Once a site is built, it needs to be made visible to the WWW. This means that links are established to your site from a number of other sites on the web; sites to which yours is relevent, directories, and search engines. Getting these links is part of the process of web site promotion, which can also include other means of bringing your site to people's attention, such as advertising in other media, such as print publications. If you're planning to also use the other, non-Internet media, then of course it'll be a big help if your domain name is easily memorable (it'll help on the net too).
You can either employ someone (e.g. an agency) to do it for you, or you can try to do it yourself. As with most other non-trivial tasks, you'll generally get better results by using professionals, but the cost may be substantial. And frankly, the web site promotion business has more than its share of charlatans and sharks. On the other hand, doing it yourself is going to take a lot of time and effort, and you run the risk of doing more harm than good.
Is Your Site Ready...
You've gotten your brand-new site up, and it "looks good". Now you're anxious to get some visitors. Shouldn't you start promoting the site right away? Wait - let's just make sure the site is ready ...
...for Search Engine Spiders?
The search engines provide an important component of most sites' traffic; usually, the majority. So it's important to be sure that the spiders (programs that visit your site to gather data for the search engines) get complete and accurate information from your pages. The basic method they use is to study your keyword distribution - e.g. if you mention 'widgets' early on and often, especially in your page title and headings, then they will conclude that this is rather likely to be a page about widgets. If you mention widgets only a couple of times and then only in the text and at the end of the page, then they will conclude that this page isn't much about widgets. However, they will recognise and penalise 'keyword spamming' - e.g. if you start the page with 'widgets widgets widgets widgets widgets widgets widgets widgets ...' Really, the best way to deal with this is to imagine that the robot is a member of your target audience, and treat them just the same. Your users will react to sensible clues and cues about the subject matter or your page, such as descriptive titles and headings; they won't be impressed if you feeel the need to try and cheat.
I theorise that the best optimisation strategy is (or will be) to treat the SEs as if they were people. After all, an SE should act on the user's behalf, selecting the most relevant and trustworthy results for their searches. It should look at a web page in as nearly the same way as a person would. Current technologies cannot yet do that very well, but Google is doing a respectable job, thanks mainly to their PageRank algo. And I'm sure they have researchers busy improving it, making it more and more 'human'. Not (yet) in the AI sense, but perhaps one day..
So the question becomes, what do people do on meeting a new web page? They look for quick clues as to what the page is about, e.g. title, headings, introductory text, images. This implies that the most effective optimisation method is to identify the keywords that you want associated with the page, and then, make them prominent in the title, headings, introductory text, image alt texts, etc. Try to minimise any dilution by 'chatty' verbiage - get to the point quickly!
Having said, 'treat the SEs like people', I now qualify that. You would like any people who scour the web on you behalf, to know more about analysing web pages than you do; to be more like good librarians for example. A librarian should know which books are authoritative in their field, and how they are classified by Dewey and LoC. Similarly, an SE should know which web sites are most respected for given topics, e.g. by number and quality of links from related sites - this is a major component of Google's PageRank:
"PageRank relies on the uniquely democratic nature of the web by using its vast link structure as an indicator of an individual page's value. In essence, Google interprets a link from page A to page B as a vote, by page A, for page B. But, Google looks at more than the sheer volume of votes, or links a page receives; it also analyzes the page that casts the vote. Votes cast by pages that are themselves "important" weigh more heavily and help to make other pages "important."
Important, high-quality sites receive a higher PageRank, which Google remembers each time it conducts a search. Of course, important pages mean nothing to you if they don't match your query. So, Google combines PageRank with sophisticated text-matching techniques to find pages that are both important and relevant to your search. Google goes far beyond the number of times a term appears on a page and examines all aspects of the page's content (and the content of the pages linking to it) to determine if it's a good match for your query.
Theoretically, meta tags for keywords and descriptions (synopses) should be helpful to a 'web librarian', especially for pages that are more graphics than text. Sadly, abuse has led to many SEs deciding to ignore meta tags, or at least, to not trust them without corroboration. Still, they can be useful to people such as myself, who manually index web sites.
The SE optimisation techniques I've suggested aren't novel or perhaps not even unknown to anyone who's studied SEs, but I think that the idea of treating SEs like human librarians can be a helpful model to keep in mind as you develop your web pages. If you were a librarian, what would you be looking for in this page? What would help you to classify and summarise it quickly? How authoritative is it?
My viewpoint is probably somewhat idealistic. The SEs aren't yet that smart, and if you want to take advantage of any opportunity to promote your site, then perhaps there are better optimisation methods. I think that what I'm suggesting is that the most ethical strategy is to tailor your site for your users, and the ethical SEs will reward you by bringing them to you. If users like the SE results (such as from Google) they'll continue to use it. They'll like the results if they match what they would have concluded if they'd looked at a billion or so web pages...
Once you're ready, you should submit your site to at least the following search engines:
Generally, the only information you need to submit to search engines is your URL (sometimes there might be more). However, directories need more information than just the URL, so that they know how to classify your site. As an example of how to prepare for web site promotion, I show here the key elements concerning the Kosmoi site.
- Kosmoi: Worlds of Science, Nature, and Technology
- Science, Nature, Space, Technology, Web Design, Life, Universe, Books, Posters, Software, Videos, Telescopes, Games
- Articles, books, posters, and web resources for all interested in the wonders of our Cosmos, covering Science and Technology, Space and Astronomy, Life and Nature.
- Science and Technology
The Title appears in the home page's <title> tag. The Keywords appear in the keywords <meta> tag, and throughout the page, especially headings. The Description appears in the description <meta> tag, and the first sentence appears very early on in the page. The Category is the classification of your site, and may vary somewhat between directories. If they don't have a category matching your site closely enough, you probably don't need to be listed there.
Here are some of the major directories: