Posted:
Webmaster level: all
A common annoyance for web users is when websites require browser technologies that are not supported by their device. When users access such pages, they may see nothing but a blank space or miss out a large portion of the page's contents.
Starting today in our English search results in the US, we will indicate to searchers when our algorithms detect pages that may not work on their devices. For example, Adobe Flash is not supported on iOS devices or on Android versions 4.1 and higher, and a page whose contents are mostly Flash may be noted like this:

Developing modern multi-device websites

Fortunately, making websites that work on all modern devices is not that hard: websites can use HTML5 since it is universally supported, sometimes exclusively, by all devices. To help webmasters build websites that work on all types of devices regardless of the type of content they wish to serve, we recently announced two resources:
  • Web Fundamentals: a curated source for modern best practices.
  • Web Starter Kit: a starter framework supporting the Web Fundamentals best practices out of the box.
By following the best practices described in Web Fundamentals you can build a responsive web design, which has long been Google's recommendation for search-friendly sites. Be sure not to block crawling of any Googlebot of the page assets (CSS, JavaScript, and images) using robots.txt or otherwise. Being able to access these external files fully helps our algorithms detect your site's responsive web design configuration and treat it appropriately. You can use the Fetch and render as Google feature in Webmaster Tools to test how our indexing algorithms see your site.
As always, if you need more help you can ask a question in our webmaster forum.

Posted:
Webmaster level: all

Have you ever used Google Search on your smartphone and clicked on a promising-looking result, only to end up on the mobile site’s homepage, with no idea why the page you were hoping to see vanished? This is such a common annoyance that we’ve even seen comics about it. Usually this happens because the website is not properly set up to handle requests from smartphones and sends you to its smartphone homepage—we call this a “faulty redirect”.

We’d like to spare users the frustration of landing on irrelevant pages and help webmasters fix the faulty redirects. Starting today in our English search results in the US, whenever we detect that smartphone users are redirected to a homepage instead of the the page they asked for, we may note it below the result. If you still wish to proceed to the page, you can click “Try anyway”:


And we’re providing advice and resources to help you direct your audience to the pages they want. Here’s a quick rundown:

1. Do a few searches on your own phone (or with a browser set up to act like a smartphone) and see how your site behaves. Simple but effective. :)

2. Check out Webmaster Tools—we’ll send you a message if we detect that any of your site’s pages are redirecting smartphone users to the homepage. We’ll also show you any faulty redirects we detect in the Smartphone Crawl Errors section of Webmaster Tools:


3. Investigate any faulty redirects and fix them. Here’s what you can do:
  • Use the example URLs we provide in Webmaster Tools as a starting point to debug exactly where the problem is with your server configuration.
  • Set up your server so that it redirects smartphone users to the equivalent URL on your smartphone site.
  • If a page on your site doesn’t have a smartphone equivalent, keep users on the desktop page, rather than redirecting them to the smartphone site’s homepage. Doing nothing is better than doing something wrong in this case.
  • Try using responsive web design, which serves the same content for desktop and smartphone users.
If you’d like to know more about building smartphone-friendly sites, read our full recommendations. And, as always, if you need more help you can ask a question in our webmaster forum.

Posted:
We're always looking for new ways to help educate our fellow webmasters. While you may already be familiar with Webmaster Tools, Webmaster Help Discussion Groups, this blog, and our Help Center, we've added another tutorial to help you understand how Google works. Hence we've made this video of a soon-to-come presentation titled "Google for Webmasters." This video will introduce how Google discovers, crawls, indexes your site's pages, and how Google displays them in search results. It also touches lightly upon challenges webmasters and search engines face, such as duplicate content, and the effective indexing of Flash and AJAX content. Lastly, it also talks about the benefits of offerings Webmaster Central and other useful Google products.


Take a look for yourself.

Discoverability:



Accessibility - Crawling and Indexing:


Ranking:


Webmaster Central Overview:


Other Resources:



Google Presentations Version:
https://docs.google.com/presentation/d/1JDDqmCPdxTnmYwev-ksjIFYV7Jl3KPBrLb7KDSw3lB0/pub

Important links from this presentation as they chronologically appear in the video:
Add your URL to Google
Help Center: Sitemaps
Sitemaps.org
Robots.txt
Meta tags
Best uses of Flash
Best uses of Ajax
Duplicate content
Google's Technology
Google's History
PigeonRank
Help Center: Link Schemes
Help Center: Cloaking
Webmaster Guidelines
Webmaster Central
Google Analytics
Google Website Optimizer
Google Trends
Google Reader
Google Alerts
More Google Products


Special thanks to Wysz, Chark, and Alissa for the voices.

