Getting Your Site Into The Indexes

By Shira

You've decided to put up a web site to advertise yourself as a dancer, teacher, or vendor. You've built a first draft, but is it ready to promote? And once you finish building it, how do you tell everyone else on the Internet that it exists? There are many ways to get the word out about a web site: too many to cover in a single article like this one. But a good place to start is submitting it to search engines like Alta Vista and directories like Yahoo. About 35% of the visitors to my web site are brought there from one of these indexes.

The information in this article was current as of January 26, 2001. However, search engines and directories are constantly changing. They terminate alliances with one partner in order to move to another. New technology players are constantly appearing on the scene. So don't be surprised if something on this page seems obsolete.

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Directory Versus Search Engine

There are two basic kinds of indexes that people can use on the Internet to find web sites that may interest them. Understanding the difference will enable you to approach the process of listing your site in a way that will maximize your visibility.

A search engine is a full-text retrieval system that indexes each and every word on each and every page of every web site it lists, and tries to arrange them into some sort of relevance ranking at the time it displays search results to a user. When a user gives a keyword to a search engine, the decision on which sites to list first is solely determined by whatever set of rules have been programmed into the search engine for making those decisions. There has been no human intervention in making value judgments as to which sites are somehow "best". Search engines are especially useful when you have a very specific topic, such as "finger cymbals" that you are trying to research. Examples of search engines are Alta Vista and HotBot. Search engines normally accept almost every web site that gets submitted to them, regardless of site quality.

A directory is a hierarchical series of menus that lead you from broad categories down into progressively narrower categories until you find the category that lists the type of web sites you are looking for. Directories are valuable when you want to browse to find a series of web sites on a broader topic such as belly dancing in general because they don't return large numbers of irrelevant sites the way a search engine might. Examples of directories are Yahoo and Online Directory Project. Directories are usually edited by human beings who review the submitted sites and accept only those they feel meet a certain quality standard. The level of "quality" required can vary from one directory to another. Typically, only the home page of the web site gets listed in a directory.

Many web index sites feature both a search engine and a directory!

For example, if you go to the web site for the search engine HotBot, you'll see the search engine option (provided by a third party called Inktomi) down the left-hand edge of the page. If you use that search option, you'll be querying the full text of actual pages in people's web sites. But you'll also see a list of categories that are typical of a directory. If you select one of those categories, it will quietly take you to the Online Directory Project directory.

In another variation, if you go to Online Directory Project, you'll see an option to search the directory. However, instead of searching a full-text index of every word on every page throughout every web site, it searches only the titles and descriptions of the sites that are listed in the directory. It doesn't examine the actual content of the pages on people's web sites at all.

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Is Your Site Ready To Promote?

Don't be in too much of a hurry to start promoting your web site! You only get one chance to make a first impression. The directories usually evaluate a new site when they receive the original submission and make a decision on whether it is good enough to get special placement in their hierarchy. After that, they rarely look at it again.

It's not easy to get directories like Yahoo and Looksmart to look at your site. Once they do, you'll want to make sure they have a favorable first impression and describe your site in a way that will make it perform well in search rankings.

So take the time to make your web site look great and load it with fascinating information before you start trying to promote it. Wait until your site is complete enough to look "finished", and has enough content to be representative of what you plan to do with it long-term. If you plan to have a section reviewing CD's of dance music, wait until you have the first couple of reviews online before you tell everyone about your site. If you plan to have a section on costuming advice, put a couple of articles online about costuming before you start advertising it.

In short, even if you plan to add more information in the future, the appearance of the site today is what determines whether the directories are willing to list it or give it special recognition. So really ask yourself whether the site is ready to have the critical eyes of strangers assessing its worth.

Resist the temptation to use "under construction" signs or messages, and don't put inactive links on your site that promise "Coming Soon!" It makes you look if you don't care enough to present a completed product. You wouldn't step on stage to do a performance wearing a work-in-progress bra whose straps weren't yet covered with trim, would you? Wouldn't you be embarrassed to have people see the telltale white bands that reveal how obviously unfinished your costume is? If you saw another dancer parading about on stage with obvious safety pins holding the trim on the edge of her skirt and veil, wouldn't you think she was tacky? Well, don't let your web site go out on the stage of the public Internet when it's obviously not even close to being finished. Those people on the Internet looking at your web site are your audience too, you know.

