AltaVista recently added a section titled " how AltaVista works". This is a very useful resource and everyone with an interest in obtaining a high ranking on AltaVista should read it carefully. You can find it at
Here is most important new information they provide in this useful guide:
1) Keywords are only counted twice, so it is very important to have most important keywords in places where they get you most "points". These are title and
tags. To find best keyword strings use "search term suggestion" at GOTO.com, at http://goto.com/d/about/advertisers/othertools.jhtml
2) Keywords in title tag get you most points, and start of title scores highest.
3) Keywords in "first lines of text" are also very important. The
tag may get you more points than text.
4) The Metatag "keywords" is not as important to ranking as first lines of text. Hence keywords found here could lower your score if they are also in first lines of text.
5) Links from other relevant sites are very important, this is called "link popularity". The more distinct domains better. Also "good" sites score more highly. So if you can not explain why a site ranks above you when keyword is not in their title, check who links to them ( using +link:sitename.com -host:sitename.com). You will most likely find lots of links from top sites like Yahoo, MSN, Excite etc., or a very large number of links from other sites.
6) Rare words score more than common words. To quote AV -
"If someone searches for fruit and pomegranates, pages with word pomegranates will appear at top of list (a technique known as "inverse document frequency")."
7) AV goes to some lengths to explain that they are not a "database", and they store all words on page in order to preserve "phrases". So if you search for " search engine placement" you will get sites with string "search engine placement" listed first, and not sites with same words in a different order. For example try a search for "placement engine search", and compare to results for "search engine placement"
8) Pages at a high level rank higher than pages buried deep into site, so index.htm ranks highest. It is worth registering more domains and using them as "doorway sites". Link these sites back to your main site to get extra "link popularity".