SES Update: CSS, AJAX, Web 2.0 and Search Engines

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For the final session of day 3, I elected to attend CSS, AJAX, Web 2.0 & Search Engines. Jonathan Ashton from Agency.com kicked off the session with an overview of standards and accessibility. He took us back in time to the origins of search and Flash and reminded us all to “design for grandma” and you’ll automatically do well in search (GoogleBot is basically blind). Specifically, Google outlines technology types they have trouble indexing and thus recommend downloading the Lynx browser to evaluate readability. Ashton also clarified for Flash designers that while Flash is technically indexed by search engines, it carries little to no weight or visibility. Another key element of site design is information architecture (IA) and it has a tremendous impact on visibility. As such, SEO must be factored into the entire process. As far as dynamic content is concerned, he asks developers if the core purpose of the site merits dynamic content, before jumping into it. Getting to the meat of the session, Ashton reminded the audience what AJAX is and how it’s inherently difficult for search engines to index. His recommendation is to chop the content into smaller pages and use smart layering to improve both the experience AND visibility. Be sure to validate your HTML and CSS with W3C validation tools. Ben D’Angelo with Google defined Web 2.0 applications and outlined common challenges. He compared the pushback on Flash usage today as designers argued about use of images for content 10 years ago. From Google’s perspective, design for users, not search engines (including screen readers, old browsers, low bandwidth and bookmarking). He agrees CSS is a relatively elegant solution, but did recommend considering how graceful the site degrades with CSS disabled and to ensure you’re not gaming the engines by hiding text. To address AJAX, make sure you have a functioning HTML Web site and embellish with Flash or AJAX to enhance the experience (i.e. Flickr & YouTube). Specifically, D’Angelo recommends URL parameters vs. fragments (ensure the string is recognized as a distinct URL (GoogleBot can ignore fragments – i.e. #s in URL). The best solution is to stick with URL parameters and HIJAX to return same content for both URLs (AJAX and HTML pages). For Flash, he advises using HTML as a baseline with Flash for rich content elements. Advanced solutions for Flash optimization includes sIFR (scalable inman flash replacement) which essentially replaces HTML elements with Flash inside the browser. Lastly, D’Angelo recommends utilizing Google Webmaster Central articles, blog and discussion group for more information. Chris Humber at 360i then focused exclusively on Flash. Starting with the Adobe SDK (which wasn’t the recommended resource) extracts text from Flash files, and is not adequate as it doesn’t impact PageRank. Alternatively, SWF Address is much more meaningful, as it utilizes the Flash library (i.e. LucasArts) to generate unique URLs for each page of the site. SWF Object is an elegant way to incorporate Flash into HTML, as it degrades nicely and is forward compatible with browsers. The DIV layer enables additional content and directions for search spiders. Humber touched on the sIFR as well (i.e. ABCNews.com stories). He ended with an example of a flash site that actually appears in search results, which is promising for all the Flasheads out there. Liana Evans at KeyRelevance rounded out the session as a last-minute presenter and shared thoughts about external impact of Flash sites, like inbound link strategies for Flash sites (that don’t utilize SWF Address capabilities). Almost all panelist responses in the Q&A session revolved round building a good user experience (from an accessibility perspective) and the search engines will reward you.

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  1. Thanks Kent for this excellent summary.