Author's note: In Search Engine Optimization, one of O'Reilly's newest PDFs, you'll find the kind of nuts-and-bolts, accurate technical information about how to use SEO to maximize your website's traffic and increase profits that you won't find elsewhere without paying a good deal of money. To give you a sampling of what you'll find in the PDF, we've excerpted this section on how to view your website as a search bot sees it, using an all-text browser. Viewing your site in this manner is the only way to know for sure if a bot will be able to crawl your site; if a bot can't find your site, it can't be indexed by a search engine.
Improvement implies a feedback loop: you can't know how well you are doing without a mechanism for examining your current status. The feedback mechanism that helps you improve your site from an SEO perspective is to view your site as the bot sees it. This means viewing the site using a text-only browser. A text-only browser, just like the search engine bot, will ignore images and graphics, and only process the text on a page. The best-known text-only web browser is Lynx. You can find more information about Lynx at http://lynx.isc.org/. Generally, the process of installing Lynx involves downloading source code and compiling it.
The Lynx site also provides links to a variety of pre-compiled Lynx builds you can download.
Don't want to get into compiled source code, or figuring out which idiosyncratic Lynx build to download? There is a simple Lynx Viewer available on the Web at http://www.delorie.com/web/lynxview.html. You'll need to follow directions carefully to use it. Essentially, these instructions involve adding a file to your web site to prove you own the site. The host of the Lynx Viewer is offering a free service, and doesn't want to be deluged, but it is not hard to comply.
Using Lynx Viewer, it's easy to see the text that the search bot sees when you are not distracted by the "eye candy" of the full image version.
Users, web designers, and advertisers are often very fond of fancy graphics and graphic effects on the Web. But bear in mind that search engines are almost exclusively concerned with words (meaning plain text rather than pictures). Therefore, your SEO efforts should be focused on text, not the "look and feel" of a site. When practicing SEO stick to word-craft, and don't get sidetracked by irrelevant visual issues.
Harold Davis is an award-winning professional photographer and widely recognized as one of the leading contemporary photographers.
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