A quick search in Google, Bing or Yahoo! can tell you if your web site is taking advantage of the millions of searches being conducted each day.
A lot of businesses have bought a domain and used some build-a-website-quickly tools in order to be found online. As a result, their websites look nice but don’t come anywhere near doing what they need to do, attract prospects. But some of the most commonly missing pieces can be easily found and fixed. They are:
- Missing or malformed page titles
- Missing or malformed page descriptions
- Pages missing from the search engines
I’m assuming you know why it’s very very important for the search engines (Google, Bing and Yahoo!) to find your website and to understand what searchers are your best prospects. So let’s get into how the search engines do that.
Search engines send “bots” out onto the Internet on seek and record missions. They report back everything they can find. An important thing to know about bots is they are automated programs. They don’t have eyes. They can’t see your pretty graphics. So if your best sales pitch and product names or site copy are represented in beautiful graphics or Flash animation, your most important site visitor, the search bot, can’t read it and will have no idea what your site is about. The graphics in this post are good examples of text in graphics that the search bots can’t see.
What search bots do is “read” all textual (ie. not graphic) content on your website pages. It uses this information to make sense of what each page is about. That way, when someone searches for the best german shepherd dog food, your page about german shepherd dog food pops up high in the search results.
A couple page elements that aren’t visible to us human visitors but are much needed by the search engines is the page title and page description. The search engines use these to 1) understand what the page is about and 2) display as the page’s listing in their search results. If you don’t provide a title or description as part of the page construction, you are missing out on the opportunity to sell people on the value of clicking on your page in the search results.
Here’s an example of a page without a title (click to enlarge):
Here’s an example of a page without a description (click to enlarge):
You see that the opportunities to convince searchers to click on these search results is all but lost. When no explicity page description is provided, the search engines will grap whatever they can find. Sometimes it works, sometimes it looks like what you see above, jibberish.
How can you check your pages for proper titles and descriptions? There’s two ways.
- Load the page in your browser and then choose “View – Source” from the pull-down menu of your browser. You will see the source code used to display all the inner workings of your site’s page. You’re looking for
- Go to a search engine and perform a search for the web address (aka the URL) of the page in question. It will look like this:
Now you can see how your best prospects see your website’s pages in the search engines. But we’re assuming the search engines have found your website’s pages. How do you know that they have? You could check one page at a time by entering the web address for each page (tiresome) or you can use a special search parameter, “site:.” By adding “site:” (without the quotes) to the front of a domain in the search box, you can see all pages the search engine knows about for that site. Here’s an example:
If you need to tweak your page titles and descriptions, you will have to look at your page building software to find how it enables you to edit these items or you can manually edit the source code file (experts only!). Page titles should be less than 70 characters long and describe what the page is about, who you are, what you offer and, if local business is important to you, where you do business. Some examples of good basic page titles are:
- Products | Bedford Dairy Farms – The freshest dairy in Centerville
- RSVP to our Launch Party in Salem Oregon – GreenEggz
- About Us | Welding Tools for the Blind | Frizzers.com
The page description appears under the page title in the search results. It’s you opportunity in 160 characters or less to sell the prospect on clicking to visit your web page. This should excite, tease or otherwise tell the prospect that what they’re looking for can be found on your web page. If you don’t provide a page description, search engines will guess at using content on the page or from your website’s listings in related directories (e.g. DMOZ.org or Google Places).
To close, here are some “rules” you should be aware of regarding titles and descriptions:
- No two pages on your website should have the same page title.
- Page titles should be less than 70 characters (the search engines will simply cut them otherwise)
- Page descriptions should be less than 160 characters ( ” ” )
If your website lacks page titles and descriptions and/or isn’t being indexed by the search engines, it’s much like a house without windows; it looks great but doesn’t rven come close to doing what you want it to.