<p>Seems like a bold statement to make doesn't it? Well I don't think it is and in this article I hope to explain why, to both business owners and website developers alike.</p> <p>Let me explain. Roughly 80% of all UK search traffic originates from Google. In the majority of cases, your long term website traffic (& conversions) will originate from a search engine (insert your own social media caveat here). Before this online behemoth and others can begin sending you those potential customers it has to visit, 'read' and 'understand' your website, not just once, but hopefully time and time again. How else can Google decide on which pages to recommend to its users? 'The machine' (or rather several thousand servers) that does this is know as the Google Bot.</p> <p>
Seems like a bold statement to make doesn't it? Well I don't think it is and in this article I hope to explain why, to both business owners and website developers alike.
Let me explain. Roughly 80% of all UK search traffic originates from Google. In the majority of cases, your long term website traffic (& conversions) will originate from a search engine (insert your own social media caveat here). Before this online behemoth and others can begin sending you those potential customers it has to visit, 'read' and 'understand' your website, not just once, but hopefully time and time again. How else can Google decide on which pages to recommend to its users? 'The machine' (or rather several thousand servers) that does this is know as the Google Bot.
Meet Mr Google
Here’s a rather loose analogy. Imagine that in your town, the only way the vast majority of people learnt about a new shop was through recommendations. Not recommendations from friends or family, but recommendations from one man, and one man alone. Mr Google. If this was the case in the real world, you can bet your mortgage that you’d make sure Mr Google can find your shop, can get inside, enjoys his time there and can most easily understand what you sell. You’re relying on this one man to drive the vast majority of your customers to you. Think of Mr Google as kinda like a restaurant critic on steroids.
The simply conclusion? The most important visitor that your website will ever receive is the Google Bot, and the chances are that your competitor is, to some extent, ignoring it.
If you owned a high street shop, you may be tempted to get the banners (rollover effects) and bunting (flash animations) out right about now to tempt in this ever so influential Mr Google. Just slow down there, cowboy.
The Blind (Google) Bot
You see though, the thing is, when the Google Bot visits your website, it doesn't notice your new shiny navigation, it can't read the 'text' embedded deep within your graphic rollovers, your amazing(ly) (expensive) photography leaves it cold and that sexy Flash animation is most definitely not a turn on.
The Google Bot is a lean, mean, text eating (image hating) machine. It's interested in what you have to say and how you say it, not what you look like. He'd probably date the cute intelligent girl who studied maths at university (and liked dogs).
Mr L. Google is as 'blind as a bat'. Never mind the barn door, the Google Bot would miss the adjacent field. After all, it is only a machine.
And here in lies the problem: web developers/ designers are only (mostly) human (well, at least 90% are). Traditionally, they have designed & created web pages for visual effect. They often don't consider how messy their code may be, if the page is usable in any browser, on any platform within any device, or if it can be ‘best read’ by a blind user, aka Mr Google.
Boat number 97 please come in your time is up
There are very good and completely understandable historic reasons why this 'incorrect' method of creating web pages has been so prevalent in the industry. But, without boring us all with the history of web development and browser development (or lack of Mr Gates!), there is simply no longer any excuse for this.
Since November 2001 (the release date of Internet Explorer 6), we have had a set of browsers that understand modern web technologies, enabling all web developers to develop accessible standardised sites that can be viewed and understood by all, including Mr Google.
Though things have improved immeasurably since the dark days of 1997, primarily driven by the advent of blogs and many ‘Web 2.0’ sites, many (and I mean many) corporate/commercial sites still bask in the table tags, messy code, and inaccessible methods of the late nineties.
I have yet to see a single client’s site that comes anywhere close to fully implementing and understanding the standardised and accessible method of creating websites.
The sites that do attempt this (most probably unwittingly so) more often than not also get it horribly wrong. It seems that many web developers have simply switched from nested tables to div soup. They place Header 4’s before Header 1’s within a page. They leave unclosed tags. Quite bluntly, they don’t understand (X)HTML, the basic building blocks of any website.
But I like my pretty website! Or, my pretty website cost me a lot of money!
As a business owner, at this point you may be beginning to worry, you’re interested in sales, not some altruistic method of website development that gives access to all. Sure, you’ll want to meet your legal requirements but let’s face it, you want to know about the bottom line.
Don’t worry, when we SEO your on-page content were not going to build virtual wheelchair ramps or install text-phones. Your website can remain just as beautiful to the human eye as it is right now, and after our on-page optimisation it will also be beautiful in the text hungry eyes of Google as well.
Accessibility alone is never the answer.
In essence, what we’re talking about here is page mark-up; how the page is constructed, the order of your content, the semantics of your document. A standarised and professional approach to creating web documents.
If you've read this far you probably already know that on-page factors alone will never result in a success SEO campaign. Simply creating a website that addresses to WAI guidelines is not going to result in high rankings for Britney Spears. There are many more factors at play here.
What is important here is understanding. If you can understand how your webpage is read, viewed and interpreted by every user from your granny on Windows 98 through to your nephew on his new PSP, you can then truly say you fully understand how Google (a machine) can read and understand your webpage, and can maximised this potential to its fullest.
So there you have it - Web Accessibility, the basis of any solid SEO campaign.
Hey! Hold on a minute, who’s Larry?
Larry Page is the co-founder of Google along with Sergey Brin. Neither is know to suffer from any visual impairment.