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Listing Your Web Site in the Search Tools

by Jerry Honeycutt, Robert Meegan, and Mark R. Brown

Promoting Your Pages

Current estimates show that the Web has more than 20 million pages. Even using the fastest connection and taking just seconds to glance at each page would take a reader the better part of a decade to see them all, by which time perhaps 10 times as many new pages would have appeared. Because the Web is so huge, it is very unlikely that many people will find your page by pure chance. In fact, if your page has no links leading to it from other pages, chances are good that no one will ever find it.

Because the reason to create a Web page in the first place is to publish information, you want to encourage other people to visit your page. The best way to bring people to your page is to make the job of finding it as easy as possible. This chapter not only shows you how to list your site with the best search tools on the Internet but also explains other methods you can use to get your site noticed.

Understanding the Kind of Advertising You Need

The type of advertising that you do depends greatly on the nature of your page. If you are doing a page as a hobby, spending a thousand dollars to get a week's worth of exposure on one of the popular sites probably isn't worth the cost to you. On the other hand, if your site is the home page of a major multinational corporation, the attention that a professionally designed advertisement can bring more than justifies the expense.

NOTE: Although the term advertising is used extensively in this chapter, most of the methods listed here are free. A better term might be Web page promotion.

With this point in mind, you should take the first step toward advertising on the Web, which is to answer the following questions about your site:

If your page is an extension of your favorite hobby or interest and your primary intention is to share information with other enthusiasts, you can mount a low-key advertising campaign. Most of the people who find your page will do so through links with other pages that cover the same topics. Think hard about the sites that you like to visit, and you'll probably find that most of your visitors like the same sites.

NOTE: Even if you are starting a page just as a hobby, it doesn't need to end there. Many of the most successful aspects of the Web began as part-time activities.

Nonprofit organizations can achieve tremendous exposure on the Web, far out of proportion to the amount of money invested. These organizations often have enough volunteer manpower to find a large number of free locations to advertise the site.

For a small business, the Web can be an excellent place to advertise. On the Web, unlike most other forms of advertising, even a small company can display itself in a way that is as impressive as that of a huge conglomerate. Unlike the print world, the Web gives everyone access to full-color images and advertising regardless of budget. In the democratic world of the Web, all addresses are equally impressive, giving your company real estate that is just as valuable as that of your larger competitors.

If your company is a mail-order or service business that can support customers around the country, or even the world, investing a greater proportion of money and energy in Web advertising may well be worthwhile. If you work at one of these companies, you may want to consider using a commercial marketing service.

Listing with WWW Search Engines

Most people find what they're looking for on the Web by using one of the many available search tools. These systems are huge databases containing as many as 20 million Web pages, coupled with powerful indexing software that can conduct quick searches. Many of the search engines are run on mainframe computers or large parallel processors that can handle hundreds of searches simultaneously. Other search engines run on arrays of Windows NT servers.

In the beginning of the Web, universities ran the first search servers, but now private companies have taken over most of these early efforts. What benefit do these companies get in return for providing free searches on their expensive computers? Advertising! The index sites are some of the most frequently visited on the Web, and those who maintain these sites can charge high rates to the companies that advertise on these pages. That doesn't mean that they charge you to list your site, though. Many search companies--Yahoo!, AltaVista, InfoSeek, and Excite, for example--have become so successful that they're now publicly traded on the stock exchange or have been bought by larger companies.

NOTE: WebTrack's study of Web advertising discovered that 5 of the top 10 sites in terms of revenues from advertising were search tools.

In addition to the older sites, more than a hundred newer indexes are available. Some of them are restricted to a specific topic, and others are still very small, but all offer the opportunity to get your site noticed.

As you explore the Web, you soon discover that it possesses its own collection of fauna. The wildlife of the Web consists of autonomous programs that work their way across the millions of links that connect the sites, gathering information along the way.

