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Competent Web Design and the Importance of Spiders

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At the last count, the indexed Internet as we know it consisted of an estimated 19.5 billion web pages.

Google reportedly holds approximately 14 billion pages within its own index, and this number is growing.

In the face of such staggering numbers, competent web design is fast becoming an essential success component in a commercial website's long-term promotional strategy.

But anyway, back to search-indexes for a moment. Google uses a variety of ‘spiders’, including the Googlebot (web pages), the Imagebot (pictures), and others to catalog the World Wide Web.

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Similarly, other search engines, such as Yahoo, Bing/Live/MSN*, and all the rest use their own spiders to compile and update their indexes.

But what makes these search engine spiders so important?

Also known as ‘web crawlers’ or ‘bots’, search engine spiders are amongst the most essential visitors to any site. since they index and classify its content for inclusion in search engine databases. It must be noted that these bots do not see pages in the same manner human visitors do. Rather than simply reading text and picture content, spiders scour a page’s HTML code to extract usable information.

Consequently, poor web design techniques and coding standards can be a serious hindrance to their efforts, sometimes causing them to give up entirely.

JavaScript, especially, is a severe impediment to search engine spiders trying to index your site. Any web page source code with JavaScript-based content is likely to send bots running for cover without ever indexing the page in question at all. Other main culprits include missing image alt attributes, which, although not likely to cause a major disturbance to the average surfer, are a real headache for web crawlers, simply because it cannot actually tell what an image is about without little descriptive hints, such as alt attributes and image captions.

A question of balance?
While designers must of course create sites with human visitors in mind, they must also consider search engines in the course of their efforts.

If a site is designed solely with search engine spiders in mind it is likely to lead to a poor user experience for its human visitors, whereas if it is only geared towards the human eye it may well suffer from poor search engine rankings. The necessary balance can only be achieved through high standards of code which provide a search engine friendly base, easily indexed by web crawlers.

The perfect starting point is provided by the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C), an organisation which has been setting coding standards for the internet since 1994. Although W3C Compliance is still a mystery to many web designers, its importance to achieving long-term success with the major search providers cannot be underestimated.

What You See Is Not Always What You Actually Get

Anyone who has ever used Microsoft FrontPage™ will know that a working knowledge of HTML is no longer necessary to create a website; the program does the hard work.

What most users fail to realise is that WYSIWYG* web design techniques employing the use of such programs as Microsoft FrontPage™ or Macromedia DreamWeaver™ tend to produce messy, non-compliant code which may look great onscreen but might also hamper the efforts of search engine spiders, if the code in question is sufficiently broken.

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* Bing is the latest in a series of Microsoft search incarnations, and though it is basically branded as a New Kind of Search Engine, and a Decision Engine, it is basically nothing but an evolution of the MSN/Live search infrastructure with a different name.

* WYSIWYG = What You See Is What You Ge

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