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Site Design through the eyes of a Search Engine

« Go Back | Posted in: - on January 13, 2014

Search engines use automated spiders to crawl your site and understand the content so your site can be found during search queries.  Despite all the effort you put into making your website’s design as attractive as possible, there are certain elements of your website that these automated programs simply won’t be able to process.

In general, the search engine spiders are limited to understanding the text and text-based features (for example, backlinks) on your site.  However, there are some SEO workarounds that make it possible for the search engines to understand and process non-text elements.  For more detail on how this occurs, let’s look at each of the different elements found on standard web pages, as well as how the search engines view and value them…

Element #1 – Text

As mentioned above, search engine spiders love text- based content.  They derive a number of different clues about your website’s theme and quality from these words, simply because text is the type of content they’re most easily able to digest.

However, that doesn’t mean that all websites are built to optimize the text-based content they include.  There are a few specific things you’ll want to watch out for when it comes to making your text as cleanly written and easily accessible as possible:

  • Make sure text is visible to the search engine spiders.  Occasionally, snippets of code, embedded content or formatting inconsistencies can cause text to be hidden from the search engine spiders.  To get an idea of what these automated programs see when they land on each of your pages, use the Webconfs “Search Engine Spider Simulator” tool
  • Use a text-based browser to check for additional formatting concerns that may prevent the proper indexation of your site’s content.  Lynx is one example of a browser that will allow you to view your website’s content without any additional features engaged


Element #2 – Images

The concept of avoiding images from an SEO standpoint is fairly well-established, but to review – any text that’s incorporated into your images can’t be indexed by the search engine spiders at this point.

So say, for example, your site uses a graphical header to introduce your site’s name and tagline.  Be aware that, because they’re embedded in an image file, these words are no longer accessible to the search engines, which can be a big problem for your site’s SEO.

As an alternative, you can add text to your images’ ALT tag attributes, but this is no substitute for hiding either large chunks or extremely important pieces in your images.  Instead, stick to design options and graphic elements that enhance your site without steamrolling its ability to rank for your chosen keyword phrases.

Element #3 – Flash

Flash is another content type that often gets a bad rap for having a negative SEO impact.  And it’s true – just as with image files, any text you embed in your Flash files won’t be read or indexed by the search engine spiders.

Now, this doesn’t mean that you should avoid them entirely.  When used properly, Flash videos can be a great way to engage your audience and convey important points in an interactive way.  Just be sure to incorporate them in small, subtle ways and to add any relevant content from your videos to your site as text in other areas.

Element #4 – PDFs

Contrary to popular belief, the search engine spiders can access certain elements of PDF files.  While their overall “word-for-word” translation of these documents can be hit or miss, they are to read certain tags associated with your PDF files, including the title, author, subject and keyword tags, as well as your headline and image caption tags within the document.

For this reason, it’s important to pay special attention to the keywords you integrate into your PDF files as you create them.  While it’s unlikely that adjusting these factors alone will result in higher rankings, they’re one of the few opportunities you have to guarantee that the search engine spiders will see your chosen keywords – so don’t waste it!


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