These programs are known by such colorful names as robots, crawlers, walkers, spiders (a generic term), worms, and (in the case of one Australian program) wombats. What do these spiders do? Almost without exception, they arrive at a page, index it, and search it for any links to other pages. These new links are recorded and followed in turn. When all the links on a particular chain have been followed, the next path is restored from the database and the process continues. Examples of these engines are Lycos and WebCrawler, which you learn more about later in this chapter. A large number of special-purpose spiders are also used to generate statistics regarding the Web. These programs do not generate databases that can be used for text searching, though.

NOTE: Most spiders index the title and content of each Web page they visit. Some search tools--AltaVista and Infoseek--also index the <META> tag if it's included on the page. (You learn about the <META> tag later in this chapter.)

The alternatives to these spiders are the structured systems. Whereas spiders don't organize links hierarchically, structured systems store Web pages indexed against a series of categories and subcategories. You browse or search through the categories looking for entries. The hierarchical nature of these structured systems appeals to many people who are more comfortable using an index where they can see all the categories. For example, Yahoo! is a very popular index that almost looks more like an online service than a search tool.

The type of system on which you perform your searches is entirely a matter of personal taste. From the standpoint of advertising your site, you need to be aware of the differences. Some of the structured systems restrict you to a limited number of index entries. This limitation can mean that people who are looking for just the things that you offer may not find you because they are looking in the wrong place.

The Major Search Engines

A complete listing of indexes would be out of date as soon as it was finished. New sites are added monthly, and even sites that are maintained by large corporations have disappeared. I have listed a few of the main sites in this section, but you should take the time to do some of your own searching when you decide to publish your pages.

In the big league is the handful of sites that claim to have indexed a sizable portion of the Web. These sites are the most popular systems, used by most Web surfers. You need to register with these servers first to maximize your exposure. Table 40.1 lists the major search engines on which I recommend you list your Web site. The sections that follow describe each search tool in more detail.

Table 40.1  Major Search Engines

Name URL
AltaVista http://www.altavista.digital.com
Excite http://www.excite.com
Infoseek http://www.infoseek.com
Lycos http://www.lycos.com
WebCrawler http://www.webcrawler.com
Yahoo! http://www.yahoo.com

All of the sites in Table 40.1 are free to the user. They're sponsored by advertisers. Your listings are also free.

CAUTION: Some of the earliest robots were poorly written and could swamp a server with hundreds of requests within seconds of each other. Fortunately, most recent robots are courteous enough not to overload their hosts. If your server does crash, check the logs for a single site that retrieved many documents within a short period of time. If such a site exists, try to contact the postmaster at the site that made the requests and let him or her know about the problems you saw.

AltaVista  AltaVista (see Figure 40.1) is a search engine that's owned and operated by Digital. It started indexing the Web in the summer of 1995 and went public with 16 million indexed pages in December of 1995. AltaVista gets about 30 million hits per day.

FIG. 40.1
Click Add URL to add your site to AltaVista.

AltaVista scours the Web looking for sites to index. When it finds a site, it indexes the site three levels deep. That is, it indexes the home page, any pages to which the home page is linked, and any pages to which the second-level pages are linked. When AltaVista indexes a page, it indexes the full text of the page. It stores the results in its database, on which a user's search is performed.

NOTE: If your Web site changes, you don't need to relist it with AltaVista or most of the other search engines. AltaVista visits its sites periodically, reindexing the contents of the site that have changed. AltaVista is unique in that it notes how often a site changes, and adjusts the frequency of its visits to a given site based on the frequency of its changes.

To list your site with AltaVista, open AltaVista (http://www.altavista.digital.com) in your Web browser and click the Add/Remove URL link at the bottom of the page. Follow the instructions you see on the next page. To remove your site from AltaVista, follow the instructions you find at this Web site.

Excite  Excite (see Figure 40.2) started in 1993. It currently indexes more than 50 million Web pages, making it one of the largest databases on the Web. What makes Excite unique among the search engines is that it also contains over 60,000 reviews of individual Web sites. Thus you can get a third-party perspective on the type and quality of information at a particular Web site before you visit.

