Search Engine Spiders & Usability

Are you looking at your website from the perspective of a search engine spider? If not, you may be missing out on valuable information that can help your website rank better on search engines and provide a better experience for users. Let's look at a few tools to help SEO's see websites as search engine spiders do, what SEO's should be analyzing and how pages can become more spider- and user-friendly.

Search engine spiders (a program or automated script that visits pages and makes a copy of the source code for later processing and indexing by the search engine) don't always enter a site from the home/index page. In fact, every page is a possible entry point. For this reason it essential for each page to have a link to an HTML or XML sitemap, as it enables spiders to find and crawl all available pages.

A search engine spider does not "see" your website the same as a Web surfer. Instead, it only sees the text and code in the final rendered page. If you have looked at source code before you know it is virtually indecipherable to the untrained eye. Thankfully, there are a couple of different tools for viewing source code for SEO analysis. One method is to use a text Web browser like Lynx. Since the Lynx browser only displays text, it is helpful in checking the usability of websites on older browsers. And, most importantly, it does not display tables, frames, images, or video, so it loads pages very fast and gives you that spider perspective. What you find might be surprising.

An important factor in search engines' algorithms is the order in which they index text and links - those within the body of a page are given more priority. Text and links within sidebars, footers, and headers can be given less of a priority. Therefore, Google may not be giving as much weight to site-wide links in sidebars compared to one of your text links within the body of the page content. As such, deep analysis on how pages rendered are seen by spiders is a very valuable undertaking.

Get Indexed Quickly: It is important to note that before you can see how search engines view your website, spiders must be able to find your pages. Instead of manually submitting your site directly to search engine indices, the best way to get pages crawled and indexed is to procure a link from an existing page. Get a direct link from another website or get listed in a directory.

Let's take a look at a few things you can do right now to make sure your pages are properly indexed.

Keep page sizes under 100KB. MSN-Live and Ask do not index body text beyond 102KB.

Make sure header tags and content appear near the top of the page, and that anything you don't want indexed does not appear. SEO's should also use CSS to feed spiders text, links and images in the desired order.

CSS allows for the positioning of text and images wherever you want on a page. Just because you want your Flash navigation at the top of the page and your text link navigation at the bottom, that doesn't mean you must have it this way within your HTML code. You can list your text link navigation (with keyword-rich text) at the top of your source code and your image/Flash navigation at the bottom of your source code with CSS.

Is this all overkill? Perhaps. But in competitive keyword arenas where websites and SEO's are looking for any edge they can get, this may be what pushes a website from the fringes of page two on Google to a solid spot on page one. That in itself is reason enough to think like a search engine spider.

Current Search Engine Spider Information

Happy SEOing.

SEO Corner

About the Author:

Dante A. Monteverde is a Search Strategist specializing in Search Engine Optimization.
He founded Spider Bait SEO in 1996 and has over 10 years of SEO experience.