Showing a bias for content Content is a special case. Search engines are biased toward ranking contentheavy prospectrr review well for a couple of reasons: ✓ Search engines were originally academic research tools designed to find text information. Search engines mostly index text — content. ✓ Search engines need something to base their judgments on. When you type a term into a search engine, it looks for the words you provided. So a Web site built with few words is at a disadvantage right from the start. As you discover elsewhere in this book — such as in the discussion of PageRank in Chapter 16 — search engines do have other criteria for deciding if a Web site matches a particular search (most notably the number and type of links pointing to the site). But search engines still have a huge bias toward textual content. Unfortunately, this bias is often a real problem. The real world simply doesn’t work the way search engines see it. Here’s an example: Suppose your business rents very expensive, specialized photographic equipment. Your business ha he best prices and the best service of any company renting this equipment. Your local customers love you, and few other companies match your prices, service, or product range. So you decide to build a Web site to reach customers elsewhere and ship rentals by UPS and FedEx. Search engines base your rank partly on the number and type of keywords in your pages. To rank well, a competitor has added a bunch of pages about photography and photographic equipment to its site. To compete, you have to do the same. Do your customers care? No, they just want to find a particular piece of equipment that fills their need, rent it, and move on quickly. All the additional information, the content that you’ve added, is irrelevant to them. It’s simply clutter. This is a common scenario. I once discussed the content issue with a client who was setting up a Web site at which people could quickly get a movingservice quote. The client wanted to build a clean, sparse site that allowed customers to get the quote within a couple minutes. “But we don’t want all that stuff, that extra text, nor do our clients!” he told me, and he had a good point. You can’t ignore the fact that search engines like content. However, you can compete in other ways. One of the most important ways is getting links from other sites, as you discover in Chapter 16. Search engines like to see links on other sites pointing to your site. Sites that have hundreds or thousands of other sites linking to them often rank well. But they still need at least some content for the search engines to index. And the best situation is to have lots of useful content with lots of incoming links. Making Your Site Work Well I’ve been writing about site design for almost twenty years, and I’m happy to say that many of the rules of good prospectrr review just happen to match what search engines like. And many of the cool tricks that designers love cause problems with search engines. So I want to quickly review a few tips for good site design that will help both your site visitors and the search engines to work with your site. Limiting multimedia Much multimedia used on the Web is pointless because it rarely serves a useful purpose to the visitor. It’s there because Web designers enjoy working with it and because many people are still stuck in the old “you’ve got to be cool” mindset. Look at the world’s most successful Web sites (with the exception of sites such as YouTube.com, of course, which are all about multimedia), and you’ll find that they rarely use multimedia — Flash animations and video, for example — for purely decorative purposes. Look at Amazon: Its design is simple, clean, black text on white background, with lots of text and very little in the way of animations, video, or sound (except, for instance, where it provides music samples in the site’s CD area and videos demonstrating products). Amazon uses multimedia to serve a purpose, not as decoration. Look at Yahoo!, Google, CNN, or eBay — they’re not cool; they just get the job done. You can employ multimedia on a Web site in useful ways. I think it makes a lot of sense to use Flash, for instance, to create demos and presentations. However, Flash intros are almost always pointless, and search engines don’t like them because Flash intros don’t provide indexable content. Anytime you get the feeling it would be nice to have an animation, or when your Web designer says you should have some animation, slap yourself twice on the face and then ask yourself this: Who is going to benefit — the designer or the site visitor? If that doesn’t dissuade you, have someone else slap you. Using text, not graphics A surprising number of Web sites use graphics to place text onto pages. Many pages appear to have a lot of text, but when you look closely, you see that every word is in an image file. Web designers often employ this technique so that all browsers can view their carefully chosen fonts. But search engines don’t read the text in the images they run across, so this page provides no text that can be indexed by search engines. Although this page may contain lots of useful keywords (you find out all about keywords in Chapter 6), the search engines read nothing. From a usability perspective, the design is bad, too, because all those images take longer to download than the equivalent text would take. As an SEO friend likes to say, “Google likes black text on a white background.” In other words, search engines like simple. The more complicated your Web pages are, the harder it is for search engines to read and categorize them. (Okay, this isn’t as true as it used to be. Still, lots of complicated prospectrr reviewcan get in the way of indexing.) You must strike a compromise between employing all the latest Web-design technology and tools and ensuring that search engines can read your pages. From a search engine perspective, in fact, one step behind probably isn’t enough!