FIG. 40.2
Click Add URL to add your site to Excite.

Excite does a full-text index, just like AltaVista. However, Excite also does a concept-based index. That is, if Excite finds the words Dog and Food on your Web site, those words will match a user's search if he or she uses the terms Pet and Food. A user is more likely to find your site on Excite because you don't have to be nearly as careful about picking just the right words.

Like AltaVista, Excite indexes a site three levels deep: the home page, its links, and the next level of links. Excite reindexes its site about every two weeks.

To list your site with Excite, open Excite in your Web browser (http://www.excite.com) and click Add URL link at the bottom of the page. Follow the instructions on the subsequent Web page. To remove your site from AltaVista, follow the instructions you find at this Web site.

Robot Spiders
If a spider wants to visit your site, there's really nothing you can do to prevent it. Your site is on the Internet, and the pages are available for the spider to access. On the other hand, if you want to keep spiders off your Web site so that they don't affect its performance, most spiders will honor your request if you add a file called ROBOTS.TXT to the root directory of your Web server.
Creating this file is easy. Create a new text file in your root directory called ROBOTS.TXT. Add a line that begins with the field name User-agent. This field must then contain the name of the robot that you want to restrain. You can have multiple User-agent fields, or you can exclude all agents not specifically mentioned in a User-agent field by using a field value of *. The line following each User-agent field should begin with the field name Disallow:. This field should contain an URL path. The robot named in the User-agent field will ignore any URL that begins with the path specified in the Disallow field.
Here are some examples you can use:

# Any text that begins with a pound-sign is treated as a comment
User-agent: Webcrawler # Applies to the robot named Webcrawler
Disallow: /webpages/data/ # Webcrawler will skip URLs in this path
# This example is the universal "do not disturb" sign
User-agent: * # All robots
Disallow: / # Every URL begins with a / in the path

Infoseek  Infoseek started as a very meager search tool in January 1994, but it's all grown up now (see Figure 40.3). Infoseek indexes more than 50 million Web pages and is a major contender for the best search tool on the Internet.

FIG. 40.3
Click Add Site to add your site to Infoseek.

Like the other tools, Infoseek does a full-text index. However, its indexes are only two levels deep, and it only visits your site every three weeks, instead of every two weeks.

To list your site with Infoseek, open Infoseek (http://www.infoseek.com) in your Web browser. Then click the Add URL link at the bottom of the page. Follow the instructions you see on the next page. To remove your site from Infoseek, follow the instructions you find at this Web site.

TIP: When submitting your Web site to a spider, only submit the top-level page (home page). The spider will traverse your site to find other pages linked to the home page.

Lycos  Lycos (see Figure 40.4) is one of the granddaddies of the Internet and has gone through some huge changes during its lifetime. Its user interface is greatly improved, its index is larger, and its hierarchical database is better organized than before.

FIG. 40.4
Click Add Your Site to Lycos to add your site to Lycos.

Lycos doesn't do a full text index like the other search tools. Instead, it creates an abstract from your home page that describes the contents of your site. Lycos indexes your site three levels deep, and it revisits sites about every two weeks.

To list your site with Lycos, open it (http://www.lycos.com) and click Add Your Site to Lycos at the bottom of the page. Follow the instructions you see on the subsequent Web page.

NOTE: When you submit your Web site to a search engine, don't expect immediate results. Although the spider might index your site immediately, you can expect a two-to-four week wait before your site actually shows up in the search database.

WebCrawler  WebCrawler (see Figure 40.5) started as an educational project in 1994. America Online purchased it in 1995. Today, WebCrawler gets about three million hits per day.

FIG. 40.5
Click Add URL to add your site to WebCrawler.

WebCrawler does a full-text index. It only indexes your site one level deep, however, so it only takes information from your home page. In addition, WebCrawler visits its sites about once a month. Consequently, WebCrawler has taken a beating in the press. PC Magazine recently gave WebCrawler a failing grade. You should not ignore WebCrawler, however, because it has a very large following given that it's owned by America Online.

