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Is Google bad for the web - from an aesthetic point of view?
Google is a fantastic search engine - an engine that gives us all a chance

 8:02 pm on Apr 13, 2002 (gmt 0)

Google is a fantastic search engine - an engine that gives us all a chance to get top placements where as others (yahoo) ask for money and even then there is no guarantee of a placing...especialy with the free submission, but Google gives you a chance.

At what costs to your design though!

Here's my question: Is Google bad for the web - from an aesthetic point of view?

Before answering this check out the below.

Google facts: (gleamed from webmaster world)

Text rich: If a site contains more text then graphics the chance of getting a good placement is greater. Google doesn't give significance to, flash or buttons/bitmaps etc.

File size: The lighter the page files are the greater the chance is of getting a good placement. Google loves sites that are light in page size.

Javascript/DHTML: Google will not follow links in a Javascript/DHTML dropdown nav menu, it only follows solid links as it is a spider and it spiders links - it will follow the text but not the link.

Because Google gives webmasters a chance to get a good placement, webmasters are dropping all design aspects like flash (probably a good thing), DHTML, CSS, Javascript, Java (again probably a good thing, Images/bitmaps all aspects that I think enhances web sites.

Google also works on link popularity so some might say that if you have good link pop you will get a good placement irrespective of your design! That's true, but a site with good link pop and lots of text, few images, no Javascript/flash etc. will get a better placement than a site with good link pop and all of the mentioned design elements.

Webmasters and developers are doing everything to gain an advantage to get higher placements and are building their sites to a criteria governed by search engines. This criteria is biased towards flash, Javascript/DHTML, images, graphics etc. All the things that are there to enhance the aesthetic appeal and personality of a website.

So I ask the question again: Is Google bad for the web - from an aesthetic point of view?

As webmasters or developers what is your thoughts on this? We all want a good looking site that is attractive and appealing to the aesthetic senses for our visitors, but what is more important a great placement in a major search engine or a great looking website? Is there a balance to this? I have been speaking to one guy and he is totally redesigning his site for a better placement in Google, he is dumping most of his images and the dropdown DHTML menu that he uses for his nav system - all for getting an advantage over his competitors, all for getting higher up in Google's placements.

I don't know about you but this seems like people are building their sites specificaly for the search engines!

Is that a bad thing or a good thing?

Personally I thought building a website was all about building an attractive, navigable website with great content for visitors or potential visitors - not specificaly for search engines. Or is it a chicken and egg thing. Without the search engine where will the visitors come from - so getting in the search engines comes first? With the search engine, will visitor like your site if it has no aesthetic appeal?

Your thoughts, opinions and feedback would be greatly appreciated.

P.S Is Jacob Nielson the new CEO of Google? :)





 8:09 pm on Apr 13, 2002 (gmt 0)

P.S Is Jacob Nielson the new CEO of Google?

Not that i know off but they give him credit here


 8:21 pm on Apr 13, 2002 (gmt 0)

It's the bottom line value of being FOUND on Google (et. al.) that matters to a businessperson on the Web.

The appearance of the site will therefore be a compromise between being indexable and "rankable" and being sufficiently attractive to draw people inside the site.

This isn't quite like erecting an attractive storefront for passersby to notice in the bricks/mortars world. That intermediate step of relying upon a search engine changes the nature of the game.

So to your question, yes and no. I've seen purely graphical sites that looked awful to me. And I have seen sites which were, to me, very attractive, which were an effective compromise between art and HTML text.

Such is the view from up here on the fence....


 4:12 pm on Apr 14, 2002 (gmt 0)

For every site that's enhanced by Flash, DHTML, Java, JavaScript, etc., there are probably half a dozen more that would have looked (and worked) better in plain-vanilla HTML. The Web is like desktop publishing or television in that respect. When DTP took off in the late 1980s and early 1990s, amateur and low-end commercial designers went nuts with fonts, starbursts, and other gimmicks. Similarly, when video-editing equipment became cheap enough for every video studio of reasonable size to own one, we saw a flood of spinning waterbeds, spiraling logos, and other sins by aesthetically clueless producers and advertising clients.

