SES San Jose Day 3 – CSS, AJAX & Search Engines

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Shari Thurow, Founder and CEO of Omni Marketing Interactive reviewed the pros and cons of using CSS. Pros of CSS are the ability to control design parameters and change the look of a site quickly and easily, all while decreasing download time for a page. Usability pros say that a page should download within 8-12 seconds (on a 56k modem), while Yahoo reps are a bit more forgiving and allow for 30 seconds or less. I’m impatient and would prefer 7 seconds myself. The cons of CSS are that end users must have fonts installed on their computers or the page will not display as intended, A/B and multivariate testing, and the fact that spammers use it to place keywords in negative coordinates or Z coordinates and layered objects. She reminded the group that surrounding a paragraph of text with an H1 tag does not make the engines think the entire block is of H1 importance – they are smarter than this and will sniff it as spam. Shari’s parting words were: use CSS, ask your users if they prefer graphic navigation or text navigation, make sure your content appears correctly on multiple browsers, and don’t use it to exploit search engines.

Mikkel deMib, Creative Director at deMib.com was up next to talk about Web 2.0. and most notably AJAX, which can be fun for users, but a drag for SEO. Think 1997 and the use of frames. Remember how much frames sucked? Well, AJAX is the same way since you cannot link to the content or page, but rather just to the application itself. Mikkel had some tips about using AJAX: first ask yourself do you really need to use it and why, then let AJAX be the option and not the default and turn away users who don’t support it (same with JavaScript and Flash), and set up proper 301 redirects to divert error trap links.  He then talked about the social part of Web 2.0 and why everyone should encourage users to help create content. Benefits are that the content is free (DUH!), you get insights into keywords that real users type when writing about your product or service, if they misspell a word it’s not a big deal since you weren’t the one to type it, and user generated content lends itself to the freshness factor. Mikkel’s parting thought was that if you can’t get a link to every page on the site, you need to trim down the site to quality pages. It’s the one-page to one-link strategy. Wow, a lot of sites have some work to do.

Vanessa Fox of Zillow kept the entertaining and lively session going by lifting the hood to her new digs on Zillow.com. It sounded like she had her hands full by tackling such issues as 95% of search traffic comes from the keyword “zillow”, unoptimized titles and descriptions, blocking links, not putting links outside of Flash, empty forums, and Mikkel’s favorite Web 2.0 technology AJAX. Zillow, along with many other “kwel” and “hip” companies likes to create new terms to describe things – like using Zestimate instead of estimate. Vanessa reminded the audience about using real words for real searchers.

Amit Kumar from Yahoo gave some advice when considering Web 2.0 technologies – build for your users and Yahoo will adapt. He really said this. And that users will vote by linking to your content, which isn’t possible when using AJAX. Also, don’t forget to use sitemaps. He then gave a great overview on the main technologies and issue of each: CSS’ issue is understanding your pages, Flash’s issue is reading your pages, AJAX’s issue is finding all your content, and Badges’ issue is determining where all the content is from. Finally he gave some techniques to help overcome some of these issues: turn off JavaScript, Flash and CSS to make sure everything still displays correctly, use sitemaps, site explorer, and robots.txt.

Final presenter was Amanda Camp from Google’s Webmaster Central. She must have had some sugar before the session, but her passion for Webmaster Central was endearing and I was all ears. She directed the group to read the latest piece on Flash and to stay tuned to see a similar stance on AJAX soon. She basically gave a run down on the great content located on Webmaster Central – so go check it out if you haven’t already.

Day 3 has been closed down!

About the Author

Hallie Janssen is Vice President at Anvil Media, Inc., a search and social media marketing agency. Janssen also teaches a social media class with the Online Marketing Institute in conjunction with Wharton Interactive. Contact Hallie at 503.595.6050 x221 or Twitter.com/Hallie_Janssen.

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