The web-savvy reviewers who make decisions about which sites are worthy of their directories often reject sites that are obviously still under construction. If they bother to respond to you at all, they'll tell you to come back and resubmit when your site is finished.

Put the following on your site before you tell anyone about it or submit it to any indexes:

  • Your Offerings. Information about your performances, troupe, classes you teach, and how to contact you. Include a photograph of yourself in costume. If promoting your troupe, include a photo of the troupe in costume, too.
  • Where You Are. Include your city, state/province (if applicable), and country. You'd be surprised how many people don't! Remember, the Internet is worldwide. I can tell from my web site's statistics that people do searches like, "belly dancing classes in Springfield, Massachusetts". If you don't include full information about your location, prospective students or clients who are hunting for dancers in your community might not find you! And if you just claim to be in Springfield, with no further detail, they won't know whether you're in Massachusetts, Illinois, Australia, or somewhere else entirely.
  • Your Email Address. Make it easy for people to contact you.
  • Links. A links page with no fewer than three links on it to sites that you believe likely to be interesting to belly dancers. Ask the owners of those sites to link back to you in return.
  • Product Information. If you're selling merchandise on your web site, put up two html pages that describe the products and tell how to order a catalog. Include at least one or two photographs of your merchandise.
  • Compelling Content. This is the one most belly dance sites are lacking, and yet this is the one that will attract visitors to your web site. Include at least 2-3 articles that belly dancers would enjoy reading. These could be humorous, instructional, opinion pieces, advice, poems, or whatever comes to mind. These articles must not be about you or anything you are selling. They should be something that a person will enjoy reading even if she's not in a position to attend your classes or purchase your merchandise. Directory editors often scrutinize the content of a site to determine whether it has that special "something" that makes it stand out from the masses. Often the quality and interest factor of your content plays a key role.

Don't tell anybody except your closest friends about your site until after you have completed all of the above. I'll repeat: You only get one chance to make a first impression! Assuming you want your site to be visible in directories and search engines, wait until all of these items are online on your site before you start promoting it.

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Adding Polish

You may need to make some changes to the content of your home page to ensure that once somebody does find it in a search, the description they see makes it look like a great site to visit. The different search engines vary in how they decide what to display, so there are multiple things you will need to scrutinize on your site.

HTML Title

What is in your "Title" field? Most search engines look at the Title section of your page to determine what to display as its title in the list of items found. If you don't pay special care to put a compelling title on your page, the underlined blue text will probably say, "Untitled" or something equally bad, and people who see that in a list of search results probably won't visit your site. To define a title, put this in your html: <HEAD><TITLE>Your Compelling Title</TITLE></HEAD> Before doing this, check whether your authoring software has already put in the <HEAD> and </HEAD> tags. If so, you don't have to repeat them, just put your title somewhere between them.

Meta Tags

Do you have a meta tag for your site's description? A meta tag is a special piece of html that provides a description of your site's purpose. Somewhere between the <HEAD> and </HEAD> tags, insert a meta tag that summarizes in 2-3 sentences what your site is about. Some search engines, like Infoseek, display the contents of your "description" tag after your site's title. If you don't have one, they'll either display nothing, or they'll use the first few sentences of the text on your page. Keep it short. Some display only the first 150 or fewer characters of your description, so put your most important text in the opening words! Refer to an instructional book about web sites to learn more about meta tags.

Opening Text

What is the very first text to appear on your page? Some search engines have a philosophy that meta tags include only rubbish that's meant to mislead the user, so they ignore the contents of them. Instead, for a site's description they display the first 2-3 sentences that appear on the page. So make sure those opening words provide a brief but compelling synopsis of what your site contains!

Certain web authoring programs like Microsoft's Front Page automatically stick navigational stuff like "About Me", "My Pictures", "Links", at the top of your page. Therefore, that's what some search engines will display as your site's description when someone does a search. So don't just accept what your authoring software automatically generates. Give careful thought to what appears at the top of your page.

First Glance

Editors of directories often glance quickly at your first page and use what they see to determine whether the site deserves further exploration or not. The graphics, links, and introductory text that are visible in the opening window of your first page, without scrolling, should identify all the important things that your site contains, and they should do so in an appealing way. If your opening screen alienates the editor with huge graphic files that take forever to load, disorganized page design, "under construction" signs, and boring self-aggrandizement, then your site will probably be rejected.

