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SEO Basics — Java Script and Search Engines

SEO results So, you finally got the meta tag thing figured out, you have rewritten your content to make sure that your home page is all about your best keywords and one day, there it is. Lo and behold, Google has indexed your site — well at least your home page has been indexed. Your home page is even beginning to show promise when Google returns it as a result to a keyword query. So what if it is at the bottom of page 35? It’s a start!

But what about all those other pages — the ones that actually contain all the information for your products? How will Martha ever sell that roomful of hand knit socks and baby bonnets? And you went to all that trouble to create all those pages, one for every item. Just look at them all when you click on the Products button and the menu drops down with 10 different categories; and every category has a fly-out menu with 12 unique products. And isn’t it too cute how the mouseover for red socks turns the button red.

Mouseover effects, drop down navigation, fly out menus and a host of other impressive design elements created with java script are commonplace today. Java script, java applets and java programming in general have certainly added the spice and dramatic flair to many a humdrum HTML website project. The simple function of "if this, then that" has no equivalent in HTML. And when that simple function is expanded upon even slightly the functionality seems to increase exponentially.

Java script is awesome. It is used for everything from simple mouseover effects to fancy fade-in-fade-out image galleries and many, many other applications. And we all love the "bells and whistles" that this tool brings to the art of web design. Even most of us compulsive-obsessive SEO types have to admit it (although secretly and in whispers only, of course). We are as impressed as the next guy by the light-box image loading and the fly out menus. We like to see "View as a slide show."

However — and once again, please don’t shoot the messenger — unfortunately Google and other search engines remain decidedly unimpressed. I know that it is difficult to fathom, but even the mighty Googlebot is really not much more than a simple text reader computer program. And Java script, like flash and image files, is simply unreadable, even by this giant of all search engines. That’s just the way it is.

If you really must incorporate java script into your site (perhaps Martha really loves it and has not been so happy about something since your mother became eligible for that senior’s apartment and finally moved out) — then at least provide an alternative that search engines can actually read. Simple text navigation to at least your main pages somewhere on your home page will go a long way to getting those pages indexed. Also, create a simple html site map with a simple text link to it from your home page. On the site map make a list of all of your pages with their corresponding links. For the anchor text of those links, use a descriptive keyword or two. Instead of calling a link "page 27," name it "red socks." Your visitors will appreciate the page descriptions and Google will associate the keyword with its targeted URL. "Handmade knitted red socks" would be even better.

You might wish to consider an alternative to java script menus, which can still provide some pretty impressive effects and allows search engines to read and follow the text links. The method is called cascading style sheets or CSS. With CSS it is possible to specify the look and feel of any number of elements related to the content on your web page. This includes the page navigation. Change the background color of the link to make it stand out; change it once again for the visited link; choose a new color for the active link. Add additional color options to the link text itself. These are just a few of the basic things you can do with CSS. Drop down menus are no problem, as well. The beauty of CSS as an option to java script is that it allows Google and other search engines to read the text of the links and follow them — you get your pages indexed.

A full discussion of cascading style sheets is beyond the scope of this article, but CSS is certainly worth exploring further. For CSS basics, check out W3 Schools; for a more advanced exploration of CSS, you can’t go wrong with Stu Nicholls and CSS Play.