So you’ve got a website, and now you need to get the word out and attract visitors. You know search engines are the best way to do this, so you’re eager to get your site indexed. Maybe you’ve read about submitting your site to search engines, or a Search Engine Optimization (SEO) company has promised to submit it for you. But are free search engine submissions really the answer to getting the search engine traffic you’re looking for?
Indexing vs. Ranking
First, let’s make an important distinction. Getting indexed is completely unrelated to getting good search ranking. When a search engine indexes your website, it simply means they have visited your site, they know it exists, and they have included it, or indexed it, in the search engine. Congratulations! You’ve been included in the most massive directory ever. According to World Wide Web Size, the internet, as of April 12, 2012, “contains at least 6.87 billion pages.”
This is of course an important first step, but it offers no bearing on how well your site ranks. For instance, if I do a search for, “kitchen remodeling,” I can go all the way down to the 15th page, and it still says it’s, “page 15 of about 25,700,000 results.” Almost 26 million results! With about ten results per page, that’s still well over 2 million pages. And all those listings are indexed in Google.
To get search engine traffic to your website, you need the people looking for what you have to offer to actually find you. You won’t get found on page 20,623 of the search results. You probably won’t even get found on page 2. That’s why all the SEO companies focus on ‘how to get on the first page of Google’. What page you end up on is all about ranking. Of course you need to be indexed first, but that’s easy. The hard part is getting good search ranking.
Submitting Your Site to Search Engines
SEO companies love to throw this in as added value. “Free Search Engine Submission! We’ll submit your site to 100 search engines!” First of all, how many search engines do people really use? According to comScore, over 66% of searches happen on Google. Bing gets about a 15% share and Yahoo 13%. That leaves only 6% for all the others. If 94% of people search on only three search engines, where else do you need to be? Does it make any difference if someone promises to submit your site to 3 or to 300? Not really.
So we’ve limited our focus to three search engines, Google, Bing and Yahoo. Each one does offer a form where you can submit your site, but what does that accomplish? At the least, submitting your site will send the search engine bots, or spiders, (computer programs that ‘crawl’ the web by following links) to visit your site. You might get indexed, but even that’s not guaranteed. The content on your site needs to be in good order, too. Do you have meaningful headlines and ‘crawlable’ content? If your home page is 100% flash, it may look like a blank page to the spiders. If they don’t see anything there of interest, they may choose not to index your site. If they can’t follow your links, they won’t go deeper than the first page. It pays off in the end to choose a web developer who knows a thing or two about search before you get started.
Let’s say your web developer did a good job of building you a search-engine-friendly site, and you just need the bots to come take a look. There are many other ways to get your site crawled besides submitting it to the search engines. The search engine bots can find your site by following a link to it, and this often works faster than the search engine submission forms. Posting a link to your website from any well-known, frequently-crawled site is likely to send the search engine spiders your way. Large sites such as Twitter and Facebook are crawled constantly throughout the day. List your website on your Twitter profile. Create a Facebook business page. Have a friend or your web developer announce your new site, with a link. Add your site to a well-know directory, or to local listings. Ping your site. Comment on a popular blog. Bookmark your site on StumbleUpon or Digg. List your site on your Pinterest profile. Any of these will serve the same purpose as submitting your site to the search engines. And most of these methods involve creating links to your site, which will actually begin to help your search engine ranking as well.
What if your site is already indexed in Google? If you’re already indexed, there’s no reason to submit your site using a search engine submission page. They already know you’re there, and submitting your site again won’t help you rank better. Focus your efforts instead on creating fresh content and generating inbound links.
Where Should You Submit Your Site?
Even though the endless offers to ‘submit your site to the search engines’ are largely scams, there are many places where submitting your site is a valid way to get listed. These are more often some type of directory rather than a search engine. Some directories are popular enough that you may get found directly through your listings, while others help you more by providing another link back to your site. Here are some places you may want to ‘submit’ your site:
- Local Directories – Local directories include those run by the major search engines – Google Places, Bing Local and Yahoo Local. Other popular sites include CitySearch, Merchant Circle, and Yellowpages.com. You may find your business listed in these directories already. If so, you can claim your listing and add to it. Make sure you submit your website, a full description of your services, and some pictures, if the directory allows for them.
- Review Sites – There is some crossover here with the local directories, but some other sites that focus more directly on reviews include Yelp, Insider Pages, Judys Book, and Angies List. You will find many other review sites that target specific niches.
- Shopping Directories – Shopping directories are critical for ecommerce sites. Google offers free listings in their shopping results, but you must submit your products monthly (good ecommerce software now automates this process). Unfortunately, free Google Shopping listings will be coming to an end later this year when they will switch to a pay-per-click model. Other good shopping directories include comparison sites such as BizRate, NexTag and ShopLocal, as well as social sites such as Kaboodle and Pinterest.
- Niche Directories – You’ll need to research these yourself, depending on your industry. For instance, Dr. Oogle is a site just for dentist reviews. Urban Spoon is for restaurants. Whatever your niche, there are likely directories or review sites for it.
- Webmaster Tools – Both Google and Bing offer Webmaster Tools. Once you verify that you own your site, these services can provide some valuable insite as to how your site is doing on these search engines, and what you can do to fix errors and improve your ranking. In addition to the information they offer, they give you a direct communication link to the search engine as well. In Google Webmaster Tools, you can set various preferences, and submit your sitemap. A Google sitemap is helpful to make sure their spiders are actually finding all the pages on your site.
- General Directories – There are numerous general directories that have been on the web a long time, with DMOZ and Yahoo Directory being the most well-known. A Yahoo Directory listing will cost you about $300/year – while it’s a highly respected directory, I question the value at such a high cost. According to SEO expert Jerry West, Best of the Web’s directory has shown more impact in recent tests for about the same price. DMOZ has long been the most respected directory on the web, but in my opinion has become a dinosaur that may never get around to reviewing or listing your site. I still recommend submitting to it once, but then move on and don’t worry too much if they never index your site. If they do, it’s a bonus. Many other directories offer free or low-cost listings. These do create additional links to your site and therefore have some SEO value, but these links are really not given as much value as in the past. It certainly won’t hurt to submit your site to these directories, but on it’s own it won’t have a huge impact on your search ranking, and, after a few key directories, your time is probably better spent elsewhere.