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How To Submit Your Site

Don't Bother With "Submission Services"

First, don't waste your time or money using a service that claims it will list your site in all the online indexes for you. Why? Because although my site is listed in more than 100 indexes, 87% of the users who found my site came from just 10 of the online indexes that are out there.

Some of the submission services have a free service that lists you in a small number of search engines and directories--around 30 or so. Even though they're free, my advice on those is: don't bother! I tried using Submit-It, which was supposed to list my site in about 30 search engines, and I found it to be just as much work as visiting each site individually myself. Plus, the Submit-It people started sending me junk e-mail, and worse yet, they sold my e-mail address to other parties who now are also sending me junk e-mail!

So, instead of using one of those services, just visit the sites I describe below in this article and submit your site yourself. It's just as easy as using one of the services, and you can spend your money on something more worthwhile!

Telling The Indexes That Your Site Exists

These indexes don't magically "discover" your web site. You have to tell them that your web site exists. That means you must visit that index yourself with your browser, and select a choice that says something like, "Add An Entry", "Add A Page", or "Add URL". You then must fill in the blanks of an online form that asks you for the address of your web site and possibly additional information. A week or two later, or sometimes much longer, your web site will be available for searching.

If submitting to a directory, check whether there are descriptions available that identify what types of sites are appropriate to a given category. If you submit your site to an inappropriate category, the editor's first impression of you is that you don't respect his time. That's not a good way to maximize your site's chances of being accepted! So, if your site contains solely a collection of links leading to other belly dance sites, the right part of Open Directory Project to submit it to would be the Link Collections subcategory for Middle Eastern. But if your site's content is promotional information about your teaching and performing, submit it to the applicable subcategory of Teachers & Performers.

When you arrive at the "Submit A Site" screen, first read what it says. Some search engines will tell you to submit only your top page, and they will then "spider" your site to find the rest of your pages. That means they have an automatic piece of software that will explore the links on your top page to find out what else your site has. Others will advise you to individually submit every page that you want indexed. In contrast, directories usually want you to submit only the very top page of your site. If it doesn't specify, submit only the top page.

Do You Need To Pay?

Some of the directories (notably Yahoo and Looksmart, plus companies like Excite who purchase the use of their directory data) charge you money for "preferred" treatment in getting your submission looked at. Typically, this price is in the $100-$200 range. Do you need to pay it?

The answer: For Yahoo, no! If you pay the money, they'll look at your site sooner than they otherwise might. So, paying $200 might guarantee that your site will be looked at within 48 hours, as opposed to 2 months' or more turnaround. But for Looksmart, that's the only way to submit a site.

However, if you dig around a little, you'll discover that most of these sites also offer a way to get listed without paying any money. That's because they know that if they list only the people willing to pay a lot, the people who use their sites to search will get frustrated at the limited number of entries found, and will go elsewhere to more complete directories for their searching.

Also note that if you list yourself in the Online Directory Project, which is absolutely free, your information will pop up on far more web portals than it would if you listed your site in the ones that demand money from you. So don't pay the money unless you truly think it's vital to be listed quickly. Still not convinced? I've never paid anybody any money to list my site, and I get over 4,000 visitors per month referred to my site by search engines and directories.

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Relevance Ranking

Will your site appear at the top of the list of sites found in a search, or will it be buried in position 527? The content of your site will determine this.

When someone enters a keyword to a search engine, it looks at its index of all words that appeared on all pages of all web sites it knows about. It then attempts to attach some level of importance to each individual web page it finds, which is known as "relevance ranking". It compares the keywords entered by the user against the actual words found in the text of the page, and uses whatever technique was designed by its programmers to decide which sites to list first. The details of the technique vary from one index to another, but here are some tips on how to make your site perform as well as it can:

  • Use Each Important Keyword In Your Text. If you want people who are searching for a particular keyword to find your site, you need to make sure that word appears somewhere on your page.
  • Meta Tags. Use "meta tags" to insert a keyword list into the hidden "header" portion of your page. Some search engines use them, while others don't. The keywords can include alternate spellings of keywords (including misspellings) you think should lead to your site. For example, if you think that people who enter "belly dancing" should find your site, then your meta tag's keyword list should include these words: belly dancing, bellydancing, dance, dancers, bellydance, danceing, bellydanceing, belly dncing
  • Set Up Link Exchange Relationships. Some search engines such as Google look at how many other sites link to you when deciding how high to rank your site. So contact owners of other belly dance web sites and offer to link to them if they'll link to you in return.

