Don’t Deceive Your Users

Last month I posted a brief guide of “The 5 Don’ts of SEO” listing suggestions of things not to do when designing a website. These guidelines include a few of the common “Don’ts” and suggestions from Google to help you keep your site compliant with search engines’ webmaster guidelines. I wanted to expand a little further and give a little more insight on each guideline. I’ll start with the first guideline: Don’t Deceive Your Users.

There are many ways search engines could view a web page as deceiving an end user. Probably the most common form of deceit on a web page is presenting different content to search engines than you display to human visitors. This is commonly referred to as cloaking. Doing this may cause your site to be perceived as deceptive and can result in removal from search engines.

A common form of cloaking is serving up a page of HTML text to search engines, while showing a page of images (or Flash or JavaScript) to your site visitors. You may be doing this on your site right now not intending to deceive your users or the search engines. If you are employing these cloaking tactics, or are designing a website rich with Flash or JavaScript, you should make sure that your end users are your main priority.

To prevent your site from being a deceiver, there are a few ways to correctly provide crawlable data for the search engines.  These will also be helpful to your visitors who have screen readers or images turned off in their browser.

  • Provide alt text that describes images on your pages.
  • Provide textual content of JavaScript in a noscript tag.

Make sure the content you provide is the same text for both the JavaScript and the noscript tag.   Having substantially different content in these different elements is viewed as extremely deceptive to  the search engines and they may take action against your site.

Keep your site visitors in mind as you build out your site. As I’ve mentioned before, a good rule of thumb is to think about what you are doing and who it is for. Ask yourself if what you are doing helps your users, and would you do the same thing the search engines didn’t exist.

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2 Comments

  1. Jacob Stoops says

    Deception is very common in the SEO industry and there are always a lot of people out there not afraid to cross into the grey or black hat areas of SEO. From my experience, this has created a lot of distrust of SEOs by clients or other vendors.

    My firm recently had a client call into question our use of noscript tags for heavy flash sites, only to get a direct response from Google in support of us! It was a big time victory, and made us look real smart!

  2. Mike Law says

    Google can’t penalise sites for using noscript as the whole purpose for it existing is to improve usability, much like the alt tag. It’s up to Google to figure out whether the tag is being used to manipulate or not. Which by the sounds of it they are working very hard at.

    It would be interesting to know how much weight content in tags has as opposed to standard HTML content though. It’s believed alt tags are given considerable weight.

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