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Is Your Web Site Spider-Friendly?


A company's Web site can make or break a search engine optimization program.

Search engine optimization starts when you conceptualize your Web site. If you develop your site with SEO in mind, your customers have a better shot at finding the site-and buying the products on it.

How do you make the design of your company's Web site search engine "spider-friendly"? That is, how it can be indexed easily by search engine spiders and positioned high among the search results?

* Content layout

Think about the content for your site and how you plan to lay out the text, graphics and other content. Remember that search engine spiders place relevance on the structure of a site's content.

The home page, followed by the first and second level of navigation, should contain the content that best describes your site. The first level is everything that's accessible from the home page, and the second level is the pages that follow that. Don't bury your best content four or five levels deep. Visitors won't find it, and search engines won't think it's relevant. For instance, detailed product descriptions and how-to guides about products should be on the top levels. Search engines love these content-rich areas of the site.

* Navigation scheme

While search engine spiders can follow some types of graphic navigation, keep it simple for all spiders. Use a text-link-based (HTML) navigation system. Search engine spiders can't follow rollover navigation. (Rollover navigation is what appears when you roll your mouse over an area of a site and a list or other content appears.) If rollover links are necessary, place HTML text links that mimic the rollovers on the bottom of all pages.

* Planning descriptions

Google and other search engines will pull content from your pages and use them as the keyword description as they report search results. Review your site and identify all the text on the pages, including text in links. If your navigation across the top is text links, the words contained in the links may end up as your site description. I'm sure you've seen a description like this: " Site Map Privacy Policy Contact Us Support Products...MyWebsite is about..."

Consider your text layout and how search engines will read the site, particularly your home page, and try to give them HTML content first.

* Anchors and text links

These are important elements of a Web site, helping visitors get to the content easily. (Anchors are words on the Web page that indicate aspects of the site the viewer is looking for and directs them there.) They are also good for SEO. The keywords or phrases contained in these links need just as much consideration as the text used in content elsewhere in a Web site. Use keywords in your anchors and text links relevant to the content that the search engine will find.

* Flash

Flash sites are generally invisible to search engine spiders. So consider embedding Flash into an HTML page with content and make the graphic design consistent with the Flash files. Go to and see how the makers of Flash use it on their own pages.

* Frames

When planning your design, your programmer may recommend frames as a way to make navigation easy for visitors. (Frames are technology used to build a Web page.) But most search engines do not spider sites that use frames well, and it's best to avoid using them whenever possible.

* Site map

Think of the site map as the one page of your site where search engine spiders can find every single link. The site map should contain text links, not graphics, and should also contain some text relevant to the site. Visitors may enter through the site map, so some welcoming text would be appropriate to inform visitors about your site.

* JavaScript

Search engine spiders do not normally react to JavaScript, so they will not recognize those outgoing links. It is better to use standard HTML text links.

Companies often use JavaScript to provide links to other sites. These firms also like to use a warning box that tells visitors they're leaving the site or that they're not responsible for content accessible via outgoing links. This warning box is a pop-up that uses JavaScript. But JavaScript makes the outgoing link invisible to the spiders, which will affect the site's link popularity.

Jeannette Kocsis is SEM manager for the interactive team at Harte-Hanks Inc., Lake Katrine, NY.

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