Getting Around Search Engine Optimization Roadblocks
Today, I will cover the most difficult technologies and techniques to work with. While each of these technologies, techniques and designs have a useful purpose for web-designers, webmasters and general office staff tasked with keeping the site up to date, they each also present problems for search engine spiders and/or SEO practitioners. While reading, please keep in mind that the search engines are aware of these issues and may be in the process of creating work-around solutions. Similarly, the creators of many of the technologies mentioned here are also aware of these issues and in some cases are working to present webmasters and site designers with solutions. Topping the list is FLASH.
FLASH creates an extraordinary visual presentation when used properly. When used incorrectly, FLASH can present many problems from both a user perspective and a search engine placement perspective. Most Internet users experience FLASH when visiting the intro or splash page of a site. FLASH is basically a movie that is capable of doubling as a webpage. Links and text can be added to FLASH to create what appears to be a standard webpage. The problem for search engine spiders is the file containing the data is stored on the site’s host-server as a .SWF file. These files cannot be read by a spider and, even if they could, contain information in a way spiders can’t read or record. The most often cited example is the website for the new film iRobot. When searching for “iRobot” I was unable to find the site. It wasn’t until I typed “iRobot Movie” that a listing came up directing me to the correct site. This happened because the site is designed using FLASH from front to finish. In order to correct this issue, a new website incorporating standard HTML with a FLASH movie embedded in the HTML page (www.irobotmovie.com) was created. Macromedia, the designers of FLASH are working on a newer, updated version that is search engine friendly. Until this version is released, sites designed solely in FLASH will not likely see the light of the elusive Top10 listings.
Content Management Systems (CMS) were designed to enable people without technical expertise to create, post and update websites on their own. Quite often used by the Real Estate and small retail sectors, CMS sites create tangible cost-savings for companies with websites that require frequent updates or have a large number of contributors. There are hundreds of CMS programs out there, most of which are woefully search engine unfriendly. As there are so many types of CMS out there, SEO practitioners have a steep learning curve every time they try to work with one they have not worked with before. Quite often, CMS systems limit an SEO’s ability to create unique titles and meta tags for individual pages within the site. Many CMS systems also have clunky file naming defaults such as “page1.htm” or “nextpage.php”. These three issues make working with a CMS designed site difficult and can limit the ability of an SEO practitioner to achieve desired placements.
Frames are used by webmasters to split a page into two or more active areas. Often used to provide elements that remain static regardless of where the visitor moves in the site, Frames present a basic problem for search engine spiders due to the way a frame-set is written into the source-code. When you view a page designed using Frames, you are actually viewing three or more distinct files that are compiled together to make what appears to be one page. The first file is the frame-set or the foundation. The frame-set then calls two or more files that appear next to each other on the page creating what looks like a single page. When a search engine spider moves through the source-code of the page, it only sees the file names but does not actually see the files or their contents themselves. There are work-around’s for sites designed using Frames such as the noframes tag, however these solutions are never as powerful as a properly designed HTML page could be.
Shopping Carts are used to enable E-Commerce and are obviously necessary to allow for purchasing of products directly from a website. As the vast majority of our clients are from commercial sectors, we see dozens of different shopping carts each month. Most carts are not search engine friendly. Using long data strings to direct traffic, or non-descriptive file names, individual products displayed in most carts will not achieve search engine placements without serious manipulation or mapping on the part of a good SEO. One shopping cart I can recommend is the Apple Pie Cart made by Lee Roberts of Rose Rock Design in Oklahoma. Roberts is a website designer and is a member of the World Wide Web Consortium. When designing Apple Pie, Roberts paid a great deal of attention to the function and capabilities of search engine spiders. Please note, there may be other search engine friendly shopping carts on the market but this one is the most open to spiders I have ever come across.
Image based Index (home, default) pages are notoriously difficult to work with. Many designers create a gorgeous cover-page for a website but forget to place any text on it. While the design may produce a site that looks as organized and efficient as the business it represents, a graphic based Index page will almost certainly be passed over by a search engine spider as it has no body-text to read and record. Often, a designer of an image based page will include links designed as part of the image and linked using “hot-spots” as opposed to providing a text-path for a spider to follow to subsequent pages within the site. As spiders do not follow image links, chances are very high they won’t follow links found within an image.
There are several other techniques that present difficulties for SEO practitioners however, the five mentioned above are by far the most challenging and at times, impossible. Again, it is important to mention that software designers and search engine engineers are working to enable spiders to move through all types of files regardless of the techniques used to create the site in question. As things stand today however, webmasters might wish to avoid these techniques unless they have a good background in design and a good relationship with their SEO.
Jim Hedger is the SEO Manager at StepForth Search Engine Placement. Jim has over years 10 years of Internet experience as an entrepreneur and over 3 years as an Internet marketer.