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Giving Search Engines Something to Read

You don't necessarily have to pick through the HTML code for your Web page to evaluate how search-engine-friendly it is. You can find out a lot just by looking at the Web page in the browser. Determine whether you have any text on the page. Page content — text that the search engines can read — is essential, but many Web sites don't have any page content on the front page and often have little on interior pages. Here are some potential problems:

  • Having a (usually pointless) Flash intro on your site
  • Embedding much of the text on your site into images, rather than relying on readable text
  • Banking on flashy visuals to hide the fact that your site is light on content
  • Using the wrong keywords

If you have these types of problems, there are ways to overcome them. However, the problems can often be time consuming to fix.

Eliminating Flash

What's Flash? You've probably seen animations when you arrive at a Web site, with a little Skip Intro link hidden away in the page. Words and pictures appear and disappear, scroll across the pages, and so on. You create these animations with a product called Macromedia Flash.

You might want to avoid using a Flash intro on your site. In many cases, Flash intros only serve as an irritation to site visitors. (The majority of Flash intros are created because the Web designer likes playing with Flash.)

Replacing images with real text

If you have an image-heavy Web site, in which all or most of the text is embedded onto images, you should consider replacing the images with real text. If the search engine can't read the text, it can't index it.

It may not be immediately clear whether text on the page is real text or images. You can quickly figure it out a couple of ways:

  • Try to select the text in the browser with your mouse. If it's real text, you can select it character by character. If it's not real text, you simply can't select it — you'll probably end up selecting an image.
  • Use your browser's View --> Source command to look at the HTML for the page and then see if you can find the actual words in the text.

Using more keywords

The light-content issue can be a real problem. Some sites are designed to be light on content, and sometimes this approach is perfectly valid in terms of design and usability. However, search engines have a bias for content, for text they can read. In general, the more text — with the right keywords — the better.

Using the right keywords in the right places

Suppose that you do have text, and plenty of it. But does the text have the right keywords? It should. Where keywords are placed and what they look like are also important. Search engines use position and format as clues to importance. Here are a few simple techniques you can use — but don't overdo it!

  • Use particularly important keywords — those that people are using to search for your products and services — near the top of the page.
  • Place keywords into <H> (heading) tags.
  • Use bold and italic keywords; search engines take note of this.
  • Put keywords into bulleted lists; search engines also take note of this.
  • Use keywords multiple times on a page, but don't use a keyword or keyword phrase too often. If a word makes up more than, say, 8 to 10 percent of all the words on the page, it may be too much.

Make sure that the links between pages within your site contain keywords, rather than just buttons, graphic navigation bars, or short little links that you have to guess at.

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