I’m a visual learner. I need to see and interact with things to understand them. It therefore helps me to mimic the behavior of search engine spiders when I’m digging into a site for the first time to review its search engine optimization issues. I like to think of it as “being the bot.”
Emulate a Search Engine Spider
Firefox's Web Developer Toolbar by Chris Pederick will make surfing like a search spider much easier. For this exercise, focus on the yellow highlighted sections of the toolbar and select the following features:
- Cookies > Disable Cookies > All Cookies
- CSS > Disable Styles > All Styles
- Images > Disable Images > All Images
- Visit any page and you’re surfing approximately like a bot. If you’re already at the page you want to test, reload the page to get the full experience.
Peek at Victoria's Secret
We’ll start with Victoriassecret.com, clearly a very brand-conscious site.
The primary content is image-based. The only text on the page for search engine spiders to crawl is the alternative attributes in the seven feature images on the page. This handful of alt attribute text, like the images, is entirely focused on enticing humans to click. No argument, that’s an important function of a home page. However, Victoria’s Secret is keeping its keyword theme of its home page a secret from the search engines. The title tag sends the sole focused keyword signal on the page.
If we were to peek at Victoria Secrets' web analytics, I’ll bet dollars to doughnuts that they receive the vast majority of their natural search traffic and sales for branded search phrases (such as "victorias secret"), and a very small percentage for non-branded terms (such as "lingerie"). Despite Victoria Secret's efforts to feature dresses, swimwear and sandals on the home page, it’s highly unlikely that it's winning any non-branded searches for those very popular summer fashion search phrases. In short, creating strong textual signals for www.victoriassecret.com and ensuring that the navigation is crawlable would be the first step to winning non-branded traffic and sales.
What About Adidas?
Now let's review another example, Adidas.com.
That said, Adidas should pay more attention to the kinds of text it’s providing. While the amount of text and links is strong, the template and the words used don’t send a coherent keyword theme. The home page lacks a strong title tag and H1 heading, though there are several H3 headings. The text in the title tag and the H3 headings aren’t sending a signal that Adidas is a power in shoes, athletics, sports or any other relevant keyword market that Adidas should legitimately be able to capture.
Removing the signals that we humans are trained to pay attention to – the shiny, glossy images and animations – forces us to consider the textual signals that a site is really sending on each page. If those textual signals are weak, unfocused or nonexistent, search engines will have a harder time matching your site with popular search phrases when real customers are searching for your products.