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Search Engine Strategies 99

Magazine article Information Today

Search Engine Strategies 99

Article excerpt

Cautious detente pervades Internet relations

Most Web searchers don't realize it, but there's a virtual Cold War going on behind the scenes of the Internet. Reminiscent of Kipling's "Great Game" (the lengthy contest among 19th-century European powers for an imperial stake in Central Asia), it's a rough-and-tumble struggle that pits Webmasters staking claims in cyberspace against the ostensibly objective Net cartographers attempting to create accurate and reliable guides of the Web.

Search Engine Strategies 99, held in San Francisco this past November, was essentially a high-level summit for key players in this Great Game, bringing Web content creators, marketers, and promoters face to face with representatives of the major search engines and directories. Though they should be natural partners, content creators and the compilers of Web indexes and directories view each other with waxy caution.

Ironically, the root cause of this antipathy lies with a third group of people, whose shadowy presence was felt but unseen at the conference. These are the unethical Web site operators who subvert the process of compiling reliable Web guides by "spamdexing" the search services, overwhelming them with millions of bogus pages in misguided and often futile attempts to draw attention to themselves.

That there's even a need for a conference on a topic as fundamentally straight-forward as creating reliable indexes and directories dramatically illustrates the relative youth and chaotic nature of the Web. Though everyone at the conference was striving for similar goals, the lack of standards, consistent procedures, and even resources to keep up with the exploding growth of the Web made consensus among the players all but impossible.

Search Engine Strategies 99 was sponsored by and moderated by Danny Sullivan, the respected editor of Search Engine Watch. The conference featured intensive "how-to" sessions for Web content creators, offering an impressive array of strategies and tactics for achieving prominent visibility in search engines and directories. The conference concluded with panels featuring representatives from the major Web directories and search engines, with brief presentations and some lively question-and-answer interchanges. Here are some of the key highlights of the conference.

The Song of the Web Page

Danny Sullivan's keynote presentation was an introduction to search engines and directories, focusing on the issues involved in getting Web pages listed and favorably placed in search results. To illustrate the importance of crafting "search-friendly" pages, Sullivan related an amusing anecdote about his Welsh father-in-law's rugby team. After matches, all team members go to the local pub, and after imbibing enough, each sings a song. Every man's song is unique, instantly recognizable as a personal trademark of sorts.

Just as "each man has a song, each page has its own song," said Sullivan. Web authors should isolate and focus on the unique characteristics of each individual page when optimizing them for search engines. This will make them stand out from others and, in theory, rise to the top of search results for their unique keywords.

Shari Thurow, Webmaster and marketing director for, told the audience that she had a 100-percent success rate in achieving top-20 listings in search engines for her clients. She offered five rules of Web design for creating search-engine-friendly pages: Make pages easy to read, easy to navigate, easy to find, consistent in design and layout, and quick to download.

Noting that search engine optimization is becoming increasingly difficult as the Web grows larger, she urged the audience to consult with specialists. "Bring in a search engine specialist early in the game," to save the time and expense of having to undertake a costly redesign of a site, she said.

Metatags as Magnifying Glasses

In the panel on metatags, participants discussed the most effective ways to use "keyword" and "description" metatags that appear in the source code of a Web page but are not visible to a Web browser. …

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