What you see is not always what Google gets. Avoid the traps of image-rich websites

So you’ve invested hours and hours into building a beautiful site packed full of bright, inviting images but when it comes to website visitors and sales you have crickets. Silence… Zippo… Nada…

So what went wrong?

Putting aside the obvious such as bad products, prices and reputation, you should take a real hard look at your site and find out how much your site’s most important visitor, Google, knows much about you. And it all comes down to content.

In April 2012 91.7% of us searched using Google globally. This was followed by a chirpy 3.5% for Bing and 3.36% for Yahoo!.

For the US alone the numbers were:

  • Google: 79.17%
  • Bing: 9.96%
  • Yahoo!: 9.3%
  • Ask Jeeves: 0.69%

So the old saying if you’re not in Google you don’t exist is not far from the truth. But as far as Google is concerned there is being in Google, then there is ‘being in Google’.

Test 1: Search your company web address in Google

Browse to www.google.com and enter you full website address in Google such as “www.yoursite.com”. Does it appear? Great! Google knows about you. But how much does Google really know about you?

I’m going to run a small test on an Australian embroidery company based in Melbourne whose website from a visual point of view appear to have a good website with nice content that may attract potential buyers. I contacted this company and they gave me permission to use their site but for the privacy of the company I will not disclose their website details and have blurred their company name and contact details.

As you can see the site has some nice content. It lists the products and services they offer (caps, t-shirts, polo’s, etc) plus has important selling points such as no minimums, quick turnaround and discounts for businesses. Why wouldn’t I use them? Well, I would if I could find them.

Doing a Google search for these terms in www.google.com.au (Google’s Australian website) turns up nothing. Try it yourself by searching for “embroidery service t-shirts”. Any of the websites you visit on that first page will not resemble the site above. Try searching for any other words on their site and again they will not appear.

So why?

There is a simple answer and it may surprise you. All the words on this site are not actual words. They are images. Pixles, dots of colors. And from Google’s perspective they mean nothing.

The site owner may still be able to attract users by advertising but that is a very expensive and narrow way to attract visitors. Once their daily limit is reached their website will vanish from view and their competitors will enjoy their absence in the search results.

Now let’s look at a site that has done it right. www.tshirt123.com

This DecoNetwork website has been designed for Google to love it as much as its Australian human visitors. It is visually rich, contains bright images that clearly show what the service offices, but also has rich text that Google will love. Its content and optimization has been designed to attract Australian visitors. Let’s put the site to the test.

Browse to www.google.com.au (Google’s Australian website) and enter “on demand printing hoodies”. Tshirt123 appears (at the time of writing this blog). Now search “custom t shirt printing”. Once again Tshirt123 appears. They appear because these  keywords are actual text written on their page, and not just images.

Test 2: What does Google know about my site?

So you think you’ve done the right thing but you’re not too sure. There is a quick test you can do to test if Google knows anything about your site.

Visit www.google.com and enter your full website address.  i.e. www.tshirt123.com

The website should appear as below:

Next mouse over next to the website title and two grey arrows will appear. Select this to review the preview of the site:

In the preview section you will see a link “Cached” next to the site URL. Select this to open a cached view of your website in Google’s database.

On the top far-right select the link “Text-only version”.

This will display the website in a form that Google understands – text!

Scroll down this page to experience you website as Google does. Any text on your site should appear as text on this on this page. Images will probably be missing. (though there are some tricks you can do to improve this).

Let’s go back to our first test case from Melbourne. I ran that same test on their website and this is what Google saw:

As you can see, not much at all. Only their email address, website address, and copyright statement can be seen as only these elements on their site was actual text.

All those juicing keywords used to describe their products, services and benefits are missing so this website would need to rely 100% on paid advertising to draw Google traffic to their website. Expensive and unnecessary.

Image ALT tags

While heavy use of images can pose the problem above, however you can help improve your sites SEO performance by using an image ALT tag in your HTML. An ALT tag provides alternative information for an image and is typically used when a user cannot, for whatever reason, see the image. Google will also index this alt tag and it can be used to help you sites SEO ranking.

However this said, Google’s Webmaster Tools guide recommends you “Try to use text instead of images to display important names, content, or links. The Google crawler doesn’t recognize text contained in images. If you must use images for textual content, consider using the “ALT” attribute to include a few words of descriptive text.”

Source: http://support.google.com/webmasters/bin/answer.py?hl=en&answer=35769

Work on real content for your site. Make as much of that content text on your site. Through the use of Google Fonts and other font services you can still make that text visual and appealing, but more importantly that text will help drive organic visitors to your website increasing you website traffic and reducing the reliance of paid advertising to draw traffic to your site.

Good luck and have fun! 🙂

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