SEO No-Nos

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My past two columns have discussed the whys, whats and hows of search engine optimization (SEO). This month I finish up with three things to avoid.

Text as images. When it comes to SEO, content is king. Because the content on your site must be readable by the search engine spiders, you want your text to be actual text. Obvious, right?

Well, when I look around at a lot of dealer websites, I see many where the text on a page is actually an image. Sure, text in an image might look a little nicer, and you have infinite control over the formatting, but the search engines don't see text. They just see a picture.

Don't present any text as an image. And if you do have text in an image (as a button, for example), take advantage of the accessibility parameters I talked about last month, like ALT and TITLE, so that they mirror the graphical text in the image.

Extensive use of Flash. Another way a lot of sites fail in SEO is by using Flash. Flash is an interactive, rich-media technology developed by Macromedia that was recently acquired by Adobe. True, Flash can have a great place in your Web toolbox. (The one place where most people are interacting with Flash, for example, is via YouTube's video player, which is distributed as a Flash asset.) But you should be leery of developing an entire site in Flash. Most search engines don't have any way to crawl into and index a Flash site, so your SEO results would be total crap.

If there are some propeller-head types out there, you will no doubt be yelling into the magazine that it's all libelist, anti-Flash propaganda and that it's entirely possible to develop a Flash website that is SEO-worthy.

I concede that you can develop a SEO-friendly site in Flash by jumping though a lot of extra hoops, doing a lot of extra development work, and so on (for more on this topic, go to www.jehochman.com/articles/seo-friendly-flash.shtml). But why would you want to?

Considering that most dealers I've interacted with over the past couple of years barely have the resources to do e-commerce at all, I don't see the point in making your site even more work by using Flash extensively. Besides, most of the cool Flash-like stuff can now be done with standard-compliant technologies like DHTML and CSS.

I just know that this is going to generate some nasty e-mails from "Web developers" that seem to prey on the naivete of some in the dealer community by locking them into complete Flash-based sites. Oh well.

Cheating. Avoid what's called black-hat SEO techniques. Don't buy into webspam providers, or SEO/marketing firms that talk about setting up hundreds or thousands of dummy sites full of keyword-rich links that link to your site. You may see an amazing impact in your SERP results or page rank in the short term, but you risk getting delisted or even blacklisted from the search engines.

Stick with the tried-and-true SEO techniques that I've written about over the past few months, and you should be on your way up the SERPs.