"Behind the Scenes"
|January 2012||The monthly newsletter by Felgall Pty Ltd|
Web Page Content Abuse
One problem with search engines is that they are not as smart as the people using them. Where it can be very obvious to people as to just what the topic is that a web page covers it is not so obvious to the search engines. The search engine attempts to figure out what the page is about by applying a series of built in rules to the content of the page.
Since these rules are simply an approximation of what a person would do in working out the topic it doesn't always get it right. In fact the search engines get it wrong more often than they ought to because of those web pages that attempt to manipulate their position in the search results by adjusting parts of the page content to make them more appropriate for the search engines and less appropriate for the real people who would visit.
Some parts of the page content are not visible to everyone who visits a web page and some parts are not visible at all unless you view the page source. The meta keywords tag was originally intended to assist search engines by identifying the most important words relating to the page topic and so help the search engines to classify the page. Unfortunately because it isn't visible to the real visitors some people decided that they could misuse the tag in order to try to get their page listed higher in results for topics where there are a large number of more appropriate pages around. Misuse of this tag eventually became so bad that it no longer assisted the search engines in determining what the web page is about and so the search engines now ignore that tag completely.
Since the tag that is completely invisible to real visitors can no longer be used to mislead search engines those trying to do so have moved on to using parts of the web page that only a small fraction of the real visitors to the page actually 'see'. Every image in the actual content of the web page is required to have an alt attribute that contains alternate text. The intended purpose of this text is to provide those people who cannot see the image with some text that hopefully serves the same purpose as the image does for those who see it.
Ideally the alt text associated with an image should read as if it were a part of the surrounding text content and be worded in such a way that it doesn't make a great deal of difference at least in terms of the information provided as to whether the visitor sees the image or that alternative text. While the page with the images displayed will look nicer than a plain text page without images would, the page should still convey the same information whether or not the images are visible.
Because only a small percentage of people actually see the alt text some people have taken to stuffing the alt text with inappropriate content the same way that they used to with the keywords tag. This means that those who see the images see the page the way the author intended while those who see the alt text in place of the images basically see garbage. The search engines fall into this latter group but as mentioned before they are nowhere near as intelligent as people and so do not necessarily realise that the text they are seeing is actually garbage and so may rank the page either for a topic that is different from the one that the people who see the text and images would expect it to belong to or would rank it above other pages that are much better resources on the topic.
Over time the rules that the search engines follow will be amended to disregard the alt text when it doesn't properly match to the rest of the page content - assuming of course that there is a lot of text visible to everyone in the page so that the mismatch stands out sufficiently. The problem comes with pages that are photo galleries where there is little or no text content in the actual page itself apart from the alt text. Even if the the search engines find some way to analyse the content of the actual images in order to be able to get at least some idea of what the images are it still will not necessarily help them in determining whether the text matches the purpose that the images serve.
The most unfortunate part of this entire area of text misuse is that there are lots of people out there who actually charge legitimate companies to insert this garbage into their web pages in order to get the pages listed slightly higher in the search results, probably only for a relatively short period until the search engines figure out that the page is garbage and remove it completely - but then by the time that happens the person who did it will be long gone.
The following links will take you to all of the various pages that have been added to the site or undergone major changes in the last month.