To list your site with WebCrawler, open WebCrawler's Add URL page at http://www.webcrawler.com/Help/GetListed/AddURLS.html. You might also want to check out their search engine tips at http://www.webcrawler.com/Help/GetListed/HelpAddURL.html.

Yahoo!  Yahoo! (started in 1994 as a hobby of its creators) is my favorite search tool. Unlike the other tools, Yahoo! is not a worm. It categorizes Web sites that users submit into a hierarchical index. You find what you're looking for by either searching the hierarchy or traversing down each category until you find a Web site in which you're interested. Yahoo! (see Figure 40.6) is one of the best-organized hierarchical indexes on the Internet. Beyond indexing Web sites, however, Yahoo! provides dozens of other services. For example, Yahoo! categorizes Web sites by their regional areas, such as my hometown of Frisco, Texas. It also provides telephone books (white and yellow pages) in which you can look up a phone number and maps so that you can find a restaurant near you or get directions to your favorite computer store.

FIG. 40.6
You'll find Yahoo! on the Internet at http://www.yahoo.com.

Add your Web site to Yahoo! by following the instructions at http://www.yahoo.com/docs/info/include.html.

Using Submission Services

You do not always have to do all the work yourself. Several good services submit your pages to the major search systems for you. Many of these services charge for this function, but a few services perform the work for free.

Submit It! is a nice forms-based system. You provide all the relevant data for your page, and Submit It! registers you with your choices of more than a dozen popular search tools (see Figure 40.7). This service is free and can help you hit most of the major search sites. You can found Submit It! at http://www.submit-it.com.

Many other submission services are also available on the Web. Table 40.2 lists a few to get you started.

Table 40.2  Submission Services

Name Free? URL
AAA Internet Promotions No http://www.websitepromote.com
Ace Basic No http://sffa/acebase.html
1 2 3 Add Masters Yes http://www.netfit.com/123-add-masters/index.shtml

FIG. 40.7
You can use Submit It! to register with multiple search engines.

Just as with the search tools, any list of services on the Web is obsolete almost as fast as it is generated. Your best bet is to do a little checking on your own to see what else is out there. A good place to start is the Web Announcements topic on Yahoo!.

The big advantage of a submission service is that it cuts down on the amount of work that you have to do. The disadvantage is that your submissions are made automatically, using the same categories and keywords for each database. This approach is probably sufficient if your page is personal or is intended for a specific audience.

If your page is the Web presence for your company or your organization, you should spend the time to learn about each of the databases. That way you can ensure that your listing ends up under the right headings. After all, the time required to submit your page is nothing compared to the effort you've put into making it as good as it is.

Putting Your Site at the Top of the List

Listing your Web site with a search engine is one thing. Making sure that it appears at the top of the list when a user does a search is a whole different matter. I've seen a lot of folks try their hardest to pick the right set of keywords only to be disappointed when their site didn't make it to the top of the list.

Good Planning Gets You on Top

The best way to make sure your site appears at the top of the list is to do a bit of planning. Sit down with a piece of paper and a few of your colleagues and brainstorm on all the types of queries you think users will use to find your site. Try to anticipate them. Are you selling pet food? If so, people might use the following combination of queries to locate your site: pet and grooming and supplies

dog and (food or supplies)

dog and (flea or pest) and treatment

pet and (leash or collar) dog and (toy or ball or bed) The list can go on and on. Don't stop until you're absolutely out of ideas and have covered every possible query you can think of. Then make your Web site responsive to those queries.

1. Make a list of all the words in the queries you came up with.

2. Beside each word, write down the number of times it appears in your list of queries.

3. Sort the list, putting the words with the most occurrences at the top of the list.

4. Make sure that each word appears in the home page of your site at least one time. Check off each word on your list as you put it on your home page. You can also use the <META> tag to list your keywords for search engines that catalog the <META> tag. (See " Cate-gorize Your Site with the <META> Tag" on pg. 797)

Other Tips for Getting on Top

Here are some additional ideas to make sure people find your site:

CAUTION: Some folks will tell you that the way to get your site to the top of the list is to repeat the appropriate keywords. For example, if you want users to find your site when they search for the keyword Windows 95, then you might repeatedly fill an HTML comment tag with those keywords. Don't do this. Many of the search engines are now catching on to this little trick and will knock your listing out of the index.

