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SEO Corner – Search Engines and Font Tags

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Question: Since Netscape handles the spacing around heading tags (<H1>,<H2>, etc.) differently from IE, I have been forced to use large font tags (<font size=”6″>) and bold them, so I can keep the spacing consistent, cross-browser.

I’m aware that search engine spiders look for heading tags, before the rest of the content. Will they pick up on the large font tags in the same way as the heading tags, as prevalent keywords? Will the absence of heading tags be a detriment to my ranking? Should I go back to heading tags, and give up the aesthetics of appearance in Netscape?

Shari’s Answer:

The answer to this question is quite simple. Web site designers should not be using the <font> tag anymore. Rather, all text in an HTML document should be formatted using Cascading Style Sheets (CSS). With CSS, you won’t have to worry about having different text sizes in both Netscape and Explorer.

I like to create all of my headings formats in CSS. That way, the download time is considerably shorter. Here is the format I use for the <H1> tag on my own site:

h1 {font-family: Verdana,Arial,Helvetica,Sans-Serif;
font-size: 14px;
color: #CC0099;
text-align: left
}

In this example, I set the font to be Verdana first because that is a font/typeface specifically designed for computer screens, which makes it easier to read. In the event end users do not have Verdana installed in their computers, then the web pages will display in the font/typeface Arial. And so on and so forth. To fix the browser font size differences, I prefer to set my text size in pixels. That way, all the text will display consistently across all browsers.

(Note: Many usability experts will argue that font size should not be fixed. That is a whole other article, which I will write shortly.)

As for the search engines, any type of emphasis is good. <H1> through <H6> tags show emphasis as well as using bold, either <b> or <strong>. So it does not really matter whether you choose to use heading tags or not.

Remember, any heading tag is supposed to be a headline. So don’t try to format all of the text in your HTML documents as headings just to boost search engine positioning. Search engines can detect the number of characters inside of a heading tag, and they will be able to detect keyword stuffing.

What’s really important to remember is that text at the top of the page, the most likely place that you will have an <H1> tag, will get slightly greater emphasis than text at the bottom of a page. Furthermore, text in and around anchor tags will also have greater emphasis because, as the search engines say, you wouldn’t link to it unless you thought it was important.

Here’s an example of anchor text:

For more information on our organic oolong teas, click <a href=”oolongteas.html”>here</a>.

The anchor text in the above example is the word “here.” As a search engine expert, I would want to place more emphasis on my most important keywords, which is the phrase “organic oolong teas.” Therefore, I would modify this sentence so that the keyword phrase would be anchor text, as shown below:

Get more information on our <a href=”oolongteas.html”>organic oolong teas</a>.

In this example, the search engines will place more emphasis on the keyword phrase “organic oolong teas” because it is now formatted as anchor text.

In conclusion, use Cascading Style Sheets to format your text to account for browser differences. And don’t worry too much about the search engines. As long as you put your most important keywords at the top of your web pages and in your title tags, it won’t matter whether or not you use heading tags or not.

Shari Thurow is Marketing Director at Grantastic Designs, Inc., a full-service search engine marketing, web and graphic design firm. This article is excerpted from her book, Search Engine Visibility (http://www.searchenginesbook.com) published in January 2003 by New Riders Publishing Co. Shari can be reached at shari@grantasticdesigns.com.

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SEO Corner – Search Engines and Font Tags
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