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Website Advice 3

 

 

Website Advice 3

 
5. Don’t hire a website builder without...

Well, you know the story. This is the last one of these, we promise!

Website constructors are clever people who can fix up your site any way you want it, in any one of a hundred different flavours, in a thousand different ways. (Read: with a lot of different programs, specific to many different uses). However, like the rest of us, they aren’t big on knowing other people’s jobs as well. And you can’t blame them for that, of course. Nevertheless, there are some things you need to be sure they know before they start coding away happily.

Firstly, as we have seen, text is king: so the constructor must be sure to allow for a decent amount on every page, where possible. Secondly, usability and accessibility are now key measures of a website’s acceptability to search engines. This is because they are now acting, to a certain extent, as part-time policemen for the Internet. Unless the standards set by various authorities such as the W3C and ICANN are maintained, the whole system will become unworkable, and a search engine’s task would be impossible. Because the Internet standards-setters have no power, the search engines have partly taken on the job of policing. This is understandable when you consider how difficult things would be for them if the whole thing went to pot; and someone has to do this job. They can do it quite well, since they carry a big stick.

Note that all search engines, when pressed on this point, deny any such responsibility or action; however, it's easy to prove the veracity of these statements: a majority of accessibility pass / fail points, when correct, align precisely with best practice for SE compliance. If your site fails a number of quality tests of this type, then it will also perform less well in search results.

6. Website accessibility for all

The search engines therefore not only see the Net as a resource for everyone, regardless of physical disability or computing power; they insist you see it that way as well. So, if you have pages covered with images and no text; have exotic and pretty navigation based exclusively on 3rd-party code; have pages that can only be viewed fully with an 8MB DSL connection; have black backgrounds and grey text; have lots of flashy effects that need several different plugins to view or listen to; if you write terrible code that fails validation miserably; and if you have pages with a codebase that needs a massive 3rd-party code download to interact with: you won’t get very far. Your site has failed a multitude of quality tests and it will also fail miserably in search. It really doesn't matter what search engine staff say on the matter - that's the way it is.

This might not apply if you are YouTube, of course; but their business model is rather good, they have two million links, and they are owned by a large search engine. That's life - live with it.

Unfortunately, many of those trashy effects are very popular with web designers and constructors, who see it as their duty to load up your pages with them to justify the fee. Oh well - let’s not rant any more, and just pick one topic of major importance: the navigation system. There’s only one way in the known universe to code a navigation menu that search engines like, and it’s plain vanilla HTML, with some CSS sauce on top. No Flash nav menus; no JavaScript nav menus; just HTML-CSS. You can use the Suckerfish method if you insist on cascading menus, but be advised that fly-out menus are a usability negative.

And that’s that. Well, there are some kludges like hiding the real links in the code, or using plain text links at the foot of the page; depends on whether you want full marks or not. Up to you. Be nice to the search engines and they’ll be nice to you: easy.

Imagine your pages viewed by a disabled person, perhaps with a vision disability; on a dial-up connection; and using a 1998 PC. That’s how the search engine’s spiders view your pages themselves, and that’s how they want you to set up your pages for visitors. Of course, that would make for a boring visitor experience if every page everywhere complied, but the closer you come to this ‘ideal’, with a larger number of your pages, the better the search rank. What we try to do is comply with this for many pages, and jazz up some of the others; and if your web constructors bear that in mind they won’t go far wrong.

 
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