Posted:


As a follow-up to my previous posts on accessibility, here are some design recommendations for creating web content that remains usable by the widest possible audience while helping ensure that the content gets indexed and crawled.

Avoid spurious XMLHttpRequests

Pages that enable users to look up information often use XMLHttpRequests to populate the page with additional information after the page has loaded. When using this pattern, ensure that your initial page has useful information on it -- otherwise Googlebot as well as those users who have disabled scripting in their browser may believe that your site contains only the message "loading..."

CSS sprites and navigation links

Having meaningful text to go with navigational links is equally important for Googlebot as well as users who cannot perceive the meaning of an image. While designing the look and feel of navigational links on your site, you may have chosen to go with images that function as links, e.g., by placing <img> tags within <a> elements. That design enables you to place the descriptive text as an alt attribute on the <img> tag.

But what if you've switched to using CSS sprites to optimize page loading? It's still possible to include that all-important descriptive text when applying CSS sprites; for a possible solution, see how the Google logo and the various nav-links at the bottom of the Google Results page are coded. In brief, we placed the descriptive text right under the CSS-sprited image.

Google search results with CSS enabled


Google search result with CSS disabled ("Google" sprited image lost, descriptive "Google" link remains)


Use unobtrusive JavaScript

We've talked about the concept of progressive enhancement when creating a rich, interactive site. As you add features, also use unobtrusive JavaScript techniques for creating JavaScript-powered web pages that degrade gracefully. These techniques ensure that your content remains accessible by the widest possible user base without the need to sacrifice the more interactive features of Web 2.0 applications.

Make printer-friendly versions easily available

Web sites with highly interactive visual designs often provide all of the content for a given story as a printer-friendly version. Generated from the same content as the interactive version, these are an excellent source of high-quality content for both the Googlebot as well as visually impaired users unable to experience all of the interactive features of a web site. But all too often, these printer-friendly versions remain hidden behind scripted links of the form:

<a href="#" onclick="javascript:print(...)">Print</a>

Creating actual URLs for these printer-friendly versions and linking to them via plain HTML anchors will vastly improve the quality of content that gets crawled.

<a href="http://example.com/page1-printer-friendly.html" target="_blank">Print</a>

If you're especially worried about duplicate content from the interactive and printer-friendly version, then you may want to pick a preferred version of the content and submit a Sitemap containing the preferred URL as well as try to internally link to this version. This can help Google disambiguate if we see pieces of the article show up on different URLs.

Create URLs for your useful content

As a webmaster, you have the power to mint URLs for all of the useful content that you are publishing. Exercising this power is what makes the web spin. Creating URLs for every valuable nugget you publish, and linking to them via plain old HTML hyperlinks will ensure that:
  • Googlebot learns about that content,
  • users can find that content,
  • and users can bookmark it for returning later.
Failure to do this often forces your users to have to remember complex click trails to reach that nugget of information they know they previously viewed on your site.

Posted:

Raman and Hubbell at home
Hubbell and I enjoying the day at our home in California. Please feel free to view my earlier post about accessibility for webmasters, as well as additional articles I've written for the Official Google blog.

One of the most frequently asked questions about Accessible Search is: What can I do to make my site rank well on Accessible Search? At the same time, webmasters often ask a similar but broader question: What can I do to rank high on Google Search?

Well I'm pleased to tell you that you can kill two birds with one stone: critical site features such as site navigation can be created to work for all users, including our own Googlebot. Below are a few tips for you to consider.

Ensure that all critical content is reachable

To access content, it needs to be reachable. Users and web crawlers reach content by navigating through hyperlinks, so as a critical first step, ensure that all content on your site is reachable via plain HTML hyperlinks, and avoid hiding critical portions of your site behind technologies such as JavaScript or Flash.

Plain hyperlinks are hyperlinks created via an HTML anchor element <a>. Next, ensure that the target of all hyperlinks i.e. <a> elements are real URLs, rather than using an empty hyperlink while deferring hyperlink behavior to an onclick handler.

