I realize I’ve taken the above verse a bit out of context, but considering how often Jesus warned us about things hidden, I think it is appropriate to quote it when talking about the practice of including “invisible text.” A point that was at the top of my list of bad search engine practices in last week’s article entitled “Lessons in Failure – or Stinko Search Engine Marketing Strategy.”
Also known as “keyword stuffing”, webmaster engage in this practice under the false notion that search engines will elevate their ranking based upon the number of times a keyword shows up on their page. While this may have been true back in 1997 when search engines we’re still simple and crude, but no more. Now search engines are built do penalize your ranking when such instances are found. And rightfully so … as it often indicates someone taking the wide road of gimmicks as opposed to the narrow road of frequently updated compelling content. Don’t do this!
To show you how this works, I found two church web sites that engage in this practice. It wasn’t easy, because I essentially had to go to Google and enter the literal keyword search (in quotes) “church church church church church church church church.” I mean, honestly, who actually uses such a query to find a web site … other than people like me looking for good examples of bad word-stuffing?
It also isn’t obvious from first blush that these sites are doing this as the color of the “stuffed keywords” is the same as the page background, and the font size somewhat small. So I’ve taken screen shots of each front page after selecting the “Select All” menu option on my browser. For the full effect, you can click on the thumbnail images provided with each church’s description.
This Church has plenty of content, only you can’t tell because the front page is a splash page that is generally useless to a search engine and navigationally confusing to a first time visitor. Especially a user with disabilities. I also found it a bit amusing that while the webmaster took time to keyword stuff, he/she didn’t bother to include the more generally accepted practice of employing meta tags.
Instead, what might be useful is a front page that has excerpts from some their existing pages such as “What We Believe, “Schedule“, an article by their pastor and an article in the local paper. It only has to be a paragraph or two from each … each with links back into the full pages.
Adding copious location and times of service information to the front page would also help, both users, and search engines (more the former than the later).
Along with all this, there should be a text menu to the various page, or at least major sections of the web site. I think I would also lose the black, disco-ey background. This is just my personal taste, but for me (and your mileage may vary), I get too much of a nightclub feel from this site.
Unlike the previous example, this page avoids the mistake of employing a useless splash page. It also takes advantage of meta tags. Unfortunately, it too is a church web site chock-full-o-content that is guilty of keyword stuffing.
Again, what I might do is summarize the mission statement on the front page down to a single paragraph … moving the more verbose version into their existing mission and vision page. Of course the ‘abstract’ would have a ‘[read more ...]‘ type link to the wordier version.
I would than take some of the space saved and move in some highlights from their existing News page. Again with a [more news...] link into the long version. And while we’re at it, how about a random image from their existing photo gallery page? They say a picture is worth 1000 words, and judging from all the smiling faces I saw, I would think that would make a more inviting introduction than a three paragraph sermonette.
Seeing it through their eyes
In both cases, by adding snippets, menus and location content to the front page, both sites become more inviting and navigationally friendly for human users. Moreover, it also helps search engines better spider and rank not just your front page, but your entire site. Remember, a seeker only needs to find one of your pages to find the rest of your site. More on that later.
If you want get an idea of what individuals with disabilities and/or a search engine sees, or at least as close as one can get to it with the naked human eye, view each of these sites using the Delorie Lynx Viewer. As you can see, what it doesn’t take much to disclose that which has been concealed.