Categorize Your Site with the <META> Tag

You can use the HTML <META> tag to tell the search engine a bit more about how to categorize your site. This method doesn't work with all the search engines, however, as the concept- and abstract-based search engines don't necessarily use keywords to categorize a Web site.

The <META> tag is simple. It enables you to create pseudotags within your HTML file. Here's what it looks like:

<META NAME=name CONTENT=content>

You set the NAME attribute to the name of the tag you are creating and the CONTENT attribute to the content of that tag. This technique is useful only if something on the Internet, for example, client or search tool, is expecting to find a <META> tag by a certain name.

To help along some of the search engines that do look for the <META> tag, you can create two tags called <KEYWORDS> and <DESCRIPTION>. The <KEYWORDS META> tag provides a list of keywords separated by commas for the search engine . You can use this type of <META> tag to specify keywords that don't occur within the text of your HTML file. The <DESCRIPTION META> tag contains a description of your Web site that the search engine will display to the user when it includes your site in a list. Here's what both tags look like:

<META NAME="KEYWORDS" CONTENT="pet, dog, cat, food, toys, grooming">
<META NAME="DESCRIPTION" CONTENT="My online pet store provides  all of your pet supplies."

TIP: If your home page uses an image map with little text, at least use a <META> tag for those search engines that parse the <META> tag.

If you are using HTML 4.0, you should add the LANG attribute to the <META> tag, along with NAME and CONTENT information, to specify the human language that a document is written in. For example,

<META NAME="KEYWORDS" LAND=en-us CONTENT="pet, dog, cat, food, toys, grooming">

indicates that the page is written in U.S. English. You can also use the LINK element to specify links to translations of the document in other languages or formats.

Other Ways to Get Noticed

The Web provides many ways other than search tools to get noticed, including listings, links on other sites, index pages, and newsgroups. Some methods require a bit of work or expense on your part, but others are free.

Best of the Web Listings

One of the more amazing things to come out of the Web has been the tremendous proliferation of "Best of the Web" sites. These systems generate listings under various names, such as What's Cool, What's Hot, Top 5%, Best of the Web, Hot Picks, and so on (see Figure 40.8). In practice, of course, the selection of pages for these lists is completely arbitrary. With the rapid growth of the Web, it is unlikely that anyone has ever even visited five percent of the sites currently available, let alone enough to make a reasonable judgment of which are the very best.

FIG. 40.8
Several organizations present "Best of the Web" awards.

So how are these lists maintained? In most cases you can submit your site's URL to the list administrator, and he or she visits your site and reviews it. If your site meets that list's selection criteria, you get added to the list.

Some of these lists provide you with a small graphic to display on your page to indicate that you have been awarded the honor, and virtually all the lists include links to your page after you have been accepted.

What is the real value of these lists? In the cosmic scheme of things, very little. But some of these lists are well-known, and many people use them as launching points for random surfing. If you have a general interest site, getting it listed on a couple of these pages can really boost your traffic.

Some examples of these sites are:

Links from Other Web Sites

Even more than the Web crawlers and structured systems, the primary method for traversing the Web is by using links found on other pages (see Figure 40.9). To expose your page to the maximum number of potential visitors, you should make an effort to get as many sites as possible to include links to your site.

FIG. 40.9
Many sites have long lists of links to other related sites.

Most sites that cover a specific topic are more than pleased to include links to other sites that cover the same topic. By including as many links as possible, they make themselves more useful and, hence, more popular. To encourage people to link to your page, you need to identify sites that might be interested in linking to yours and then contact the site administrator.

