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The Search Engines Ask You

thurow-shari
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A special report from the Search Engine Strategies 2002 Conference, March 4-5, Boston, MA.

In a session entitled "The Search Engines Ask You," a panel comprised of search engine and directory representatives posed their questions to the audience. Conference attendees were able to voice their praises and concerns.

The overall concerns with the three major directories (Yahoo, LookSmart, and Open Directory) were customer service and change forms.

Many audience members voiced frustrations at the lack of response from both Yahoo and Open Directory about change forms. Many businesses change their company location, often resulting in the need for a regional listing modification. And many companies no longer offer a product or a service. Therefore, the descriptions in the directory do not accurately describe the web sites' actual content.

Most audience members were frustrated with the lack of response from both Yahoo surfers and Open Directory editors. One conference attendee suggested that Yahoo create a customer service center where people can monitor their site's listings. Another attendee suggested that Yahoo have a paid change form. Yahoo can guarantee that the change request be reviewed within a specified period of time (7 to 10 days, for example), just like the regular submission form.

Many conference attendees were frustrated that the volunteer editors do not respond to requests at ODP, even after contacting them directly. The standard procedure for submitting to Open Directory is to submit your site for inclusion and wait 3 to 4 weeks. If the site is not added, you can safely submit it again and also email the editor directly. If you do not get a response, you can also contact editors in a higher-level category. Details of the submission procedure are available via the link below.

LookSmart received praise because they do have an expedited change request form, though some attendees felt that editors modify the descriptions too much. For example, a web site owner pays the commercial submission fee of $299. The editor modifies the submitted description. The web site owner then pays for the change request, and the editor accepts the description that was initially submitted. So essentially, the web site owner has paid twice for submitting the same site description.

The overall concern voiced to the search engines, particularly Google, was turnaround time. With paid inclusion programs, the turnaround time is rather fast, generally 2 to 7 days. If web site owners do not participate in these programs, or if a search engine does not offer a paid inclusion program, the turnaround time is often 6 to 8 weeks, if pages are accepted into the search engine indices.

Some attendees spoke with the search engine representatives after the session. Interestingly, some expressed concern with the turnaround time. Unless a site is a news site or must the content every day (like an auction site), do webmasters really need the fast turnaround time? Are they updating pages merely to artificially inflate search engine positions or genuinely modifying content to get a better user experience? So the turnaround time can have benefits as well as contribute to potential spam problems.

Another concern is with shared servers, where multiple web sites are hosted on the same server. If your web site is hosted on the same server with a site that has been banned or penalized, how can a web site owner protect his site, differentiating it from the spam site?

First, check to see if your site has disappeared from the search engine indices. Use the link below to Danny Sullivan's article in Search Engine Watch to see how to do this.

If you suspect your site has been unfairly penalized at the search engines, you can email spam support at the following email addresses:

AltaVista: [email protected]
Inktomi: [email protected]
Google: [email protected]
Teoma: [email protected]

Another audience concern was position-checking software - is it spam or isn't it, and why? The search engine representatives were pretty straightforward with their answers. The reason they do not like position-checking software is that it puts a heavy load on their servers and consumes too many resources. So they ban its use.

In summary, to improve both the quality of search engines and directories, attendees wished for faster turnaround time for submission and change requests, and better customer service.

Submitting Your Site to the Open Directory Project
http://dmoz.org/add.html

Checking Your URL
http://www.searchenginewatch.com/webmasters/checkurl.html
Instructions for checking to see if your pages are already included in the major search engines and directories.

Shari Thurow is the Marketing Director and Webmaster for Grantastic Designs, Inc. <http://www.grantasticdesigns.com/> She has been design and promoting web sites since 1995 for businesses in a wide range of fields.

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