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Image Replacement Techniques - What Is Google's Stance?
gdjones83




msg:3634276
 4:11 pm on Apr 24, 2008 (gmt 0)

Hi guys, first i want to apologize if this is something that has come up often in the past i did a quick search but found nothing since '04.
On my company homepage we use the phark image replacement method in the header for our logo. see code below.

#header h2 a {
text-indent: -999em;
width: 269px;
height: 68px;
background: url(/galleries/1/logo.gif) no-repeat;
margin: 18px 0 0 32px;
border-bottom: 14px solid #fff;
display: block;

now in the html we just put our company name and slogan in the h2, it totals 4 words.
Is this something that google, or any other search engines are likely to view as a black hat technique? I could understand if I had a whole paragraph of keywords written that was off left but with only 4 words? If anyone has any experience with this or knowledge on the subject id be grateful, thanks.

Gareth

 

tedster




msg:3634308
 4:45 pm on Apr 24, 2008 (gmt 0)

I know that many sites use this technique and have no trouble. I also know of one site that didn't get a penalty lifted until they removed it.

I asked this question of two different search engineers from Google at the same and got two different answers - one said it could get a spam penlaty and the other said it was fine as long as it clearly was used for accessibility, not keyword stuffing.

However, the use you are describing is a bit dicey - an H2 should be a subhead for that particular page. Having the same H2 element on every page is not an accurate use of the element.

tummblr




msg:3635465
 10:07 pm on Apr 25, 2008 (gmt 0)

Image ALT text allows clients that cannot view images to view text describing the image. Wouldn't Google prefer ALT texts to image replacement? Seems like there are probably more people who would abuse image replacement techniques than people who use it just to describe an image.

Would surrounding an image with H tags make search engines weigh the ALT text of that image more heavily?

tedster




msg:3635494
 11:30 pm on Apr 25, 2008 (gmt 0)

Text in an alt attribute is inherently of less value than an image replacement technique. Note that the term "image replacement" is really a misnomer, because it's really text that gets replacedby an image for a visual browser. The text is always the foundation content, so it can be "spoken" by assistive technology, such as Jaws.

If an image is within an anchor element, or within an H tag, there's some indication that its alt attribute value may get more emphasis. But actual text in the source code is still more powerful.

-----

- FAHNER -
When it comes to image replacement methods, the granddaddy is probably Fahner Image Replacement - and indeed that is the approach many people use to position the text offscreen. In addition to playing roulette with Google, there are other drawbacks to the original Fahner appoach. So over the years, Fahner has spawned a host of derivatives whose quality ranges from questionable to very solid.

- sIFR -
One winning image replacement method is sIFR. It replaces text with the identical content rendered in Flash with a special display font. since the text is inherently identical, sIFR is an inherently transparent approach and it cannot be suspected as spam. Any attempt to get "tricky", that is, to place text in the source code that is not identical to the text in the replacement image, can fail a manual inspection.

SWFObject
Other image replacment methods, even technology such as SWFObject, can offer a temptation to get tricky. Misuse of these methods can approach deceptive cloaking. That's quite risky for Google purposes, especially if a manual inspection comes into play. But if you play it straight, ensuring that the basic HTML content exactly duplicates the Flash content, then SWFObject is a great tool.

-----

So there's no magic bullet for ranking with image replacement. But used with honest intention, image replacement can be a useful tool for creating web pages that have a special look-and-feel but still send strong and accurate relvance signals to the search engine.

webmama




msg:3728288
 6:57 pm on Aug 21, 2008 (gmt 0)

Could you guys get a little more specific? We end up working with design agencies all the time that want beautiful Flash sites and search the web for all methods to find a way to not use text. I am thrilled the Google has said they will index words in Flash files but this doesn't solve the problem of Flash movies that have NO words.

So, this is one that was suggested to be a method that I am very suspect of but want some experts opinions: using SIFR to create an HTML file of the Flash movie, served up by Java (which is a problem in itself), and show it if the person doesn't have Flash enabled.

Now a few things:
1. Google will want to see the Flash file and then ignore the HTML anyway,
2. Isn't this what Adobe is doing anyway to help Google spider the text in the Flash file?

Thanks for insights. Let me know if I should post this in another thread or start a new one.

tedster




msg:3728347
 8:00 pm on Aug 21, 2008 (gmt 0)

using SIFR to create an HTML file of the Flash movie, served up by Java (which is a problem in itself), and show it if the person doesn't have Flash enabled.

I will assume you mean Javascript, since sIFR uses Javascript and not Java (that's a very different technology).

sIFR uses Javascript to serve the Flash version of the text to user agents that are flash enabled. But it BEGINS with the HTML text, and then transforms that text into a special font - using coding within the Flash file. sIFR does not create text out of nothing.

-----

Perhaps you meant to say "using SWFObject". Again, the HTML version of the page is served to all user agents by default. The Javascript uses the DOM to overwrite the SWFObject content div only for user agents who pass the Javascript test for being Flash enabled.

