Web Wiz 1 -
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In this section called "Web-Wizardry" - or "Web-Wiz" for short - I want to share some of the tricks, tips, traps, and time-saving tools I have come across since I first published the STAR SIGNS Astrology Zine web site in July of 1996. Hopefully, it will help save some time and trouble for those of you who are thinking of putting up your own pages on the Web, or are already maintaining a Web site on your own.
I started with a 286 PC running DOS, using a 1200-baud modem, writing raw HTML code in WordPerfect 5.1 after reading "Teach Yourself HTML in Five Days", and uploading the files from a friend's Windows 95 computer using Ipswitch's WS-FTP 95. Only a month before the visit counter on my home page had reached 48,000 after the first year, I finally obtained a Pentium PC capable of running Windows 95, a 33K modem, and all the great hardware and software tools that make Web publishing so much easier and faster. The visit counter reached 250,000 by the 18th month, with no paid advertising or banner exchanges to promote the site - only search engine listings and links from other sites and directories. If I can do this with older equipment and a low budget, so can you! (Update: As Y2K approaches and the home-page visit counter nears the 1 million mark and the number of page-views per month for the site approaches 300,000 - I still have not spent any money on advertising or joined any banner exchange or sent out any email letters to advertise my web site.)
I plan to tell you about some of the tricks, traps, and hi-tech tools I have come across on the learning curve, and provide some live links to other Web sites which offer useful tips, software, or hardware.
Since I have been using the free trial version of "WebPosition Analyzer" for some time now, and have just ordered the full commercial version from First Place Software, I am going to start with this valuable time-saving tool for tracking and analyzing your Web site's position in the rankings for various key word searches in the major search engines.
Search Engine Rankings / WebPosition Analyzer
The first thing a webmaster can do to start bringing visitors to see his creation is to get his pages' URLs listed in the index of the major search engines. Once the pages are listed, WebPosition can track their rise in rank to the "Top Ten" (or their descent into obscurity). The free 30-day trial version of WebPosition Analyzer is a full working version which allows you to automatically check any number of key words or URLs for their ranking in searches on three (out of ten) of the major search engines: Infoseek, Alta Vista, and Excite. The $99 version searches all ten. (Update: there is now a "WebPosition Gold" edition which offers many more useful features for web masters at a price of $150 - five new highly useful functions in addition to the expanded search engine position reporting.)
The word on the Web is that if your page is not "positioned" in the Top 10 or Top 20 of the thousands of pages listed as most "relevant" in the search results, few people will search far enough down the list to see it! It's like owning a store which has its sign and street address placed where no one will be able to see them - or which has no listing in the phone book.
Since Infoseek and Alta Vista often list your pages in a day or two, these two search engines are the best ones to use to check how your pages are coming up in searches for the key words you expect your visitors to use. (Things change fast on the Net, and in 1999 these two search engines are no longer adding pages so quickly. WebPosition is also a handy tool to use to automatically check if your pages have been listed in the index - and if (and when!) they have mysteriously disappeared from the listings (it happens sometimes). The WebPosition program can be set to run automatically at various time periods, and automatically tracks and reports any changes in the ranking of your pages for any key word search you have entered.
The value in this US $99 program is the hours and hours of time it will save you, compared to trying to track your pages' positions by searching every day or week yourself for the key words you are interested in. I had done it "the hard way" for many months, and I immediately appreciated how much time and effort the program saved me - even with the free trial version that only worked with three of the search engines. This software is easy to set up and use, and the trial version has never crashed during the several months I have used it.
The free trial version is quite useful in itself, beyond letting you see how the software performs and what it can do for you. In trying several searches on key words, I could see that different search engines rank the relevancy of your pages quite differently, and that even the difference between something like "astrology book" and "astrology books" can make the same page show up in a Top 10 position, or not show up in the top 200 at all - in the same search engine (except Infoseek which treats singular and plural the same)!
The trial version is also handy for checking whether newly-submitted pages are showing up in the top 200 listings on Infoseek and Alta Vista a few days later - or not. The report also tells you how many of your site's pages (up to 200) are actually listed in Infoseek, Alta Vista, and Excite/AOL NetFind, since you can check a box to tell it to search for the URL of your web site while doing any other key word search.
A handy Trend Report logs the results for each day you do a WebPosition search, and shows how your ranking is moving up or down over time. An Alert Report warns you of any pages which have moved down in position, which can also alert you to any that have suddenly been dropped from the index of a search engine (it can happen, and you'll want to know as soon as possible so you can re-submit the page).
