(SEM Bootcamp articles are no-frills content designed to bring small business owners up to speed on the concepts and techniques needed to market their businesses online.)
Search engine spiders do an impressive job of finding and indexing the content on web site around the net, but there are still a few stumbling blocks that could be keeping them from indexing the content on YOUR site. Thankfully, it only takes a few seconds of your time to make sure an easy to fix problem isn't keeping your site content from being indexed.
Search Engines Are Smart, But They Have Limits
While there are several things that can trip up a search engine, most small business sites that aren't being indexed suffer from one of the following problems. They've either mistakenly set their robots.txt file to "noindex," have an all Flash or graphic site, or rely on programming like frames or drop down boxes for navigation. Of course there's no sense worrying about which of those issues is the problem until you know if there's a problem to worry about.
The Spider Simulator is Your Friend
The good news is there's a very simple way to find out if there is a problem on your site. Thanks to handy little tools called "spider simulators," you can view your web site the same way a search engine's spider would. The Spider Simulator offered by Webconfs.com is a great, free tool that will help you figure out if your web site is working against you when it comes to search engine rankings.
To use a spider simulator, you simply type the URL of your web site into the query box and hit enter. The program will run a quick search of your web site and will then show you what information it was able to collect. These programs are designed to read your web site the same way a search engine would, so more often than not if a spider simulator can't read your content, a search engine can't either.
With that in mind, let's take a look at two small businesses here in central Ohio and find out how their web sites fare in a spider simulator.
Example #1: Market Blooms Columbus, a florist in Columbus, Ohio
When I enter the URL for this local florist, the spider simulator sends back some pretty disturbing results.
According to the spider simulator, there's only one brief phrase that can be read. No links, no content...pretty much nothing other than a handful of worthless meta keyword tags. With that in mind, let's take a look at the web site.
It's not a bad looking site. It tells what the company does, it has a picture of the owners, it has a phone number and email address. It even gives the address of the business and tells you a little bit about their offerings. Unfortunately, it's not sharing any of that information with the search engines.
Why? Their address, phone number and description of their business are all part of a single graphic. Since search engines can't read graphics, the search engines have no idea what the site is about. It would be easy for Market Blooms Columbus to solve this. An afternoon spent making some changes to the site would go a long way toward helping engines like Google have a little more information. Chances are high this site could rank for phrases like "Columbus Ohio florist," "north market florist" and "Columbus flowers" if they'd only spend a little time making sure search engines could read the content on their site.
In fact, when I run a search for "north market florist columbus," their site doesn't appear. If they'd simply redo the site so they were using some graphics and some text, they'd probably have no problem showing up on the first page for that phrase.
Example #2: Bloomtastic, a florist in Dublin, Ohio
If I enter their URL into the spider simulator, I get quite a bit more data back.
For the Bloomtastic site we actually get page content and tons of links. It's not a lot of content, but it is content and there are some keywords in there. Additionally, seeing all those links tells us the the search engine can find its way deeper into the site to dig up and index more content. Since every page of a web site is another chance to earn search rankings, this is essential to your site. If you have more than one page on your site and a spider check like this one isn't showing those links, you need to have someone look at how your links are coded.
Sure enough, if you run a search on Google for "Columbus Ohio florist, the Bloomtastic site ranks second.
Graphics Aren't The Only Problem
In the first example, the big issue was an all graphic site. That does happen now and then to small businesses, but these days it's all Flash sites that tend to be the more common offender. While search engines are getting better at reading the content in Flash, they're not quite there yet. (Run a check in the simulator on the Diet Coke site and the only link it picks up is the "get Flash now" link.)
Another common problem is a robots.txt file that accidentally got set to block indexing instead of allow indexing. This one is super easy to fix, especially if you read through the search engine marketing bootcamp article on creating your robots.txt file.
The last one I see pop up pretty frequently is a site that relies on drop down menus or forms to let people navigate around the site. Generally this doesn't keep the entire site from being indexed, but it can block large amounts of content. If you have any content that can only be reached by a drop down box or by filling out a form and clicking an enter button, then chances are pretty high the search engines can't find it and haven't indexed it. Search engine spiders can't fill out forms like humans do; unless you give them a direct text link, the content might as well not even exist.
There's no doubt there are other things that can cause problems with the spiders, but these are some of the quickest and easiest to check for. The good news is they all have remedies. The first step is finding out you have a problem. If you do, it's time to contact someone you trust so they can take a look at your site and help you figure out what the problem is.
Jennifer Laycock is the Editor of Search Engine Guide, the Social Media Faculty Chair for MarketMotive and offers small business social media strategy & consulting. Jennifer enjoys the challenge of finding unique and creative ways to connect with consumers without spending a fortune in marketing dollars. Though she now prefers to work with small businesses, Jennifer’s clients have included companies like Verizon, American Greetings and Highlights for Children.
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