Finding Sites from Which to Link  The best way to find sites to contact about linking to your site is to surf the Web. Find sites that are of interest to you, and you'll probably find the sites that are of interest to people who would visit your site. Where should you start surfing? The same places that your visitors would. Start with the indexes and see what's out there. Try several of the more popular ones and be sure to try both structured systems and Web crawlers. If one of indexes is particularly useful, you know that it is a good place to register your site. The ones that aren't useful can wait before you submit to them.

After you find some sites, visit them and see what they have to offer. You're looking for sites that have a theme that is similar to yours, without being identical. For example, if your page contains links to everything that a person might ever want to know about hog farming, pages that might make good links to your page include general farming pages, pages that cover animal husbandry, and pages for companies that do business with hog farmers, including both suppliers and consumers. Other pages that also cover aspects of hog farming but are not duplicates of yours would also be worth linking to.

Convincing Sites to Link to Your Site  The best way to get a link to your Web page is to simply contact the owner of the page that you'd like to be linked from and ask him or her to create the link. You can most easily accomplish this task by sending e-mail to the page author. In most cases you should be able to find the address of the person who maintains the link on one of the pages at the site. Failing this, try sending e-mail to the address Webmaster at the site that interests you. Finally, if all else fails, you can examine the HTML source for the site's main page to see whether the author's address is included in a comment field. Be sure to explain what your site is all about and to include the URL of the home page in your message. If the page that you want the other site to link to is not your home page, tell the Webmaster the correct URL. A brief (one line) description of your page can save him or her some time when adding the link. Remember that other Webmasters are just as busy as you are and that anything you can do to make their life easier increases the chance that they will link to your page.

Of course, you can expect that the person in charge of the other site will check out your page before adding a link. The Webmaster will want to make sure that your page actually is what you say it is and that its quality will reflect well on his or her site.

Making Your Site Worth a Link  To make your site more worthwhile for others to link to, the first step is to ensure that it is free of HTML errors and that it loads correctly. Ask people from outside your site to check that all the images are available and that all the tags display in the proper format. No one wants to be associated with a site that is filled with sloppy work. Second, include useful, current, and interesting information and images. No one wants to spend time downloading a site just to find that it contains a mess of outdated or boring gibberish. Links to shareware programs can also make your page more popular.

CAUTION: Before adding a link to download any program, be sure that the program explicitly states that it is for freeware or shareware distribution, particularly if it is not stored on your server.

Finally, make your site attractive. Ask yourself if the page makes you want to read it; then get the opinions of some people you can trust.

An important step toward making your site successful is to include a number of links to other sites that might be of interest to visitors to your site. The entire concept of the Web revolves around the interconnection of millions of sites. Don't make your page a dead end.

TIP: Check occasionally that all the links on your page still lead somewhere. Pages maintained by other people may disappear, often without notice. See Chapter 39, "Verifying and Testing HTML Documents," for more information.

If your site is a personal page, include connections to pages of your friends and colleagues. A hobby site should include as many links to other sites with similar interests as you can find. Check the links to make sure that they point to pages that you want to be associated with; then include them.

NOTE: Although you can certainly add a link to a page without the prior consent of the owner of the page, letting him or her know of the new link is courteous. The owner may also have a preference as to which page you establish the link.

Business and organization pages can include links to other sources of information related to their site. Including links to your competitors is not necessary, but having links that point to your suppliers and customers might be very effective. Encourage them to include reciprocal links back to your page. Remember that the most effective form of advertising is networking and that a link to your page is an implicit recommendation.

Specialized Index Pages

If your pages are focused on a specific topic, registering with any specialized index pages that cover your area of interest is well worth the time.

At present, you can find many sites for business-related topics. This fact isn't surprising, but what is amazing is the incredible variety of index pages available for other interests as well. A search of the Web turns up many specialized pages that contain dozens of links. Here are a few examples of these pages:

FIG. 40.10
You can use specialized search tools such as Art Planet to promote your page.