I would recommend downloading the free trial version of WebPosition to anyone who has a web site or simple home page, if only to check whether his submitted pages have actually been listed in three of the major search engines. It can also serve as a convenient meta search engine for any key word combination (or several at once) - using three of the best search engines at once, and compiling the top 10 to 200 results from each into an HTML page with hot-links which is automatically saved on disk, and with one click can be read in your web browser while off-line. A nice free bonus, I thought to myself... great for checking out all your "competition" and how they show up in key word searches, or finding sites to exchange links with - or just for researching any subject of personal interest, or finding new sites to browse.
When you download the free software, you will later get a very nice marketing letter from a real person at First Place Software. I thought their letter was very tastefully and tactfully worded, with good points clearly stated; and when I phoned the toll-free number listed in the letter I was immediately connected to a friendly and helpful person - the author of the software himself had answered the phone. If only MonopolySoft would borrow this innovative idea for providing quality customer service!
Now that I want to check (and improve) my site's rankings in the other big search engines like Lycos, Hot Bot, Web Crawler and Northern Light - and find out if the Yahoo directory has finally accepted my URL submission - I decided the cost of the software was a small price to pay for the time and trouble it would save me. The latest $99 version of WebPosition is programmed to check all ten major search services, having recently added Northern Light.
WebPosition Analyzer is highly regarded by many professional Web site managers and the major computer magazine software reviewers. I would unhesitatingly add my personal recommendation - based on my experience with the free trial version, which I have downloaded several times to renew the 30-day period. Once I get used to using the full version, and have had time to review the free book of tips for improving your rankings on the search engines, I will add any further comments here.
[UPDATE: A new version is called "Web Position Gold" and it contains MANY new and useful features, such as the "Page Critic" and a tool for creating "doorway pages". List price is $149 (Upgrade discount available). I bought it and I use it. Perhaps you should too!]
The WebPosition product pages are worth a visit just to learn some useful facts about search engines and why it is so important for webmasters to get their pages listed in the top ten search engines. For reasons unknown to me, my own STAR SIGNS home page was listed for a whole month (in October 1997) by Infoseek at the No.1 position in a search for "astrology". That month my visitor count went up by 500% and the number of people ordering horoscope readings (and the number of dollars in my income) was three times greater. Then that page was mysteriously dropped from the top 200 listings, and the traffic to my site dropped off considerably.
I have no doubt, now, how important it is to design your pages to show up high in the relevancy rankings, and WebPosition is a tool which makes it quick-and-easy to keep checking how your pages are sitting in the search results - near the top of the list, or underneath a heap of pages competing for your visitor's attention.
Click here to see the product description page for WebPosition Analyzer
Click here to download the free 30-day trial version of WebPosition Analyzer
A Trap: Think twice about using one of those "Submit to 200 search engines" offers to submit your pages - at least until you fine-tune your pages and double-check your HTML code and hyper links.
First, there are only about 10 real search "engines" that will produce probably 80 percent or more of the results you want - new visitors to your site. The other so-called "engines" are either meta-search programs which search in some of those big 10 search engines, or are just directories. Second, you should take the time to carefully submit your key pages to those "Big Ten" yourself, by hand, since they are too important to your success to leave to a robot program. Beware that when your URL is submitted to many of the "free classifieds" sites along with your email address, you can get many unwanted emails confirming your listing and soliciting you to buy other services or products. You may find the results are not worth the aggravation of deleting all those unwanted emails.
You may want to try submitting only a few pages to the major search engines at first, to learn the procedures and see how well they get positioned. Then you can make any necessary improvements in your META tags or content before you submit the other pages. Sometimes a typographical error, an HTML code error, or dead link may appear in several of your site's pages, and it's best to catch this before you submit ALL the pages and find they all get ranked low because of a simple error or omission.
The Excite and AOL NetFind search engines (and now Google) write their own description of your page automatically, and ignore your carefully-crafted META tags for "keywords" and "description". Sometimes what is shown in the search results is not what you would want potential visitors to see. With the free trial version of WebPosition, you can see what is being said about your top-ranked pages, since Excite/AOL NetFind is one of the three search engines the free software will check.
