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Your web site may look beautiful to your eyes, but what about to the “eyes” of a search engine? If you can understand how a search engine “sees” your site, than you can design the site or make the necessary changes so that your site will get a higher ranking in search results.

The first thing to consider is that search engines do not see pictures or other graphics. If you have rendered some very important text (loaded with keywords) as an image, a beautiful multi-colored gif for example, the search engine will not index these keywords. There are some wizard-oriented web creation tools that may automatically change your text into a gif or jpg image. It may look like text to you, but not to a search engine. Thus, you have to weigh the relative importance of good images against the need to give the search engine something to chew on, some “spider food”. Usually a balance has to be struck. At one extreme are pages that contain only images. For example if you have an entry page with a beautiful image of the ocean and a beautiful sunset with one word saying Enter. It may be dramatic looking, but it is not very interesting for a search engine. Similarly sites that are only Flash images, don’t give anything for the search engine’s “spider” (robotic gathering tool) to gobble up and put into the index. If you want to use Flash, consider making a hybrid page, one that has some elements, such as informative text, of normal HTML and a section in Flash. Keep this in mind and make sure that your important concepts and keywords do appear on your pages in a text format.

However as pictures and graphics are very important, there is something that can be done to optimize them for search engine recognition. You can put an alt tag or alternative text on each image. The search engines will read this text and index the words you have entered. Thus if you have your company’s logo at the top of the page Acme Widgets, you can write and alternative text: “Acme Widgets, California’s first producer of Electronic Widgets”. Put your mouse over the A1-Optimization logo at the top of this page and you can see the alt text which I used for this image. Search engines will see this tag and the tag will also appear when your web visitors put their mouse on the image. Whenever you have an image, take the opportunity to put an alternative text tag. But remember that, although the alternative text tag is indeed indexed by the search engines, it is not given as much importance as other text elements.

If you really have some important text that you want emphasized then use the heading tags, h1, h2, h3, h4 etc, and make use of bold text. These heading tags and text rendered in bold font are given more importance by search engines than other text because headings are thought to indicate the main concepts of your page. The heading tags may not look as nice as a gif image, but if they contain important keywords then whatever you think you may lose in beauty by discarding them, will be returned to you in better ranking positions in Internet searches for your important keywords.

The second thing to do is to Put your important text near the top of the page. Suppose you have put your company’s logo (Acme Widgets) at the top of the page, as a gif or jpg image. Underneath it you might put some text reading: “California’s first producer of Electronic Widgets”. If California and Electronic Widgets are important keywords for you then you have started off your page very well. In fact, some search engines use the first paragraph or phrase as the description that is shown in search results. So if the first paragraph or first phrase really says a lot and is attractive it may entice someone to visit your page. (Getting a top result in a search engine is one thing, but remember someone has to think that your page is interesting enough to visit if they are going to click on it, and the description shown by the search engine may be the deciding factor determining whether they click through to your page or to your competitor’s page)

But, what is the top of the page? It seems obvious but search engines do not see or rather, read pages in the same way that our eye sees the page. Recently I built a web site for someone and then looked at the first search engine results for that site. I saw the words “Choose your language” as the description. (The search engine took a phrase from the navigation bar on the left hand side of the page, where surfers were invited to choose which language version of the site they wanted to see). This happened because search engines have to go through the table structure of the site. In order to align the different elements (text and pictures) of a site, designers often divide the page into tables. If a site is divided into two vertical tables, one for the left hand navigation and one for the body. The spider will first read everything in the table on the left before going to the table on the right. I corrected this problem by putting a pithy, keyword laden descriptive phrase in the left hand column just above the navigation elements. So, make sure that your important phrases are in places where the spider will see them before they reach other less important phrases. If the table structure on your page is not giving the right picture to the spider, then you should make the necessary modifications to correct the problem.

This Web Marketing article was written by Donald Nelson on 3/22/2005

Donald Nelson is a web developer, editor and social worker. He has been working on the Internet since 1995, and is currently the director of A1-Optimization (, a firm providing low cost search engine optimization, submission and web promotion services.