Don't Squish Search Engine Spiders

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SEO Summary:Don't Squish Search Engine Spiders

In this section I'd like to focus on the limitations of modern search engine spiders. As you know, the major search engines send out software programs, often called spiders or bots, to scan the contents of web sites so that they can be properly indexed. Using various indicators (such as number and quality of links, age of site, and perhaps as much as fifty others), which they check in a mostly automated process, the search engines then decide which sites are relevant to certain terms (and how relevant). This way, when someone searches on a particular key word or phrase, the list of links returned truly reflects, to the best of the algorithms' abilities, sites that will answer the searcher's query.

But search engine spiders, as I mentioned, have limitations. Engineers work constantly to improve their ability to index sites, and to spot relevant items, but there are some things that search engine spiders simply cannot see and/or interpret. Likewise, because of what spiders can and cannot do (such as enter text or passwords), there are certain parts of web sites past which spiders cannot reliably crawl. If you find that certain parts of your site are not being indexed, you might want to check whether the technology you're using to make your site more interesting to visitors is squishing those spiders.

So what challenges a search engine spider? Well, they can't navigate past certain forms of JavaScript, for openers. So all those lovely drop-down menus, image maps and image links you designed into the page might as well be invisible. Be sure to include text links for the spiders.

And Flash? Well, I won't say forget about it, but if you're going to use a lot of it on your site, you need to remember that the spiders won't see it. Even Google, which recently announced that Adobe provided it with the means to read Flash, can't read many forms of Flash, such as videos. So you need to build in content that the spiders CAN see that will help them figure out those videos. The same holds true for images (the alt tag is your friend!).

Flash has something in common with frames and AJAX: you can't link to a single page. So each of these technologies should be used sparingly if possible when you're concerned about SEO. In fact, frames should not be used at all; it's considered to be an outmoded way to design a web page. What should you do if your customer insists on that splash image or Flash movie taking up all of the home page? Insert text and navigation links below the fold. I'll return to video themes later; right now it's time to move on.

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