Search Engine Primer
by Katie Eberhart
January 31, 2000

What's a Search Engine?

A Search Engine helps you find things on the Internet. Any time anyone looks up anything on the Internet, where they start from scratch, they're probably using a search engine. There are individual Search Engines such as Hotbot, MSN, AltaVista, Yahoo, Webcrawler and many others. Some Search Engines don't even do their own listings, they just search those of other Search Engines.


How Does a Search Engine work?

A couple different ways. Some, like Yahoo, are gargantuan directories where every listing has been meticulously placed within it's multi-level directory structure.

Others, like AltaVista, are giant indexing machines. They send programs (often called "spiders" or "robots") out through the Internet to add web sites to their indexes.

The indexing type of Search Engines generally work one of two ways:

1. they index all the words (or maybe only the first 250 words) on one or more pages of a web site.

2. they grab behind-the-scenes information stored in "meta tags" that are near the top of each web page (if the webmaster put them there).

How Do Search Engine "Spiders" Find Out About Web Sites?

1. Someone goes to the "Add URL" or "Submit a Site" page for a particular Search Engine and submits their site.

2. The Search Engine "Spider" discovers a new site while wandering through links of other sites.

3. Site management has hired a Service (such as Microsoft's LinkExchange) to automatically submit their site, or pages from it, to a list of Search Engines.

How to Submit a Site to a Search Engine

Everyone with a site should at least start by individually submitting their home page and/or other main pages to a dozen or so of the main Search Engines. The technique I use is 1) go to the home page of the Search Engine and look for a link called "Add URL" or "Submit a Site." 2)Click on this link then look for a link to a Help page. The difficulty here is that each Search Engine seems to have it's own rules. They might be confusing but not unfathomable. Here are some basic questions to find answers to before submitting to a Search Engine:

1. Does it require just one submission of the home page or will it allow submissions of other main pages or even all the pages in the site?

2. Does it index content or meta tags? Before submitting to any Search Engine that uses Meta Tags, spend some time developing good ones for your pages.

3. Do you have frames in your site and does the Search Engine index sites with frames? (A few do, most don't)

4. Is it a directory-type Search Engine (like Yahoo) that requires the person doing the listing to find the correct categories. What category(s) does you site fall into?

How do we list the Alaskool site?

Periodically (if you're worried about "hits" and "listings" this means once a month), I've listed the main table of contents pages. In September I built a directory of main reference pages and listed all of those in a couple Search engines that allowed that type of massive listing. We worked on getting other sites to list to this one. Sometimes that helps a site show up higher on Search Engine listings.

That's the Overview, Here are the Nuts and Bolts

What's a Meta Tag?

Below is an example of meta tags for the site map page (

<meta name="description" content="Alaska Native Studies resources and curriculum including the history of Alaska Native education, Native governments, ANCSA, and reindeer herding.">

<meta name="keywords" content="alaska, native, education, native education, curriculum, native studies, native studies curriculum, ancsa, alaska native claims settlement act, land rights, land claims, native governments, afn, alaska federation of natives">

<meta name="ROBOTS" content="ALL">

Each of these goes in the heading section of the document. Open your web page in a text editor and make sure these are somewhere between <head> and </head>. The words you use in these meta tags should appear in the text of the same page. You shouldn't repeat any word more than 2 times in a meta tag. The words should be separated by commas and you can use 2-word phrases. (Search engines can be persnickety.)

The Robots meta tag gives the Search Engine spiders permission to search through that page. There are other Robots tags which refuse Spiders permission to search a page. This, too, is useful sometimes.

List Your Site

Now, know the URL you want to list and visit the Search Engines. Here are a few links to start with. You'll find others as you pursue this.








And, finally, if you're still confused, get on the Internet and read about it. There are plenty of references. One I've found both interesting and entertaining is:

About Frames

And, finally, if you use frames, make sure, if someone drops into one of your pages without it's frame buddies, that they can find the rest of your site. Alaskool, with several thousand files, is currently using a minimalist link on each page, but a Click on it takes the person back to our home page.


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