So, if Google is ignoring the latest Web bells and whistles and thereby encouraging simpler page design, Google is contributing to a *more* aesthetically pleasing Web.


 2:23 am on Apr 15, 2002 (gmt 0)

My main site (first link in my profile site) is 100% HTML - not a single image, let alone Javascript or Shockwave! - and I can't see how adding "aesthetic" features to it would help in any way whatsoever.

But then I'm from the Jakob Nielsen school that puts usability ahead of "gee whiz"ness.



 3:24 am on Apr 15, 2002 (gmt 0)

From an aesthetic point of view, Google is the best thing to happen to the web since Yahoo.

With the numbers of unusable and downright ugly tricked out sites out there, thank goodness there is something that pulls designers back from the brink of total insanity. There are too many college kids with too much leisure time as it is - least we have Google to filter some of that soapy residue out of our way.

The next step, would be for Google to install a validator on their site. It could be placed with a simple worded statement, "our spider Googlebot, with index those pages that it can. However, if it runs into X number of code errors, there is only so much we can do. It's up to the webmasters and site owner to assure that your pages are indexable. The best way to do that, is to ensure that the site validates".

This is all a moot point. It doesn't matters to Google what code is on the page or not. It only matters what is best for Google. Right now, that is small pages because it's their bandwidth that is chewed out of the cache and only they have the data to know what type of pages people will or will not click on. It would also be silly to try to code an indexer for javascript (the browsers can't even get it right, why should Google event try.)


 4:18 am on Apr 15, 2002 (gmt 0)

Small is beautiful.


 6:16 pm on Apr 15, 2002 (gmt 0)

The rumours about Flash, DHTML, CSS, Javascript and Java hurting search engine listings are affecting how people make sites. From a surfer's point of view I hope that these rumours spread far and wide. Bloat is a pain, even on a fast connection.

Unless you're caught using sneaky redirects and on-page cloaking (eg. CSS text and background colour matching) then the things above don't harm; nor do they help. My belief is that Google treats 50 words + 50 pictures (with alt="") just the same as it does 50 words with 0 pictures. The problem is that people put up pages with 50 pictures and no words, so Googlebot doesn't get to index much. The same goes for Flash or Java instead of textual content, or Javascript instead of HTML links.


 6:18 pm on Apr 15, 2002 (gmt 0)

As a converted Nielsen disciple, I love it.

Google follows his theories very close in many instances. Read "Designing Web Usability" and you'll see.

Mark Candiotti

 8:15 pm on Jul 14, 2002 (gmt 0)

I certainly think that the theming concept can be harmful, as well as some of the linking/vortal strategies implied by it. Let's take a site that sells real estate in Anytown, California. If I am interested in building a nice, quality site then I would include information not only about the houses I list but also about the schools, the weather, shopping/supermarkets, etc. Or rather, I would include information about Anytown schools, Anytown weather, Anytown shopping, etc. But then, my site becomes "themed" for Anytown, rather than the more specific (and more effective vis-a-vis my competitors) theme of "Anytown real estate". So, to compete in a search world, led by Google, that increasingly rewards theming I would EXCLUDE that additional information to avoid diluting my site's theme. I do NOT want to be themed for Anytown, CA - I want to be "themed" for Anytown real estate, CA. Indeed, it's the only thing I want to talk about! Yes, being an authority on Anytown would certainly help, and, sure, that would "trickle down" directly but why focus up there! I see people being more specific like this everywhere, every day, in the design of their sites.