In short, avoid hyperlinks of the form:
<a href="#" onclick="javascript:void(...)">Product Catalog</a>

In preference of simpler links, such as:
<a href="http://www.example.com/product-catalog.html">Product Catalog</a>

Ensure that content is readable

To be useful, content needs to be readable by everyone. Ensure that all important content on your site is present within the text of HTML documents. Content needs to be available without needing to evaluate scripts on a page. Content hidden behind Flash animations or text generated within the browser by executable JavaScript remains opaque to the Googlebot, as well as to most blind users.

Ensure that content is available in reading order

Having discovered and arrived at your readable content, a user needs to be able to follow the content you've put together in its logical reading order. If you are using a complex, multi-column layout for most of the content on your site, you might wish to step back and analyze how you are achieving the desired effect. For example, using deeply-nested HTML tables makes it difficult to link together related pieces of text in a logical manner.

The same effect can often be achieved using CSS and logically organized <div> elements in HTML. As an added bonus, you will find that your site renders much faster as a result.

Supplement all visual content--don't be afraid of redundancy!

Making information accessible to all does not mean that you need to 'dumb down' your site to simple text. Making your content maximally redundant is critical in ensuring that your content is maximally useful to everyone. Here are a few simple tips:
  • Ensure that content communicated via images is available when those images are missing. This goes further than adding appropriate alt attributes to relevant images. Ensure that the text surrounding the image does an adequate job of setting the context for why the image is being used, as well as detailing the conclusions you expect a person seeing the image to draw. In short, if you want to make sure everyone knows it's a picture of a bridge, wrap that text around the image.

  • Add relevant summaries and captions to tables so that the reader can gain a high-level appreciation for the information being conveyed before delving into the details contained within.

  • Accompany visual animations such as data displays with a detailed textual summary.
Following these simple tips greatly increases the quality of your landing pages for everyone. As a positive side-effect, you'll most likely discover that your site gets better indexed!

Posted:




Many people talk about the effect the Internet has on democratizing access to information, but as someone who has been visually impaired since my teenage years, I can certainly speak to the profound impact it has had on my life.

In everyday life, things like a sheet of paper—and anything written on it—are completely inaccessible to a blind or visually impaired user. But with the Internet a new world has opened up for me and so many others. Thanks to modern technology like screen readers, web pages, books, and web applications are now at our fingertips.

In order to help the visually impaired find the most relevant, useful information on the web, and as quickly as possible, we developed Accessible Search. Google Accessible Search identifies and prioritizes search results that are more easily used by blind and visually impaired users – that means pages that are clean and simple (think of the Google homepage!) and that can load without images.

Why should you take the time to make your site more accessible? In addition to the service you'll be doing for the visually-impaired community, accessible sites are more easily crawled, which is a first step in your site's ability to appear in search results.

So what can you do to make your sites more accessible? Well first of all, think simple. In its current version, Google Accessible Search looks at a number of signals by examining the HTML markup found on a web page. It tends to favor pages that degrade gracefully: pages with few visual distractions and that are likely to render well with images turned off. Flashing banners and dancing animals are probably the worst thing you could put on your site if you want its content to be read by an adaptive technology like a screen reader.

Here are some basic tips:
  1. Keep web pages easy to read, avoiding visual clutter and ensuring that the primary purpose of the web page is immediately accessible with full keyboard navigation.

  2. There are many organizations and online resources that offer website owners and authors guidance on how to make websites and pages more accessible for the blind and visually impaired. The W3C publishes numerous guidelines including Web Content Access Guidelines that are helpful for website owners and authors.

  3. As with regular search, the best thing you can do with respect to making your site rank highly is to create unique, compelling content. In fact, you can think of the Google crawler as the world's most influential blind user. The content that matters most to the Googlebot is the content that matters most to the blind user: good, quality text.

  4. It's also worth reviewing your content to see how accessible it is for other end users. For example, try browsing your site on a monochrome display or try using your site without a mouse. You may also consider your site's usability through a mobile device like a Blackberry or iPhone.

Fellow webmasters, thanks for taking the time to better understand principles of accessibility. In my next post I'll talk about how to make sure that critical site features, like site navigation, are accessible. Until then!

Posted:


Here's the second of our video blog posts. Matt Cutts, the head of Google's webspam team, provides some useful tips on how to optimize the images you include on your site, and how simply providing useful, accurate information in your ALT attributes can make your photos and pictures more discoverable on the web. Ms Emmy Cutts also makes an appearance.



Like videos? Hate them? Have a great idea we should cover? Let us know what you think in our Webmaster Help Group.

