"Put on the glasses."
In John Carpenter’s 1988 cult film, They Live, a seemingly ordinary pair of sunglasses gives the protagonist an unsettling glimpse of the reality just beneath the surface of everyday life. When viewed through the shaded lenses, a commercial billboard reveals a single subliminal code word: “OBEY.” An advertisement for a clothing sale simply reads, “CONSUME.” As our hero soon realizes, nothing in this metropolitan setting is as it seems.
Subversive social commentary aside, this provides a useful analogy for illustrating the difference in how humans and search engines each view web content. In some cases, what you and I would consider a visually striking website may appear to a search engine as a mere couple of hyperlinks. This typically results when a website’s framework is composed of data that search engines can’t “see”—often rich media formats like images, audio and Flash animation.
To see what I’m talking about, you’ll need to put on your own special sunglasses—that is, take a look at your website through Google’s Cache Checker, a free app you can add to your Chrome browser (similar tools are available for non-Chrome users). This gives you a “bot’s eye view” by revealing what elements of your site content are visible to search engines. You may be surprised by what you see. Click here to see what our homepage looks like to crawlers.
Now that you’re aware of the coded reality underlying all web content, you might be wondering, “So what? What does it matter if search engines can’t see my site’s array of Justin Bieber GIFs?” It actually matters a lot…especially if you want your Bieber fan site to show up in search.
Let’s talk about indexing.
To improve search efficiency, search engines send out scouts (commonly known as “crawlers” or “spiders”) to assess and compile web content into keyword-based indexes, a process known as “indexing.” Search engines rely on these massive indexes to provide faster, more relevant results for user search queries. Consequently, websites that have plenty of indexable content are more likely to show up on search engine results pages (SERPs) than those that don’t. In other words, if crawlers can’t “see” your site, users entering search queries aren’t likely to either.
So, how can you ensure crawlers are able to see and index your site? First, make sure your website’s overall design consists of elements they’re familiar with. Most important is HTML, which stands for Hypertext Markup Language. Consisting of “hypertext” (links that let users click from one page to another) and “markup” (code or “tags” that designate attributes like color, font style and document type), this “language” is the foundation of a search-optimized website, as it gives crawlers crucial insights about what they’re looking at and how it should be indexed.
Besides incorporating HTML, it’s also helpful to increase the indexability of your site’s non-HTML elements, like rich media. You can do this by including alt text for images, text on the page for Flash or Java plug-ins, and transcriptions for video and audio media. That way, when viewed in Google Cache Checker, your Bieber fan site won’t simply read “OBEY” (which would be pretty creepy, SEO aside).
A great tool for ensuring your site is being indexed is Google Search Console. You can read more about it here.
These tactics are just the beginning of what goes into creating an eminently indexable website. By incorporating them, you can ensure your site appeals to users and search engines alike.
Want professional assistance designing a search-optimized website? We can help!
To read more of James Florence's work, check out his blog posts for diamondcertified.org.