Questions I’d love to have answered about SEO

When done properly and in a serious manner, SEO is truly a fascinating field! However, I have some wonderings about how Google and other search engines treat and index certain things.

What SEO means to me

First, let’s acknowledge the fact that the world is riddled with shady companies working with SEO, trying to make some extra bucks. Common implementations are link farms, lots of hidden text for indexing etc etc. As with any business/technology, there will be people around in it only for personal gain, and without realizing that good business ethics will pay off in the long run.

But, luckily, there are also people and companies who care about doing it the right way, and not just some quick fixes/hacks that might work temporarily. Last year, I attended the Web Standards and SEO: Searching for Common Ground, Part 2 panel at SXSW, and what was thoroughly pleasing is the reply the panelists gave to the question “If you could do something which might improve your SEO ranking, but that would hurt the accessibility of the web site, would you do it?”.

The reply from all of them was no; making it accessible is what counts and eventually results in good SEO as well. If something inaccessible helps you in search engines, it’s just a temporary phase, and it will be removed in the future. And that’s exactly my standpoint as well: create good web sites with semantic code, good structure and outstanding copy (keyword density, explanatory texts and so on) and you will get a good search engine ranking. The only thing to add to that is naturally backlinks to your web site, but with good content, it is bound to happen sooner or later.

I’ve written more about my personal experiences in How to get a good search engine ranking.

The questions

With all that said, there some certain scenarios that I wonder about which is the best and recommended way to achieve them. I would love to have access to someone like Matt Cutts to get direct answers and guidelines. Not just for me, but for the world; to know what we all can do to have accessible code that is also indexed as appropriate as possible.

How to mark up a preamble/introduction?

Let’s take a normal web page, and break down the general content part:

  • Heading
  • Preamble
  • General text, eventual subheadings

The heading will be an H1 element, displaying the heading of the web page, the preamble and general text will be within paragraphs (P) and any possible subheading will range from H2 and on. My wonder here, though, is how to put any extra emphasis to the preamble, which is often a very important text. Sure, it will, to some degree, mean more since it is directly after the main heading and as far up in the code as possible.

But is that sufficient? I’ve been thinking about if the preamble text would be wrapped in an em or strong element: would that be correct, to make it stand out as it should? Or would that seem like over-optimization and maybe even be punished?

Sure, copy is king, but what if I want to complement this with a good semantic representation in the code?

Hidden text

In many web sites, a page (for instance, the start page) can contain information within the code that isn’t initially visible. The way to get to see it is either via client-side scripting, for those with JavaScript enabled, or regular links that will send you to a web page where that content is presented. However, this text can be just as important as the other text in the page.

Is this text indexed, even though it is most likely hidden via display: none? And if it is, is it regarded to mean just as much as the other text in the page, or less? And, finally, how does Google and others differentiate proper hidden text from hidden text there for solely spam/SEO purposes?

Cookie-based start pages

From a usability and customer perspective, it is pretty common to have a start page presented to first time visitors (and, consequently, search engines), and then give returning visitors a slightly different version, based on a cookie. Would that be seen as cheating, although it is for the best of the visitor?

Freaky onclick implementations

I’ve seen examples regarding banners on web sites, implementing a, to me, shady method. The idea is that the href part of the link points to the start page of the web site, but that it has an onlick event applied that takes you to the actual URL that the link should take you to. For example:

<a href="" onclick="location.href = ''">The banner</a>

The reasoning behind this approach is to get more links directly to the start page, trying to give an impression that it is more popular/interesting than it actually is. Personally, I think this is a crappy and incorrect way to do it (except for the fact that it wouldn’t work well for users with JavaScript disabled, of course).

Give me help!

If you have any hard facts or personal experiences about these, if you work for a search engine company (or if you’re listening, Matt :-)), please let me know!


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