Update: Some of you have asked about the difference between the "alt" and "title" attributes. According to the W3C recommendations, the "alt" attribute specifies an alternate text for user agents that cannot display images, forms or applets. The "title" attribute is a bit different: it "offers advisory information about the element for which it is set." As the Googlebot does not see the images directly, we generally concentrate on the information provided in the "alt" attribute. Feel free to supplement the "alt" attribute with "title" and other attributes if they provide value to your users!

Posted:


Update on July 29, 2010: We've improved our Flash indexing capability and we also now support an AJAX crawling scheme! Please check out the posts (linked above) for more details.

Many webmasters have discovered the advantages of using Ajax to improve the user experience on their sites, creating dynamic pages that act as powerful web applications. But, like Flash, Ajax can make a site difficult for search engines to index if the technology is not implemented carefully. As promised in our post answering questions about Server location, cross-linking, and Web 2.0 technology, we've compiled some tips for creating Ajax-enhanced websites that are also understood by search engines.

How will Google see my site?

One of the main issues with Ajax sites is that while Googlebot is great at following and understanding the structure of HTML links, it can have a difficult time finding its way around sites which use JavaScript for navigation. While we are working to better understand JavaScript, your best bet for creating a site that's crawlable by Google and other search engines is to provide HTML links to your content.

Design for accessibility

We encourage webmasters to create pages for users, not just search engines. When you're designing your Ajax site, think about the needs of your users, including those who may not be using a JavaScript-capable browser. There are plenty of such users on the web, including those using screen readers or mobile devices.

One of the easiest ways to test your site's accessibility to this type of user is to explore the site in your browser with JavaScript turned off, or by viewing it in a text-only browser such as Lynx. Viewing a site as text-only can also help you identify other content which may be hard for Googlebot to see, including images and Flash.

Develop with progressive enhancement

If you're starting from scratch, one good approach is to build your site's structure and navigation using only HTML. Then, once you have the site's pages, links, and content in place, you can spice up the appearance and interface with Ajax. Googlebot will be happy looking at the HTML, while users with modern browsers can enjoy your Ajax bonuses.

Of course you will likely have links requiring JavaScript for Ajax functionality, so here's a way to help Ajax and static links coexist:
When creating your links, format them so they'll offer a static link as well as calling a JavaScript function. That way you'll have the Ajax functionality for JavaScript users, while non-JavaScript users can ignore the script and follow the link. For example:

<a href=”ajax.htm?foo=32” onClick=”navigate('ajax.html#foo=32'); return false”>foo 32</a>

Note that the static link's URL has a parameter (?foo=32) instead of a fragment (#foo=32), which is used by the Ajax code. This is important, as search engines understand URL parameters but often ignore fragments. Web developer Jeremy Keith labeled this technique as Hijax. Since you now offer static links, users and search engines can link to the exact content they want to share or reference.

While we're constantly improving our crawling capability, using HTML links remains a strong way to help us (as well as other search engines, mobile devices and users) better understand your site's structure.

Follow the guidelines

In addition to the tips described here, we encourage you to also check out our Webmaster Guidelines for more information about what can make a site good for Google and your users. The guidelines also point out some practices to avoid, including sneaky JavaScript redirects. A general rule to follow is that while you can provide users different experiences based on their capabilities, the content should remain the same. For example, imagine we've created a page for Wysz's Hamster Farm. The top of the page has a heading of "Wysz's Hamster Farm," and below it is an Ajax-powered slideshow of the latest hamster arrivals. Turning JavaScript off on the same page shouldn't surprise a user with additional text reading:
Wysz's Hamster Farm -- hamsters, best hamsters, cheap hamsters, free hamsters, pets, farms, hamster farmers, dancing hamsters, rodents, hampsters, hamsers, best hamster resource, pet toys, dancing lessons, cute, hamster tricks, pet food, hamster habitat, hamster hotels, hamster birthday gift ideas and more!
A more ideal implementation would display the same text whether JavaScript was enabled or not, and in the best scenario, offer an HTML version of the slideshow to non-JavaScript users.

This is a pretty advanced topic, so please continue the discussion by asking questions and sharing ideas over in the Webmaster Help Group. See you there!

Posted:


Held on June 27th, Searchnomics 2007 gave us (Greg Grothaus and Shashi Thakur) a chance to meet webmasters and answer some of their questions. As we're both engineers focused on improving search quality, the feedback was extremely valuable. Here's our take on the conference and a recap of some of what we talked about there.