Once you get listed in the index of one of those big 10 search engines, it can be difficult to get a revised version of the page re-ranked by submitting the same URL again. In some cases you may be penalized for submitting too often (this is considered "spamming" by the big search engines). On Infoseek you get penalized (in relevancy rating) for submitting more than once in 24 hours, and your page can drop into nowhere-land if it happens! This is far too important to your site's success, to risk having a robot program submitting your pages to a major search engine without your knowing how, or when. You'd be wise to do it yourself, or pay a reputable human expert to do it for you by hand.
When I do a key word search for a popular word like "astrology" I often see a search engine report that there are over 60,000 pages with that word. Yet there are unsolicited emails ("spam") arriving in my mailbox from companies which claim to "guarantee" a top listing for my web page in the major search engines if you pay them a fee to submit your page. How are they going to guarantee to get it into the Top 10 rankings, with such a huge number of pages competing for those 10 top positions, and how will they beat out those clever creators of pages currently positioned in the coveted Top 10? Are they claiming to be better than the best?
Probably they will use techniques which are considered "spamdexing" by the search engines, who may de-list the page or even ban all pages from the site of a person caught using certain tricks to get a page listed as highly relevant when it really isn't as relevant to that key word as other worthy pages. It's not fair to the other web site owners, and it makes the search engines list results which the users will find irrelevant or annoying. And it could get your page or entire web site permanently banned from one or more of the search engines you depend on for sending visitors to your site. Infoseek (and now Google) has software which detects many of the cheaters, and your "trick" page is very likely to get caught and penalized even before it is listed. And remember that tricks which might work now could later be detected by new software developed for the search engine robots, and you may find your pages penalized or dropped from the listings later on.
The need to weed out the cheaters is hurting some innocent web masters too: I was told that one of my formerly top-ranked pages dropped to a 35% percent relevancy rating - into obscurity - because it listed "Princess Diana" as a key word, even though the page DID mention her and had a link to another of my own pages ABOUT Princess Diana. My main page was #1 on Infoseek for "astrology" for a whole month (and my visitor count and income more than tripled that month) - then when I added the link to my new Princess Diana tribute in November and added her name to the keyword META tag, it disappeared shortly afterwards. I have never been able to get that main page into the top ranking since - even after taking out the "Princess Diana" keyword in the META tag.
Apparently, the cheaters stuff their key word META tags with popular words, even when the page has nothing to do with those topics, just to get listed high and noticed by thousands of users who do searches for those words. And in changing the rules the search engine robots use - to try to catch the cheaters - some innocent pages are culled along with the culprits.
Also, be aware that a disgruntled web master whose page got bumped down by your page, and then notices the tricky tactics by checking your page's content or your HTML source code, might report your listed page to the search engine staff. They encourage this because it helps keep their search service relevant and their users happy. Also, beware of the scam artist who "guarantees" to get your site listed in a Top 10 position; but will take your money, then not deliver as promised, and disappear. If it sounds too good to be true... that's because it may have been meant to sound real good, to sucker you real bad.
A Tip: You should take the time to do it right the first time. (Learn about the use of META tags in the header of your pages to help improve your relevancy rankings and the way your pages are described in the listings). Try Infoseek and Alta Vista first, then use WebPosition to track when and how high the pages show up in search results on these two engines. Once you have a good page design, submit the best one to the other wait-for-weeks search engines after you see how it shows up in these first two quick-listers.
For useful tips on the latest developments in submitting pages and improving your pages' positions in the search engine rankings, check out this page where you can subscribe to First Place Software's free monthly Market Position Newsletter.
Click Here for More Information
More Web-Wiz tricks, traps, and tools will follow.
Note Tab Light is a most excellent HTML-enabled plain-text word-processor which can be set to automatically replace Windows Note Pad and is amazingly full-featured - including a word-count analyzer useful for designing Web page content. It's free, it's fast, it's friendly - and it does not crash. You've got to get this. Search for "Note Tab" at download sites like zd.net and cnet.com and get your own copy of this great software, and never use NotePad again. (Note: beware of using WordPad for HTML code - it inserts its own codes which make your HTML code unfit for use. When using a word-processor to write HTML code, you must always use PLAIN text or ASCII text when you save your page. NotePad and NoteTab are plain-text editors, but WordPad and MS-Word are not.)
Note Tab Pro, the shareware version, has many features to support web page design, plus a full-disk "search-and-replace" function you can use to make changes across ALL your pages at once. It also has several levels of "undo" you can use to correct mistakes, even after you saved the page (as long as the page is still loaded in memory). It costs about US $20 and is well worth the money! I use it all the time for my HTML coding and general word-processor tasks. (In 2003, I am still using it.)
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