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The Top Search Engines

Okay, you've gone over your site with a fine-toothed comb and perfected it according to all the advice above. Here are the search engines that will index every word on every page they can find of your site. Although some of them will tell you to submit only your top page, it's okay to individually submit every page if you feel like it--the search engine's automated software will figure it out. Once you've submitted your web site, allow about 3 weeks before you can expect to see it appear in the index.

Alta Vista

You can add up to a maximum of five pages from your site to Alta Vista at no charge. It uses the contents of your meta tags to display a description of your site.


This search engine's relevance ranking gives top listing to sites that have the most links pointing to them from other people's web sites. Their assumption is that the more sites who link to a given site, the more interesting or important that site must be! To generate your search placement on Google, arrange for mutual link exchanges with fellow belly dance sites.

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Because directories are edited by busy human beings, allow 6-8 weeks before you can expect to see your web site listed, if they choose to accept you. Most directories don't notify you of whether you've been accepted or rejected: you just have to go back and check.


It can take many months for Yahoo to get around to adding your site-- if they don't reject you! Fewer than 40% of the web sites submitted to Yahoo actually get listed. To get them to look at your site faster, you can pay them $200, but there's no guarantee they'll accept you. Do everything you can to add interesting content and make your site look attractive before submitting. The good news is, if you make the effort and your site gets accepted, Yahoo will probably bring you a large number of users.

Open Directory Project

The Middle Eastern Dance category has several subcategories. To avoid delays in having your submission approved, read the category descriptions before submitting, and choose the most relevant subcategory.


You'll need to pay $100-$200 just to have them look at your site, and there is no guarantee it will be accepted. To avoid wasting your money, do everything you can to add interesting content to your site and make it look attractive before submitting.

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Don't Bother!

The following sites receive their data from the same sources as the above sites. So, if you list yourself in the above sites, then you don't need to take any further action to get listed in these:

  • WebCrawler. At Gets its data from Looksmart.
  • Microsoft Network. At Gets its data from Looksmart.
  • Ask Jeeves. At Gets its data from Open Directory Project.
  • GoTo. At Gets its data from LookSmart.
  • AOL. At Gets its data from Open Directory Project.

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After You Have Submitted Your Site

Go back to each search engine and directory about a month or two after you have submitted it, and check on whether your site has been added. Look at how it appears compared to other listings. Did your title come out the way you wanted? How does your description look? I found that I needed to modify details of my site several times before my home page came out the way I wanted on all the search engines. For example, I re-wrote the opening sentence on my web site several times before I found something that both looked good to people who arrived at my site and also looked good in the search engine listings.

With search engines, you rarely need to re-submit your site after you have modified it. They periodically send "robots" out to visit the web sites that they have listed to see whether they have changed, and automatically update the index if necessary. However, the human editors at directories rarely come back to visit sites they have added or rejected in the past. So, if you make major changes of the sort that would be likely to have a strong influence on an editor's opinion of your site, you may want to try re-submitting to directories.

If you move your web site to a new address, be sure to go back to all the directories and search engines and re-submit the new address. Although they sometimes have automated utilities to detect your move, you can't rely on that. If you want the search engines and directories to generate traffic for you, make sure they are pointing to the correct part of cyberspace to find you!

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Things To Avoid

There is a constant war between the indexes and webmasters who are trying to "beat the system" using less-than-ethical techniques to get their sites ranked higher than they deserve to be. The search engines are constantly on the lookout for such sites, and penalize them if detected.

Therefore, don't decide to try the following tactics to get your site ranked higher. The search engines already know about them, and they'll penalize you if you try:

  • Sticking keywords in your meta tags that have absolutely nothing to do with the content of your site.
  • Sticking repeated keywords on your page that are in exactly the same text color as the background.
  • Senseless repetition of words.
  • Text so tiny that it doesn't display on the page with a list of your favorite keywords.

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