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Paragraph One, Visitors and Search Engines (revised)

Much has changed with search engine optimization since I first wrote this article nearly two years ago, so I thought it high time that it was totally rewritten.

At the time I published the original, Google was operating in a very different way. It would place the great emphasis when calculating rankings on your first paragraph, so it was important to cram all your important key phrases (in a logical way) into the first paragraph of text on your pages.

As Google has evolved and become more intuitive, this is no longer as much the case but I still feel it's an important part of optimization to have relevant text as high up the page as possible. And I don't mean this just on the visual page, but also in your source code.

Spiders read differently..

Search engine spiders don't read content the same way that humans do. A search engine spider reads the source code top to bottom. 

In the case of a site that uses complex tables for positioning or a left hand menu system, this can create some problems, especially if the menu is long or consists totally of images.  If a site also utilizes fancy effects such as rollover scripts, preload scripts and anything that takes up space at the top of the source code, this can also increase the amount of effort expended by a search engine spider in order to latch onto real content.

As an example, I'll use a simplified table structure below to demonstrate the path of a search engine spider through the code, numbering the "stops" along the way.

Banner Image Area 1

Banner Image Area 2

Side
Menu
3

Spacer
4

Actual Content

Spacer
5

Side 
Menu
6

Footer Area 7

Footer Area 8

As you can see, it's quite a distance to travel for the robot to get to any "spider food", your actual content, especially if you rely on images and Javascripts for aesthetic or functionality reasons. 

It's important to get some sort of textual content up as high as possible on the page and within the first couple of "stops". Where possible use text menu systems instead of images.

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Site images and search engines

If your site uses a good deal of graphical elements to relay information and assist with navigation, remember that search engine robots do not read images. 

You'll need to utilize the "Alt" attribute for your images. For example, the Taming the Beast.net page heading logo HTML looks like this:

<a href="http://www.tamingthebeast.net"><img border="0" src="../images/tamingthebeastbanner.gif" alt="Free ecommerce web site design and internet marketing resources, etc" width="458" height="39">

If you are going to use the "alt" attribute strategy, it's also wise to link your images to relevant pages.  There's been some talk of late of Google no longer spidering "alt" text in images, but this strategy also has other useful purposes.

Not just search engines, but for visitors too

Putting search engines aside for a moment, using the above strategies also assists your visitors. By having a summary paragraph high up on the page about what's actually contained on the page can help your web site visitors orient - instead of them waiting for a page to fully load and then spending further time ascertaining if it is relevant to them.

Descriptive text based menus, although some of them can get a bit out of hand at times (I'm pointing the finger directly at myself here), can also assist visitors in locating exactly the information that they want. 

If you are going to use an extensive text based menu system, ensure that you do include some simple dropdown style system within easy reach to satisfy the impatient visitor or those people who are quite happy to flick from page to page.

In the case of the dropdown menu that we use, it's been placed on the top right hand side - easily visible to visitors, but doesn't get between the search engine spider and the most important content.

Using the "alt" attribute on your images gives visitors further opportunities to navigate throughout your site if your images are linked. They can move their mouse over an image and get some idea of what it's linked to. Even simply linking your banner graphic to the home page will be greatly appreciated by your web site visitors.

Further learning resources:

Search engine marketing & optimization resources
http://www.tamingthebeast.net/ articles2/optimization-tutorials.htm 

Build it and they will come:
http://www.tamingthebeast.net/ articles/build.htm 

Michael Bloch
Taming the Beast.net
http://www.tamingthebeast.net
Tutorials, web content, tools and software
Web Marketing, eCommerce & Development solutions. 
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