In the business world, pages exist for many different types of companies. You can see some of the tremendous variety in the following pages:

Using Newsgroups Effectively

A Web site is very difficult to find in the vast reaches of the Internet. Fortunately, you can use public bulletin boards to broadcast information to many people simultaneously. These public areas are known as newsgroups, and they serve as public forums for communications and debate.

Much like everything else on the Internet, these groups have their own rules and customs. Very broadly, they fall into two categories: open and moderated groups. Open groups are pretty much what the name implies, in that anyone can post a message. Unfortunately, this freedom often leads to a very low signal-to-noise ratio. In moderated groups, all postings pass through a moderator (or group of moderators) who screens the messages and removes off-topic messages. This process greatly improves the proportion of postings that are relevant to the subject of the newsgroup.

Regardless of the type of newsgroup, proper use can greatly increase the traffic at your Web site. By the same token, however, improper use can cause ill feelings and will not attract the visitors that you are looking for.

The Announcement Groups  The first newsgroups to use when spreading the word about your new Web site are the announcement groups. These groups are dedicated to the purpose of broadcasting messages dealing with new sites and services (see Figure 40.11). Most of these groups are moderated and do an excellent job of keeping messages on-topic.

FIG. 40.11
comp.infosystems.www.announce is the number one site for posting new sites.

comp.infosystems.www.announce lists virtually every site that is submitted to it. The rules of this group are standard for many of the announcement groups. Postings should be relevant to the purpose of the group and should not have a commercial purpose other than the announcement of a Web site that provides further information about a commercial product or service. The announcement message should clearly list the URL of the new page, preferably on a separate line. The message should also include a clear but brief description of the nature of the site. Finally, the subject of the message should be clear and precise. The subject should begin with a word or two that clearly defines your site, as shown in the example in Figure 40.12.

Other good groups to announce in are comp.internet.net-happenings and misc.entrepre-neurs (for business sites).

FIG. 40.12
TРhis announcement is clear and concise, and it tells prospective visitors what they can expect.

Other Newsgroups  After you have posted on the announcement newsgroups, you should take some time to find any other groups that may involve topics covered in your Web site. Far more than 20,000 newsgroups are operating right now, although your Internet provider may cache only a fraction of this number. With this kind of diversity, finding the groups that most closely match your interests is normally not difficult. After you narrow down the field to a small handful of groups, the next step is to read the various messages that are posted. Try to identify people who are regular posters and look for threads that have a long life. The practice of reading messages on a group without posting is known as lurking. You lurk in a group to become more familiar with it before you post.

One of the features of many groups is the occasional posting of what is called a FAQ. This message is a list of Frequently Asked Questions, and reading it carefully can help you avoid asking any questions that might have been answered repeatedly in the past.

The primary benefit to lurking is that when you are ready to post messages, you can do so in a manner that is perceived as highly competent and professional.

After you do start posting, you should make a special effort to ensure that your posts are well written and on-topic. Remember that you are not just carrying on a friendly conversation, but rather you are advertising your page. Avoid mentioning your Web site in the body of your posting, but include your signature at the end of the message. If your postings are worth reading, people will make an effort to visit your pages, too.

One form of message posting is not recommended: Sending messages to post on multiple newsgroups, regardless of the group's topic, is known as spamming (see Figure 40.13). This kind of posting is a tremendous waste of bandwidth, and many people, particularly those who pay for their access based on time spent logged in, do not appreciate your postings.

FIG. 40.13
The message about saving on long-distance charges is off-topic for this group and is an example of spamming.

An unfortunate side effect of spamming is that it tends to attract retaliation from residents of the Internet. This retaliation can begin at the annoyance level and rapidly escalate. To avoid any unpleasantness, you should follow the rules and act in a responsible manner.

NOTE: The primary offense caused by spamming is the waste of huge amounts of storage space on computers around the world. To help curb the problem, many newsgroups have programs that can excise spamming messages automatically from the group, often before most people even see the message. One side effect of spamming is that you may become blacklisted, which can expose you to remarkable levels of harassment from cybervigilantes.

