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Search Engine Optimization

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Dynamic Page Optimization and Search Engine Inclusion
By Eric Lander - March 15, 2002

The importance of search engine optimization is unsurpassed in regards to obtaining the most effective online presence within any and all industries. For smaller web sites, optimization can be easily applied within the core of the HTML documents, and most changes go un-noticed. For larger web sites though, relying on database connections and dynamic content, the solutions are a bit more complicated.

While many would think that "...If an Internet user can see the page, an engine can too.", the opposite is actually true. Search engines and their automated user agents come to a halt while indexing when they come across a simple "?" within a URL.

The usage of a "?" within a URL shows that a variable is being assigned a value to the web server, and requesting content based upon that selection. A search on nearly any search engine will demonstrate this process completely. For example, if you were to search for "dynamic pages" on Google, Google accepts your search, and pulls up a page for exactly that term. If you look closely at the URL, you will see a question mark within it.

The concept is rather straight forward. A user requests information that needs to come from a database, the web server responds by providing that content, and the script parses the information and formats it for on-screen use. But, it still comes from a database.

Why Engines Dislike Query Strings
Image a web site like Amazon.com, with an immense database of products, each with a unique item identifier. Each time a user requests information on one of those items, the Amazon web server taps into the database, then responds with the correct information. The search engines, in order to index all of the contents would have to index and review each one of hundreds of thousands of product pages, which simply will not happen.
Why not? These pages are generated on the fly, and could change at any given moment in time - which translates to an endless amount of indexing for the engines.

Search Engines Know a LOT
The people that stand behind the most popular and most widely used engines are some of the most well educated and experienced Internet professionals the world has to offer - and that will most likely always hold true. With that amount of knowledge at their disposal, they are not about to have their engines overworking themselves forever while trying to index the contents of sites using query strings - so, they index very few if any query strings per web site domain.

Overcoming Query Strings
There are a number of ways in which a web server can still dynamically generate pages without the use of query strings. Let's take a look at what is available for some specific cases, using two of today's most popular dynamic scripting languages:

- ASP (Active Server Pages): Active server pages are used within Microsoft-based web servers, and is arguably the most widely used scripting style for large Internet sites. A company by the name of "eXception Digital Enterprise Solutions" has created XQASP, an add-on application that allows the "?" within URL's to be converted to "/" by the web server. For more information on the usage and implementation of this product, please visit:
http://www.xde.net/products/product_xqasp.htm

- CFM (Cold Fusion): Cold Fusion is Macromedia and Allaire's pride and joy. Usable on any just about hosting package with the right filters and extensions installed. Allaire, the developing giant behind the Cold Fusion language and development platform has information on their web site on how to convert "?" into "/". For the most accurate information on this, browse Macromedia's site, as it is sure to provide the most accurate information. (http://www.macromedia.com/)

How to Obtain Exposure to Those URLs
Now that a dynamically generated web site has been converted for usage without the use of query strings, you can seek to acquire exposure of these pages within the search engines. Of course, before that happens though - the engines need to know which ones to go after and index. If your site uses any sort of form to search through products or items within a database, you cannot expect the engines to type in and submit a form on their own!

While others in the optimization field may push you towards creating doorway or gateway pages containing these URLs, Top Site Listings is in sharp disagreement!

Over time, engines have taken steps to remove doorway and gateway pages from their indexes because they are of no use to the engine's users - so - the links need to be incorporated through links in the site for spiders to follow, or submitted individually. Be sure NOT to exceed the limit of submission URLs though , as you will likely cause more harm than good.