Also,it also goes a long way toward helping to explain an earlier, short "debate" regarding the importance of the index page sparked by Brett Tabke's brilliant theme-diagram. I think part of the problem is that Brett is "macro", if you will, while some of us are "micro". As an example, there was a theme-hierarchy offered (somewhere) about cars (index), then models next level down, then engines, etc. This is great if I'm selling cars or perhaps Toyotas, but what if I'm selling something that would normally be at the "bottom" level of the larger site's theme? For example, I only sell slant six-cylinder engines. That's what I want people to find. My home page talks about it and links within my site to the 12 different kind of engines I offer along with some pictures. When someone enters "slant six-cylinder engine" into Google, there I am perfectly themed at #1. That's why the index pages are showing up everywhere. They're optimized (and themed) only for the "money pages" as was referred to, at the bottom of the pyramid. As such, I have ZERO incentive to add pages that are in any way tertiary to the specific topic - pages that could be VERY useful to the user. [I can see the response being to LINK to other related topics, but that doesn't make it more convenient to the user on my site.] I think the reliance on themes as a search engine indexing strategy might be one of the better ways to do it given the alternatives, but it will lead to ever-smaller, keyword-specific websites, IMHO. Not to mention a plethora of portals and themed sites helping to organize all of it, to give the "macros" their due. Not sure this fractionalization is what the "themers" intended.


 9:51 pm on Jul 14, 2002 (gmt 0)

Are you sure about your so-called facts? I would question at least one of these, possibly two.



 10:12 pm on Jul 14, 2002 (gmt 0)

I don't thinking theme "Anytown" was the mind-set.

Anytown is in fact very unique when compared to the products, services and information contained within Anytown.

It's a little like submission to DMOZ.org - a regional listing is quite different to topical listings.

Even if your focus is ANYTOWN REALESTATE the theming would be on realestate and anything associated with the industry/market appeal.

Should someone actually query on ANYTOWN you are right, they are probably looking for a motel.

Should theming surrounding realestate be properly achieved then you are attractive those looking for "realestate" and ANYWHERE including ANYTOWN and quite possibly lure people to ANYTOWN from EVERYWHERE ELSETOWN's REALESTATE.

[edited by: fathom at 10:15 pm (utc) on July 14, 2002]


 10:15 pm on Jul 14, 2002 (gmt 0)

I don't think forcing webmasters to write validated code is a good idea. Even Google's site can't pass the validation test although it's code is nothing complex. For example they knowingly omit quotes most likely to save bandwidth. Why not leave people alone? If a site is rendered in IE, Netscape, and optionally Opera fine then that's enough: 99% of all web users have these browsers. And as a web designer and web developer I love IE's flexibility. The so called standards compliant Netscape 6.2 still has problems rendering some CSS layouts where IE works flawlessly. We are all humans afterall, and humans do make mistakes (a lot). Validation is too strict for practical purposes. Let's leave the forgotten quotes alone ;)


 10:18 pm on Jul 14, 2002 (gmt 0)

Validation is too strict for practical purposes.

Ya OK! Credit cards and Bank Debit cards included right!


 11:01 pm on Jul 14, 2002 (gmt 0)

Google does follow javascript links, albeit in a limited way, I've seen it on some of my site. Besides are you forgetting the <noscript> tag? You should always use one, as a growing number of surfers are disabling it.

As for button navagation, use <alt> tags.

Then you'd want to go back and redefine your ideas of aesthetics, nothing is more beautiful than a useable, complaint website.

As for flash, when you publish from MM Flash it inserts HTML comments that include links and text that are used in the flash file, and even though I usually don't use them I've seen Google index many of my swf files.

For the record I always abandon flash only and heavily scripted sites, they conflict with my aesthetics. :)


 11:37 pm on Jul 14, 2002 (gmt 0)

Ask someone what they think of a website and they like to see bells and whistles....

Ask someone to find something on the web and they hate bells and whistles....

Google is putting itself in the position of a user wanting fast information. Who goes to the web for an asthetic experience? Very few. Google is indirectly keeping the web usefull by demanding up front information efficiently and clearly.

