Like HowStuffWorks on Facebook!

How Promoting an Online Business Works

        Money | Marketing

Using Search Engines and Directories

One of the best ways to get more traffic on your site is to get a high ranking on the top search engines. Search engines are how most people find the sites they visit. They go to Google or Yahoo! or one of the other major search engines and type in words or phrases that describe what they're interested in. Then they go through the sites listed on the first page of the 100+ pages that come up. That means that even if you're on the second of the 100+ pages of search results (which is not bad considering...), you still don't have that great of a chance of getting clicked.

So how can you get to the top of that first page of sites? First, let's talk about search engines. Search engines create databases of the information on Web sites across the Internet. They categorize that information according to keywords so that users can easily find the precise information they are looking for in the more than one billion Web pages out there. While some search sites are directory-based like Yahoo!, with sites being reviewed and indexed by real live people, others depend on spiders (also called robots) that constantly crawl across the Web, visiting Web sites and indexing their content based on the text found on their pages and then following their links to other sites. Still others rank sites within search categories based on how much the sites are willing to pay for click-throughs. The sites pay nothing to be listed, but may pay a small amount for every person that clicks on the link to their site.

The current trend seems to be that the true search engines, the ones that use spiders to index the Web, are partnering with the directory-based sites. Keep an eye on future developments there. In the meantime, cover your bases by registering with everyone.

Although there are hundreds of search engines and directories (and new ones every day), there are three or four that you MUST be listed on because they drive the most traffic. First, you need to make sure you get listed in Yahoo!. Various reports say anywhere from 50% to 80% of all Web site visitors originate from a Yahoo! search. Your site needs to be there. It costs $199 to get your site reviewed by Yahoo! and will be well worth it if your site gets listed. (If it doesn't, then you're out $199.)

The next largest players are Google and Inktomi. These are both true "search engines" that crawl sites and index content and links. Submitting your site to these major players is still free, although your listing is not guaranteed, and you may also have the option of paying a fee for a premium listing (or "buying" a keyword) that will put your site at the top of the page or in a sidebar.

Inktomi doesn't maintain its own search page, but it does have many large portal partners, such as MSN, AOL, LookSmart, About, and HotBot, that use Inktomi's search database and technology. Registering your site with one of these will submit your site to all of them.