As of June 30 this year, Google announced that they have enhanced their Flash indexing to include crawling SWFObject embedded Flash movies - see our discussion here: [webmasterworld.com...] While they didn't go into technical detail, I assume that they grab the Flash filename from the script as text (without executing it, that is) and then send that filename as a full url for their Flash indexing bots to look at.

----

So, however Google has accomplished it technically, the Javascript used in SWFObject is no longer a barrier. Google can access the embedded Flash movie. In fact, Google Code even has added a tutorial about how to implement SWFObject [code.google.com].

But none of those advances on Google's side will help a client if they publish alternate HTML text content that is not part of the Flash file. That is still considered deceptive cloaking and it can definitely cause problems and penalties.

I know just what you mean about image-conscious clients who want to serve Flash for beautification purposes. If they have a good Flash developer, they can get the necessary text included AS TEXT in the flash file. And if their HTML/CSS coders know what they're doing, they can serve alternate HTML content that also looks quite good and duplicates the essential look and feel, but naturally without all the animation.

tedster




msg:3728359
 8:16 pm on Aug 21, 2008 (gmt 0)

1. Google will want to see the Flash file and then ignore the HTML anyway

Since the text content is (should be) identical, this is pretty much a moot point. But no, I haven't seen Google ignoring the HTML. On the plus side for the publisher, if there is additional text in the Flash movie that has no alternate HTML content, Google now can take that into account. On the downside, it the HTML has content that 98% of the regular users won't see - the cloaking penalties might be invoked.

2. Isn't this what Adobe is doing anyway to help Google spider the text in the Flash file?

There's been no public offering of technical details on this, that I've seen anyway. Google was spidering Flash files at least as far back as 2004, when you could already use filetype:swf in an advanced search and see some results.

Whatever extra help Adobe has given, it comes in addition to Google's previous efforts. I haven't seen any ranking help so far from this increased indexing of Flash content. Only, as Matt Cutts mentioned [mattcutts.com]:

...you’re now more likely to see useful snippets on Flash pages in Google’s search results.

webmama




msg:3728434
 10:04 pm on Aug 21, 2008 (gmt 0)

Thanks Tedster. This is a great discussion. Just one thing - here is the 'idea' from the designer. I plan on sending Matt an email (after SES) to ask about this specific application.

I have found some more info and plan on using this in discussions with designers:

[en.wikipedia.org...]

"A common technique is to use graphics to display text in a font that cannot be trusted to be available on most computers. There are a few restrictions however. Text created this way pixelates when scaled, is difficult to generate on-the-fly, and cannot be partially selected. In contrast, sIFR text elements mimic HTML projected text – they are paintable and copyable.

sIFR requires JavaScript to be enabled and the Flash plugin installed in the reading browser. If either condition is not met, the reader's browser will automatically display traditional CSS based styling instead of the sIFR rendering. sIFR is not designed for body copy text as rendering greater bodies of text with Flash place formidable demands on the computer. "

[googlewebmastercentral.blogspot.com...]

# 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.

tedster




msg:3728459
 10:52 pm on Aug 21, 2008 (gmt 0)

If you're only talking about display fonts, then sIFR is a sweet and very proven technology. Version 2.0 is stable and version 3.0 is in beta. 2.0 has been used by some really MAJOR web properites, such as the portfolio of websites owned by ABC.

Robert Charlton




msg:3729652
 11:41 pm on Aug 23, 2008 (gmt 0)

If you're only talking about display fonts, then sIFR is a sweet and very proven technology.

For this purpose, I'd vote for sIFR as well. I would never position the text offscreen; I feel that's asking for trouble.

The question of entire Flash sites is of course different from the original question of text replacement for display fonts.

We end up working with design agencies all the time that want beautiful Flash sites and search the web for all methods to find a way to not use text. I am thrilled the Google has said they will index words in Flash files but this doesn't solve the problem of Flash movies that have NO words.

Indexing the words in a Flash file also doesn't solve the structural problems inherent in a site that is basically one Flash movie, whether the Flash movie has words or not. By sacrificing individual page titles and internal html text navigation, you...

a) lose the ability to focus units of content via titles and other elements of page structure...

b) and you can't give that content the credibility that would be conferred by relevant external links to appropriate places within the site.

In other words, you have no page focus, and no interior pages to link to. Sites that are basically a single Flash movie can be very glitzy, but they are, IMO, impossible to rank for anything remotely competitive. Add to that the ambiguity of images, and you have an impossible situation.

If search engine rankings are a priority, I would try to get the designers to build the Flash elements into an optimized framework of html pages, and I'd also have some optimized text actually on the page, displaying as styled html.

I suppose you could have that text that's included in the Flash movie served up in your alternative html. But the text and images that are designed just for a Flash movie are unlikely to rank, whether Google can index the text or not. (I definitely would resist temptations to change just a few words here and there).

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