by Art Hendela
Copyright 2009 Hendela System Consultants, Inc.
Some of the most beautiful websites on the Internet are completely invisible to search engines such as Google, Yahoo, or Bing. Our eyes can see the words, beautiful pictures, and fascinating animation in the browser but, the website may be hidden to the search engines. The search engines need text to determine where to place your website in the Search Engine Results Page or SERP. When words are placed inside pictures, the letters are no longer letters, but a series of dots that make a shape of a letter. Let me show you what I mean.
Hold the left button of your mouse and run it along the letters that make up the words Highlight Here:
Notice that the words are highlighted and the background behind the words changes color. Your browser knows that these are words are text that can be cut and pasted into some other document such as Word or PowerPoint.
Now try holding your left mouse button down and run it along the letters below:
The words do not highlight this time. The difference between the two examples is the major distinction in search engine visibility. The first example uses text letters. The second example is a picture that looks like text letters but is actually thousands of dots put into the shape of letters. The difference is insignificant to people reading the text. To Google, Yahoo, or Bing, the difference could not be more pronounced. Websites that use text letters can be found. Websites that use pictures of text letters cannot be found.
Is my site invisible too?
Whether or not your website is visible to search engines depends on how it was designed and built. If you build your site using good Search Engine Optimization techniques that place content on the pages using text letters then you have a good start towards good visibility. If you violate some of the basic techniques that search engines need to read and categorize your site then your site can become almost entirely invisible to the search engines. We'll go over some of the basic reasons for poor visibility in the next section.
6 factors in website visibility
- The site is entirely built in Flash
- The site uses words that are embedded in pictures
- A webpage has moved and redirects you to another location
- The site content requires parameters to access the information
- The site uses frames
The site is entirely built in Flash
I will qualify this first point by saying that it is not IMPOSSIBLE for Google to index Flash content, but it takes more effort for Google to find the text to index. Text in Flash is more difficult to read for a couple of reasons. The first problem is that the text of a Flash website is held in a container called an SWF or "swiff" file. This SWF file not only holds the text, but also the commands called ActionScript that make the nice animations that we like to watch. The second problem is that one SWF file can hold many pages instead of just one. Most websites are built using computer languages that contain one web page per programming file. Housing more than one page in one file leads to a rather nasty housekeeping problem. In the midst of this mixture of motion commands and visible text, where does one page end and another start? How does the search engine list an individual page in the results? That's a good question. It's one that search engines don't answer very well either.
The site uses words that are embedded in pictures
In a similar manner to Flash content, pictures aren't able to be read and categorized easily in a process called indexing. Unlike Flash, it's not only difficult to index the words in pictures, it's impossible to index the words in pictures. The reason is words in pictures are only a bunch of dots called pixels and are not really letters that the search engines can read. See the "Highlight Here" example above to see this difference.
A webpage has moved and redirects you to another location
When a website changes its location, a redirect takes you from the old location to the new location automatically. This change in webpage location can occur for a number of reasons. For one, you have reorganized the website into a new and better set of categories. For another, the advertising campaign for which you have developed specific landing pages has ended and you'd like visitors to that old landing website to go to your main website. In either case, your web visitor is automatically redirected to the new location. If the redirect were not in place, you would be looking at an outdated advertising offer or a location that does not exist anymore. The redirect can either be good or bad for your website placement depending on how it is programmed. A "301" redirect is a permanent location change and is good from an SEO perspective. A "302" redirect is viewed as a temporary change of location and can adversely affect your ranking if this is not really a temporary move. If the correct type of redirect is not used, the traffic between the two locations is split between the old and the new locations and will hurt your rankings on the results pages.
The site content requires parameters to access the information
You have probably seen a website address in your navigation bar with a very long ending that has a question mark and some ampersands in it. Those names following the question mark and ampersands are known as query string parameters and go to some database connected to the site to buld the page. The link may read something like this:
where whattitle, language, location, state, town and option are all entered on a form and are used to find information to build the page. Google and other search engines have trouble indexing pages with query strings because the search engine does not know the proper values to enter for each query string parameter. Since the page is created based on the values entered on a form and the search engine cannot type the values into the form, those pages are not indexed.
The site uses frames
Frames is a technique that was popular a few years ago that broke a browser window into two or more parts. Each part held its own webpage. Search engines index individual pages, not sets of pages at one time. Since the frames place more than one page into a physical window, search engines do not know how to handle them. Luckily you can get the consistent look that developers wanted from frames by using ASP.NET Master Pages.
Getting good placement in Google, Yahoo, Bing, etc. is much easier when you know what the search engines can and cannot see. Designing your site to avoid the problem areas listed above is a great start to achieving good web page ranking.
About the Author
Art Hendela is President and owner of Hendela System Consultants, Inc of Little Falls, NJ. Hendela System Consultants, Inc. helps its customers build profits from their websites through custom landing pages, surveys, search engine optimization processes and custom web applications built in ASP.NET and SQL Server. Art has been helping businesses large and small since 1988. He holds a Bachelor of Science in Chemical Engineering, a Masters of Science in Computer Science, and is a part-time PhD candidate (ABD) in Information Systems at New Jersey Institute of Technology. He is married to the former Vega Bjorndal and has two sons, Martin and Karl. His outside activities include coaching youth soccer, basketball, and baseball. You may reach Art at 973-890-0324