Shashi: While I've worked at Google for over a year, this was my first time speaking at a conference. I spoke on the "Search Engine Friendly Design" panel. The exchanges were hugely valuable, helping me grasp some of the concerns of webmasters. Greg and I thought it would be valuable to share our responses to a few questions:

Does location of server matter? I use a .com domain but my content is for customers in the UK.

In our understanding of web content, Google considers both the IP address and the top-level domain (e.g. .com, .co.uk). Because we attempt to serve geographically relevant content, we factor domains that have a regional significance. For example, ".co.uk " domains are likely very relevant for user queries originating from the UK. In the absence of a significant top-level domain, we often use the web server's IP address as an added hint in our understanding of content.

I have many different sites. Can I cross-link between them?

Before you begin cross-linking sites, consider the user's perspective and whether the crosslinks provide value. If the sites are related in business -- e.g., an auto manual site linking to an auto parts retail site, then it could make sense -- the links are organic and useful. Cross-linking between dozens or hundreds of sites, however, probably doesn't provide value, and I would not recommend it.


Greg: Like Shashi, this was also my first opportunity to speak at a conference as a Googler. It was refreshing to hear feedback from the people who use the software we work every day to perfect. The session also underscored the argument that we're just at the beginning of search and have a long way to go. I spoke on the subject of Web 2.0 technologies. It was clear that many people are intimidated by the challenges of building a Web 2.0 site with respect to search engines. We understand these concerns. You should expect see more feedback from us on this subject, both at conferences and through our blog.

Any special guidance for DHTML/AJAX/Flash documents?

It's important to make sure that content and navigation can be rendered/negotiated using only HTML. So long as the content and navigation are the same for search crawlers and end users, you're more than welcome to use advanced technologies such as Flash and/or Javascript to improve the user experience using a richer presentation. In "Best uses of Flash," we wrote in more detail about this, and are working on a post about AJAX technology.

Posted:


We occasionally get questions on the Webmaster Help Group about how webmasters should work with Adobe Flash. I thought it would be worthwhile to write a few words about the search considerations designers should think about when building a Flash-heavy site.

As many of you already know, Flash is inherently a visual medium, and Googlebot doesn't have eyes. Googlebot can typically read Flash files and extract the text and links in them, but the structure and context are missing. Moreover, textual contents are sometimes stored in Flash as graphics, and since Googlebot doesn't currently have the algorithmic eyes needed to read these graphics, these important keywords can be missed entirely. All of this means that even if your Flash content is in our index, it might be missing some text, content, or links. Worse, while Googlebot can understand some Flash files, not all Internet spiders can.

So what's an honest web designer to do? The only hard and fast rule is to show Googlebot the exact same thing as your users. If you don't, your site risks appearing suspicious to our search algorithms. This simple rule covers a lot of cases including cloaking, JavaScript redirects, hidden text, and doorway pages. And our engineers have gathered a few more practical suggestions:

  1. Try to use Flash only where it is needed. Many rich media sites such as Google's YouTube use Flash for rich media but rely on HTML for content and navigation. You can too, by limiting Flash to on-page accents and rich media, not content and navigation. In addition to making your site Googlebot-friendly, this makes you site accessible to a larger audience, including, for example, blind people using screen readers, users of old or non-standard browsers, and those on limited low-bandwidth connections such as on a cell phone or PDA. As a bonus, your visitors can use bookmarks effectively, and can email links to your pages to their friends.
  2. sIFR: Some websites use Flash to force the browser to display headers, pull quotes, or other textual elements in a font that the user may not have installed on their computer. A technique like sIFR still lets non-Flash readers read a page, since the content/navigation is actually in the HTML -- it's just displayed by an embedded Flash object.
  3. Non-Flash Versions: A common way that we see Flash used is as a front page "splash screen" where the root URL of a website has a Flash intro that links to HTML content deeper into the site. In this case, make sure there is a regular HTML link on that front page to a non-Flash page where a user can navigate throughout your site without the need for Flash.

If you have other ideas that don't violate these guidelines that you'd like to ask about, feel free to ask them in the Webmaster Help Group under Crawling, Indexing, and Ranking. The many knowledgeable webmasters there, along with myself and a cadre of other Googlers, will do our best to clear up any confusion.

Update: See our additional blog posts about Flash Indexing at Google.