CSS, AJAX, Web 2.0 & Search Engines: SES Chicago 2007, Day 3

Dec 6, 2007 | 5,873 views | by Navneet Kaushal
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As the web moves into its second generation, sites are making more use of CSS, AJAX and other advanced and interactive design techniques. But how are the largely Web 1.0 search engines reacting to these, from an SEO perspective. This session explores issues and solutions.

Moderator: Anne Kennedy, Manager, Managing Partner, Beyond Ink

Speakers: Shari Thurow, Founder and SEO Director, Omni Marketing Interactive, Shyam Jayaraman, Software Engineer, Infrastructure, Google, Eric Richmond, VP, SEO/Technology, 360i, Vivek Pathak, Infrastructure Product Manager, Ask.com, Priyank Garg, Director Product Management, Yahoo! Search

CSS is an html addition allowing webmasters to control design, placement of elements, etc. You can use it to change the look of a site very quickly and easily. It also decreases the download time of the page. It is also easier to control the exact positioning of elements on a page. CSS formatted text links easily communicate visited/unvisited links.

Shari Thurow begins the session by spelling out the problems and issues with CSS, according to him CSS users need to have fonts installed on their computers to display the designs properly, then its the usability testing as the focus groups show a preference for a font that's not common, hyperlinks that are CSS formatted can make the content appear unfocused.

Then she moved on to other issues such as those with text formatting, text wrapping, eg white on white could be dangerous, he suggest that you shouldn't make all your content H1 tags with CSS. Further the Alt text in an h1 doesn't work, others are the CSS Layers, X, Y, Z coordinates, then consider the ways of hiding text and links inside of CSS invisible layers. She warns that it might not be all that clever to try and trick the search engines as the know the position your text on the pages. another issue is stacking your content on top of content, with a flash box on top of a text box. Also if you don't include a CSS style directory you could be in for trouble as it may raise a red flag.

It's now the turn of Jim McFadyen, he says that all of us want AJAX on our sites, but how many actually understand what it is? It's AJAX is Asynchronous Javascript And XML and it's function is to make the browser communicate without refreshing, it improves the experience of the user. It's made out of JavaScript CMLHttpRequest Object and makes use of XHTML and CSS, but it's certainly not a programming language.

He says search engines and AJAX don't mix, the search engines can't make sense of the AJAX content. It can't be crawled, all the text, links etc should be in Html. The web developers do make use of the Javascript that's non Ajax so this takes care of the functionality issues even for the search engines which can't deal with Ajax. So a good idea is to use Ajax as an advanced feature to enhance user experience.

With it's ability to eliminate the need to cause a refresh Ajax, it means that the the content you see might not correspond to the URL, then there's no addition to the browser history and no history and no back button. You can fix the issue by adding unique page IDs to each page and use Javascript to update the URL using the #, use Javascript to make a fake entry into browser history. But this again brings up duplicate content issue, but they are not counted as duplicate and are ignored. But certainly don't cloak.

Then he cites eg of bad Ajax as Gucci.com, says it looks nice and the content is mostly managed by Ajax, he then turns of the Javascript and the page's just blacked out. Then he moves to good Ajax, it's Amazon Diamond Search, there's the diamond search feature with sliders, and with the acid test of Javascript turned off the page, we see a simpler Ajax version.

Next up is Scott, he starts off with an explanation of web 2.0, asks how do you interact with customers. He then move on to a case , it's Carrier North America Home Comfort, the issues is a site that's static, not interactive, slow, and had bad conversions. They did paper prototyping and focus groups to plan the new navigation, included Interactive tools such as polls, sliders, cost savers, etc. to improve user experience. Designed the site in CSS (most of it), it made it easier to update, it loaded up faster, code size was manageable, enhanced flexibility, removed tables which were causing errors, and used h1 h2 and standard content.

All these measures resulted in size reduction from 260 to 204 kb, html was down from 760 to 250.

Now for the results 97% increase in top ten organic rankings, traffic increases from search 53%, the organic performance was the reason behind 73% of all search referrals, and targeted conversions shot up by 59%.

There are some points Yahoo! makes, Yahoo! works for a general user who doesn't have a Javascript. You need to open your CSS so that Yahoo can take a peak in to it. The search engines work differently and are not meant to interact like users. Google made the point that they would be indexing Javascript, Ajax & CSS. Google's ultimate aim is for you not to worry about engines and that they'll figure it out.

4.thumbnail CSS, AJAX, Web 2.0 & Search Engines: SES Chicago 2007, Day 3

Navneet Kaushal

Navneet Kaushal is the founder and CEO of PageTraffic, an SEO Agency in India with offices in Chicago, Mumbai and London. A leading search strategist, Navneet helps clients maintain an edge in search engines and the online media. Navneet's expertise has established PageTraffic as one of the most awarded and successful search marketing agencies.
4.thumbnail CSS, AJAX, Web 2.0 & Search Engines: SES Chicago 2007, Day 3
4.thumbnail CSS, AJAX, Web 2.0 & Search Engines: SES Chicago 2007, Day 3