Mark Candiotti - I agree that giving background info could be helpfull but damaging to theme. However, having a more focused site is probably more what people want, they can always search again for other information.

The problem is that designers think that a web page should look like a brochure or newsletter. Why? Hard copy advertising looks like it does because noone ever had to wait for it to 'load'! The web is different, and text rich pages work best for the user.


 2:07 am on Jul 15, 2002 (gmt 0)

Text = good. Having some graphics and a pleasing site won't hurt you in google, but having a bloated piece of crap (like so many sites out there) will. So in conclusion: google is definitely good...


 3:06 am on Jul 15, 2002 (gmt 0)

The notion that aesthetic appeal and Google "indexability" are mutually exclusive concepts is flawed. Check out 37signals.com. Great design, great usability, great Google.

Get with the medium. You wouldn't read a magazine which you had to wait ten seconds for the pages to appear would you? :)


 3:27 am on Jul 15, 2002 (gmt 0)

Actually most magazines take a month (or bi-weekly) to appear.

I would think these are a different medium, wouldn't you?


 3:34 am on Jul 15, 2002 (gmt 0)

Actually most magazines take a month (or bi-weekly) to appear.

So do most Flash sites :)

I would think these are a different medium, wouldn't you?



 3:51 am on Jul 15, 2002 (gmt 0)

Cool feeder! I love your thought process LOL!


 3:54 am on Jul 15, 2002 (gmt 0)

And yours :) I'd buy you a beer, only you're in Canada.


 4:52 am on Jul 15, 2002 (gmt 0)

The web is not for people to "show off" their artistic talent, and force us to appreciate their arts.

Glad that Google has set the guidelines for all the designers to follow. Like the town planner setting the design guidelines for architects, for a better and more pleasant environment.... for the sake of art.


 6:44 am on Jul 15, 2002 (gmt 0)

If you are bent on having an artistic site with flash/java etc, why not just make another site so that one ranks well, and the other is aesthetically pleasing even if it is longer loading? I know it's a lot of work, but most larger sites (especially corporate sites) have done this. Then you can let you users decide how they like their content served up and not worry about loss of rankings.


 10:32 am on Jul 15, 2002 (gmt 0)

Google facts: (gleamed from webmaster world)

Text rich: If a site contains more text then graphics the chance of getting a good placement is greater. Google doesn't give significance to, flash or buttons/bitmaps etc.

If you do not forget to put a title and ALT tag in place you should still be able to rank well. Do not forget most ranking effects are from other people linking towards you.

More text helps if people search with multi-word queries. How else should any search engine do this other than regarding any available text?

File size: The lighter the page files are the greater the chance is of getting a good placement. Google loves sites that are light in page size.

This is mentioned a lot in this forum, I have yet to see real proof for this though (if you stay within the 100 K size)

Javascript/DHTML: Google will not follow links in a Javascript/DHTML dropdown nav menu, it only follows solid links as it is a spider and it spiders links - it will follow the text but not the link.

You are right in this one. I guess Google prefers to follow the links that are directly visable to the visitor on first glance. It does give the webmaster the choice of concentrating on explicit links and leaving general navigational menu links (often placed on every page of the site) as an option.
It could also prevent (internal/external) unintentional cross-linking penalties by not following these "placed everywhere javascript navigation menus".

Probably Google has other well-thought-out reasons for not following these links.

I think Google should mention this in their webmaster guidelines on their site.
(maybe they do now, I have not checked).

P.S Is Jacob Nielson the new CEO of Google?

He is helping in simplifying webdesigns and many though not all of his tips are well thought out.

BTW, Mr Nielson thinks drop-down menus are "trash-cans" for putting information/links and should preferably not be used. I totally disagree with that.

If you read his latest book "homepage usability - 50 websites deconstructed" you will find he seems to favour pages that use as much screen real estate as possible (not that Google is listening to him there). In that sense he is hurting the web from "an aesthetic point of view", but I doubt that will help in getting links from external sites and thereby ranking well in Google.

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