By Lisa Thayer, GoldfishNetwork.com
“Spiders and crawlers and bots…oh my!” – Two views of the same website
One of the most challenging aspects of optimizing a website is that there are two audiences to appeal to: 1) standard website users (like you and me) and 2) search engines. There are many similarities in attraction but also some very important differences.
First, let’s take a look at the top four usability issues from a human/standard user’s viewpoint:
* Ease of navigation – This is no time to be overly “creative” and make visitors guess where to find pertinent information. Sounds like a deceptively simple piece of advice but you only have an average of 8 seconds to capture your audience’s attention. After you have spent time and effort driving traffic to your website, don’t lose them by frustrating them! One navigational tool users appreciate is the addition of a “site map” or hierarchal list of the pages of your website.
* Visually attractive – If it looks like a high school student created your website, it will adversely affect your business’ public profile. If you don’t care about your professional image, the customer might also think you don’t care about the quality of your work. Keep in mind that the internet allows individuals the chance to anonymously pre-screen your business. You may truly have a solid, reputable business but if your website doesn’t have a good design with the proper aesthetics and technical capabilities, you’ll present a poor image of yourself. Unless you know how to design a website with these attributes, you should retain the services of a web designer and developer.
* Content-rich – Studies show that website visitors read websites like billboards not novels. Make sure that whoever writes the copy for your website is familiar with this very important difference in writing for the web. Place your most important content “above the fold” so that the user doesn’t have to scroll down unless they need more details. Make your website more relevant to the user by providing a set of Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ). Don’t be afraid of having a page of categorized links to other website resources but, of course, ask that they in turn link back to your website. Also, be sure to update your content as information in your industry changes as this will garner more frequent, repeat traffic.
Speed – In our increasingly fast paced society we have little tolerance for time wasters such as watching someone’s fancy animated intro or waiting for a picture to download. Use animation sparingly for maximum impact and to respect visitor’s time.
Not every website on the Internet gets the majority of its traffic from the major search engines, but you can’t afford to ignore them. Search engines processes and methodologies are quite complex and are updated all the time. The simple explanation of how search engines work is: the user types a query into a search engine which quickly sorts through literally millions (sometimes billions) of pages in its database and produces matches /results ranked in order of relevancy.
A search engine’s database is culled from a variety of sources.* Many of the larger search engines use things called web “spiders”,” crawlers” or “bot” programs that search the Internet in a methodical way to index and find new or updated data.
The most important thing for a website owner to know is that due to the use of these automated spiders some content and links displayed on a web page may not actually be visible to the search engines.
Now, let’s take another look at the top four usability issues – this time from a spider’s viewpoint:
* Ease of navigation – A spider isn’t concerned about getting lost – either you provide an easy roadmap to and through your website or it simply doesn’t exist in the spider’s mind; metaphorically speaking of course. The best way to do this is by adding a site map.
* Visually attractive – Web spiders don’t have eyes therefore even an actual picture of Bigfoot would have no effect on relevance. Search engines don’t index images; they won’t index any text your web site presents in image format. To fix this problem, you can use what are called “ALT tags” or image descriptions in your website coding.
* Content-rich – Content is also king when it comes to web spiders but beware… search engine methodologies have evolved to identify redundant text and the overuse of keywords. This means some of the tactics ethically challenged web designers used a few years back no longer fool the search engines and can actually harm your standings if overused. Search engine methodologies these days even go so far as to calculate the ratio of actual text (content) to the amount of coding. Web spiders also consider the information within three clicks of the home page to be most relevant to a search. Spiders, as well as human users, appreciate fresh content. (I will address the important issue of updating content in the next article.)
* Speed – Although search engines generally won’t penalize for the use of frames, dynamic content and multimedia files, they will have difficulty indexing them. They also don’t index pages that require registration, “cookies” or passwords.
I have seen many business owners make the mistake of designing an elaborate website and then seek out a professional SEO (Search Engine Optimization) expert. This can lead to disastrous results such as poor performance, missing your target market, and a potentially costly redesign. Before you begin your website project, make sure you clearly express your business vision, current and future marketing plan, and expectations with your web designer. (BTW- If the web designer isn’t asking you about these vital areas perhaps you should keep looking.)
*Other search engine sources include search engine advertisements, human based search engines or web directories and topical search engines.
Lisa Thayer is owner of GoldfishNetwork.com, a website design and marketing company located just south of Portland, Oregon. GoldfishNetwork.com serves clients in 9 states across the U.S. Lisa can be reached at (503) 783-0440 or by e-mail: Lisa@GoldfishNetwork.com