1 October 2002

How to get scholars to visit your website

Tyndale House was visited by 97,000 different individuals this year.
Fortunately they didn't all stay for coffee - they came to the web site.
They read 5 million words a day (as well as look at a few pictures).
We would like more people to discover our resources, and I'm sure that
you too have a web site or two which you would like people to discover.
This email looks at ways to promote your website or your college's
website. Did you know that Meta tags don't work any more? This email
will tell you what does work, and how to achieve it.
If you aren't interested yourself, pass it on to your webmaster.
If you already know it all, go straight to section 5.

1) Promotion Tools
2) Content is King
3) Page design which gets hits
4) Page Ranking
5) Let's Co-operate

1) Promotion Tools
There are lots of tools which promise to register your site with
hundreds of search engines - but who uses all these search engines?
We all use Google or Yahoo and some still use Altavista and others.
You need to register yourself at these three. Go to:
Google: http://www.google.com/addurl.html
Yahoo: http://docs.yahoo.com/info/suggest/
AltaVista: http://addurl.altavista.com/sites/addurl/newurl
Other important ones include:
AllTheWeb: http://www.alltheweb.com/
Open Directory Project: http://dmoz.org/add.html
(this supplies data to many other search engines)
Inktomi (MSN): http://submitit.bcentral.com/msnsubmit.htm
Many search engines also have a paid service, which ranks you higher.
If you want to set submitted in multiple search engines, there are some good tools at:
http://vse-online.com/submit-website/ (for Macs!)

2) Content is King
... but on most sites, content is lacking.
Search Engines look for text (though they are now starting to look
for images as well). So your site needs text, and lots of it.
This shouldn't be a problem for an academic site, but for a college
administration site you might need to be a bit creative.
For example:
- post course titles, with descriptions and names of lecturers.
- tell your lecturers to post reading lists and handouts
- post the names of your alumni (but get their permission first)
Think about the people you want to attract, and what they might look for,
and put that on the web.
Then think about what you have which no-one else has.
If you have books which are out of print, put them on the web.
When articles are two years old, ask the journal for permission to
put a copy on the web (they don't make any money from offprints).
You might also put in-print books on the web (it can promote sales)
but you need permission from the publisher.
Have a rummage through your hard drive. Its surprising what you can
find which is interesting to someone. And once they have come, they
are likely to look around at the rest of the site.

3) Page design which gets hits
Meta tags don't work any more. Meta tags are bits of code at the top of
web pages which list the Keywords and Description. People often misused
them by adding popular subjects in order to draw customers. The search
engines have caught on, and stopped using them long ago - Altavista was
the last big search engine to use them, and they stopped in May 2002.
The strategies used by search engines are all different, and they are
constantly changing, in order to stop people from fooling them. Here
are a few important and sensible things which are unlikely to change:
Key words:
Make a short list of the key words which people might search for
when they are looking for your pages.
- put them in your title at the top of your coding
- put them in your first paragraph, more than once if possible
- make sure they occur throughout your main page
- pick the most important one and use it for the filename.
Page length:
For some reason, search engines prefer a smallish first page (no more
than 1000 words). People prefer them too - most don't wait for more
than three seconds for your page to finish downloading.
Links through your site:
If you use fancy javascript links, add simple links too, because some
search engines don't follow the javascripted menu links.
Make sure all your main links reach back to your opening page.
Put text in pages, not in a database:
Text which is in a database is invisible to search engines. Put your
text on plain pages, or in PDF documents (these are now indexed by
search engines and can be protected).
Hidden text and other tricks:
Don't bother. Search engines are getting more and more clever, and
some are programmed to deliberately ignore sites which use trickery
to get their attention.
Lots more advice can be found at:
http://webservices.nic.in/promote/popularity.htm (a bit dated)

4) Page Ranking
This is the most important way to get noticed today.
Page Ranking means the number of sites which link to you.
If lots of sites link to your site, then you must be good.
Well, that's what the search engines think, and I think
search engines are going to think this way for some time.
Google invented this method, and it is one of the things which
made it such a useful search engine. They use a number of criteria
to decide which pages to list at the top of the results, and
Page Ranking is currently the most important factor. Others
have followed their lead, so you need to make links.
You could cheat by making links on all the free links pages around
the web - but this won't work very well. Search engines know about
cheating, and they ignore pages which are just a hotch-potch of links.
This brings me to a proposal...

5) Let's Co-operate
Let's help each other out. If we link to each other's sites, our
Page Rank will increase. And if lots of sites all link to each other,
every site's Page Rank increases.
The linking has to be done intelligently because a search engine is
likely to recognise a simple link-exchange. So let me do the work for you.
Send me the following for your site, or for up to six main areas
of your site (if it is large and complex):
1) Title, eg: "Tyndale House Library, Cambridge UK"
2) URL, eg: "http://www.Tyndale.cam.ac.uk"
3) Description: eg:
"Tyndale House is an international center for biblical research,
founded in a spirit of loyalty to the historic Christian faith.
It is a community of scholars, working mostly at postgraduate level.
It welcomes all bona fide scholars in the field of Biblical Studies."
I will assemble these into web pages which all contributors can put
on their own sites. There is no need to make a prominent link to it
but the link should be on the home page if possible. You can
edit the pages to suit your own site's style, if you wish.
This is a legitimate and useful way in which Biblical scholars and
institutions can all help each other, so that our voice is heard
by anyone who is seeking to understand God's word.
Look forward to hearing from you (or your webmaster).

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