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Anyone who has gone to the trouble of setting up a website wants to make it easy for people to find: but what is the best way to do that?

Cornwell Internet is constantly receiving unsolicited e-mails which offer to improve the search engine ratings of our sites; author Chaz Brenchley received one which said:

As you know, if you are not on the first 3 pages of a search result, you will not get any exposure online. I found http://www.outremer.co.uk in Lycos on page 89 for the search term "wind chime part". Not very many Web users have the time or patience for such a lengthy search...

If he had been selling wind chime parts, he might have been worried; since it was pure coincidence that these three words had all appeared in an extract from his book Tower of the King's Daughter (on his Outremer site), he was simply amused.

If your e-mail appears on a web site, the chances are that you, too, have had offers of this kind - though perhaps not quite as transparent. These companies are not checking up on the ranking of your site, they are writing to everyone who appears at a certain level when they search on their chosen term (however irrelevant that term may be to your site). Often, they are simply lying to you: one company wrote to us repeatedly saying that our sites did not perform well on "some of the most popular search engines" but when we replied that our sites performed well on all the search engines we used, and which ones did they think we had overlooked? - we heard no more from them!

So you should probably ignore unsolicited offers to improve your ranking by some secret method: but that doesn't mean that there's nothing you can do to help search engines find your site. When we design a site for a client, we make sure that the front page text contains the key words that people looking for that client are likely to use in their search. Indeed, we make sure that there is some front page text; content-free "splash" pages are not only invisible to search engines, like Google, which index text, they are also irritating to to your visitors - unless Flash animation is the business you are promoting, why delay customers by forcing them to wait while your logo does a dance before they can proceed to the information they are looking for?

We keep up to date with information about how search engines rank sites, reading not only the information provided by the search engines themselves, but also news from other industry sources. This enables us to advise you about all aspects of your site, from choosing a domain name and adding titles and meta-text descriptions to your pages, to seeking out appropriate links.

Coming top of Google's listing isn't everything: we use meta-text to ensure that wherever your site comes in the list, people will want to visit it when they find it. If you search for "durham clayport library", the City Library is the first site you see, but it isn't very inviting [note: this has now been corrected]:

Durham Clayport Library

... Durham Clayport Library. Please Note. The online mapping system requires JavaScript, which is currently unavailable on this browser. ...

You see this message because Google picks up the first text on the page, regardless of whether your browser supports JavaScript or not: our sites have descriptive meta-text, so that search engines display your message, not the workings of your site.

No-one can guarantee you top placing: search engines keep the fine detail of their workings secret, to stop people faking up those requirements. In any case, where your site rates also depends on the competition. If you search on the term computers, Google's top four are Apple, Dell, Gateway and Compaq: if that's what you're selling too, you are unlikely to dislodge those market leaders! Cornwell Internet are very aware of this: if you search for Roger Cornwell, nine out of every ten entries you find will be our Roger Cornwell - but if you search for Jean Rogers you will find our Jean Rogers at the bottom of the page, overshadowed by the actress who played Dale Arden in the Flash Gordon movies, the author (or authors) of cookbooks and picture books, and a German drag queen. You, too, could be lucky to have a distinctive name, or unlucky. We can help you to get the best possible placing for your site: and we can advise you about choosing a good "web address", promoting your site in your publicity material, and making your site one that people want to return to.