Submitting your site to search engines is a pain, make no mistake. But with a top twenty listing on Webcrawler alone having capability to bring 50 visitors a day to your pages it's a pain that is worth suffering.
There are a great number of search engines around, but only top 15 or so really generate serious traffic for most sites. Many of lesser search engines are 'meta search' types, meaning they actually get their results from bigger engines anyway.
Of main engines, there are two categories - Directory based, and Spidered based. The Directory based (which includes Yahoo, Looksmart and Open Directory Project) are generally added by hand. This means an editor for chosen category looks at your site and awards it a position (or not) based on how he/she rated it. The Spider index types, (including Lycos, Inktomi and AltaVista) use robot browsers to check and index sites based on pre-programmed criteria.
In general, to get a good listing in Directory engines means you must impress editor with look, ease of navigation and content of your site. Make sure your first page loads very quickly (empty your browser cache before checking) as this is an important factor. If your 'front' page doesn't open within 10 - 15 seconds you will not get a high placement. If need be, create a simple 'Welcome' page that opens quickly and use it as a front door to your site with more graphic laden pages with in it.
With Directory engines, if you have midis on your page be sure you include an "off " control. You will be penalized if not. Don't over do images or clutter - editors read hundreds of these sites a day and will be likely to have a lot in queue behind you. They want to judge your site rather than your taste in art or cartoons and music selections.
Spider based engines are more predictable. Spiders scan your pages looking for your keywords, count number of times keyword occurs through out that page, and measure it against overall length of your text to calculate how relevant your site is to keyword.
Your keywords need to be set in keywords meta tag, and should also be included in your description, and to occur AT LEAST once in first 200 characters of text in your page. For this reason it is wise to not try to target too many keywords on a single page, try to pick simple word-pairs. Make sure you pick phrases or words that you will repeat several times in actual text of your page and that they describe your site to a viewer not to a robot.
For same reasons of relevance to keywords, try to stick to one specific topic per page. If you deal with two different topics then you risk chance of only 50% of page being deemed relevant to either topic.
Assuming your site is now optimized to be rated by engines you need to start submitting. There are some tricks to this too. Firstly, submitting to FFA (Free For All) Links pages is a good idea. Most spiders will place your site far more highly if they have found lots of other sites linking to you. Once you submit to any Spidered Search Engine you should add your site to as many FFA pages as you can find, once per day, for about two weeks. You will get a lot of junk mail in response to these submissions - one from each site generally, but most have exactly same text in them so you can set your mail program to automatically delete them by using filter settings.
The best value listings of all are Inktomi database. Those used by Yahoo, Hotbot, ICQit and many others, and ODP (Open Directory Project) which is used by a list of Engines too long to even consider listing. Getting into ODP database is now only way to get listed in AOL net search. AOL use spiders to index sites found in ODP directory so you can see why it would be so important to be listed.
Top Five Directory Databases (1) Open Directory (2) Snap (3) Yahoo! Web Sites (Inktomi) (4) Yahoo! Directory (5) LookSmart
Normally, you will submit to these directories one time for a given web site. It is extremely important that you submit to them correctly first time and choose very best category. Be aware that it's often difficult to get a directory to change your listing later unless you send them a letter of explanation.
Here's where it gets complicated: Submitting to (6) HotBot (an engine) - will get you listed in all Inktomi based engines.
(7) Netscape: Netscape draws its results from Open Directory first. If no matches are found there, then it searches (8) Google. Therefore, we submit to Open Directory (a directory) and Google (an engine) to become listed on Netscape.
(9) AOL Search: AOL will search Open Directory listings first. After those matches are displayed, it will then draw results from Inktomi. Again, we submit to Open Directory using our directory guide, and to HotBot to be fully listed in AOL Search.
(10) Magellan: By submitting to Excite will get you listed here.
(11) Excite will get you listed in Magellan. They pull from each other's database.