded as the #1 search engines on the internet. Google represents a huge number of searches every day. Getting your web site to come up in those searches is in your best interest.
Other SEO Resources
Below are some useful links to information regarding specific search engines, links to tools mentioned in this article and sites to help keep you up to date on some of the more important search engines and search indexes.
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