Using a Publicity Consultant

Developing an effective Web advertising campaign can clearly take a lot of work. For a hobbyist, this time might not "cost" much, but for a busy professional who is trying to build up business through the Web, the time required may be more than he or she can afford. One solution to this problem is to hire a publicity consultant to get your site noticed.

Some of the functions that a publicity consultant should perform follow.

TIP: Before you enter into a contract with anyone, you should ask for references from previous clients. Contact the references and ask if the agent was aggressive in promoting their sites and prompt in communicating with the clients. Also take the time to look at the client sites themselves. Are they professional in appearance? Well-designed pages indicate that the client's recommendation should carry a solid weight.

The cost of consultant services can range from a few hundred dollars to tens of thousands, depending on the scope of the work. When you do contract with a consultant, consider the possibility of basing the fee on the amount of traffic that your site receives. This approach requires the agent to put his or her money on the line and increases the incentive to provide good service. Be aware that this tactic may increase the cost of services to you because the consultant is now sharing some of the risk.

Advertise Your Site in Print

In this chapter you've examined a number of ways to advertise your site on the Internet. However, you can also increase your exposure through other methods. Indeed, if you don't use these other techniques, you may miss out on many opportunities.

The simplest of all advertising tools is to include your site's URL in the signature on all your e-mail. Including your URL costs nothing and has the advantage of appearing before an audience that is (or at least should be) receptive to your message already.

You should also add your Web site URL to your business cards and stationery. In effect, your Web site is your office in cyberspace, and you should include its address alongside your physical office. Before you do so, however, remember to walk through your site carefully to check for a professional and finished appearance. You wouldn't invite potential clients into a half-finished office covered with graffiti, and you shouldn't show them your work in progress on the Web, either.

Finally, include your URL on any ads you place in magazines, newspapers, or trade journals. For many people the discovery of a Web site in an advertisement is an illicit thrill. It's a way of letting people with access to the Web feel that they're an exclusive group and that you're catering especially to them. Take advantage of the cachet that comes with being on the Web whenever you can.

Internet Ratings and PICS

One distinction you do not want is to have your pages marked to be blocked for access. Many parents, schools, libraries, religious institutions, and even businesses are concerned that children or employees might be accessing pornographic (or at the very least, unproductive) sites while they're browsing the Web.

In the last two years, several new software products have sought to address this problem by creating lists of sites from which a browser is blocked. These programs create lists of URLs that a browser is forbidden to access. The problem with this system is that every publisher has its own list of what should and shouldn't be blocked. Standards were needed.

The industry now has an independent method for indicating site content, called the Platform for Internet Content Selection (PICS). Simply put, PICS lets you label the appropriateness of your own site. Blocking programs can then simply strip out your own rating material and use it to determine whether to block your site. (As a side benefit, the PICS standard also supports other types of labeling, code signing, privacy, and copyright management.)

The PICS format uses a META declaration to label a page, as in this example taken from the W3C site:

  <META http-equiv="PICS-Label"
  content='(PICS-1.1 "http://www.gcf.org/v2.5"
  labels on "1994.11.05T08:15-0500"
  until "1995.12.31T23:59-0000"
  for "http://w3.org/PICS/Overview.html"
  ratings (suds 0.5 density 0 color/hue 1))
<TITLE>Page Title</TITLE>
Body of Document.

The RATINGS value is taken from any of a number of ratings vocabularies supplied by various vendors or organizations. You can choose any one vocabulary, or, because you can have more than one <META> tag, you can supply ratings using several different vocabularies. This approach enables you to support blocking software from many companies.

NOTE: Three of the most popular sources for rating vocabularies are:

PICS offers a wide range of options and is an evolving standard. You can find out more about PICS from the W3C Web site at http://www.w3.org/PICS.

Here's a list of various blocking programs that are PICS-compatible, their vendors, and their Web sites:

NOTE: PICS labels can be used to label just about anything with a URL, not just Web sites. The list includes FTP and Gopher, but not e-mail.

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