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Site optimization is all about providing content to the search engines for them to index. And despite all the progress that has been made in indexing various different media types, from an SEO perspective, content really means text. So there are some page components that won't help you much with the search results, in particular images, flash animations, and PDF files. I'm not saying that these things hurt your site. Adding a Flash animation to well-optimized site won't do it any harm for instance, and there are good reasons for using these media types.
But often they are used for the convenience, or because the designer likes working that way. Now and then, I'll see sites that are almost totally created with images. Even the text in the site is embedded in the pictures. The text is in effect invisible to the search engines, but if you want the text indexed, you need to put it into the site as actual text. More often designers use images to create headers because it gives some more control over the look, but it means the search engines won't read them, and headings are a very important component of a well-optimized web site.
This header, for instance, is an image, not text, even though it has great keywords in it. Don't imagine that the search engines will OCR the image--they won't. The text won't be read by the search engines. Headings like this should be created using H1 tags. I personally prefer to always use text for my headers, but if you really need more graphical control over the header, look into replacement techniques that combine images, or even Flash with text that the search engines can read. How about Adobe Flash files? Adobe, and many proponents of Flash design, have been pushing the idea that flash can be read and indexed by the search engines.
Sure, that's true, but let me ask you one simple question. How often does a Flash file come up number one in the search results? Almost never, only for very obscure search phrases. The simple fact is that content embedded in flash does not index well in search engines. There is definitely a place for Flash and other animation techniques, but you must understand that there is no place for Flash content in an SEO strategy. It won't perform well in the search engines. Use Flash for humans, but plain text for search engines.
There is another problem with Flash: even if a Flash file does come up in the search engines, it'll be orphaned. Let's go to Google and do an Advanced search. We're going to ask Google to show us Flash files. Google is still using the old term, Shockwave Flash, so we'll find at the bottom of the dropdown. I'm also going to change Results Per Page to 100. In order to do that, we have to turn off Google Instant. We'll type a search phrase in. Notice, by the way, that Google is showing us the syntax we could use directly from the search box without coming into the Advanced area, and let's search.
Google presents us with a list of Flash files. Notice the Flash indicator here. Now here is the problem. If we select one of these files, we'll find that it is orphaned. It's not in the web site. We just get the file itself. Now, watch this. We're going to go back to the Search page. Google has shown us over 60,000 flash files that match the term 'olive oil'. What happens if we remove this and search just for the term 'olive oil'? What happens to those 63,000 Flash files? Well, if we search the first 100, not a single Flash file appears in the top 100.
In fact, I tried this experiment recently and didn't find a single Flash file in the first 1,000 entries. Flash is great for product demos, for training videos, for sales pitches, and so on, but it's not good for content that you want the search engines to index. It will never rank well and even if it did, it'd orphaned, so use it carefully, for the purposes for which it was intended. Finally, how about PDF files? Well, they index much better than Flash files, but still, you rarely see a PDF file rank at the top of the search engines.
Here Google is returning more than five million PDF files, and yet if we return to the olive oil search, we find only one PDF result out of the top 100 search results. And PDF files have the same orphan problem as Flash files. When they do come up in the search results, you get a PDF file, not a PDF file in the web site. Many searchers won't even know what site the file came from.
PDFs don't rank well though, because they don't contain the sort of page components that help web pages rank well. As we'll be seeing in the videos coming up, components such as title tags and H1 headings, often PDF files find their way onto the web purely for convenience. A company has a bunch of PDF files used for other purposes, or Word files that can quickly convert to PDF, so they just throw them sort of them up on the web site. That's fine, but they're not going to help the site's search engine ranking. It's far better to convert these files to HTML, to create real web pages for all that great content.
These media types are very useful, but not helpful for SEO, so if you want to rank well, make sure you have readable, indexable text on your site.
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