I decided to have a little bit of fun this afternoon. Why? Because I don’t ever do anything fun, that’s why. Or, I found myself citing Google’s Webmaster Guidelines earlier today and read for the 1,387th time that one should…
Use a text browser such as Lynx to examine your site, because most search engine spiders see your site much as Lynx would.
We’re messing around with a text browser today kids.
While I’m one to stick to what the big G says, I doubt very much that anyone in the search industry makes it a truly regular practice to go through this hassle process. If people are going this far in compliance with the guidelines, they’re simply filled with awesomesauce and nothing less.
And yes, I know this only a suggestion and not a requirement… But hey, like I said – this is all in the spirit of having some fun.
Here’s how you can mess around with Lynx and start thinking a bit more like a spider.
Download & Install Lynx
The current version of Lynx is available in a few forms. If you want to get your geek on, you can acquire the source code to perform your own build. That’s a 3.4 MB Download in ZIP format with other formats (tar.gz and tar.bz2) also available from the Lynx Current Distribution Directory.
If you just want to see what your sites look like in Lynx though, I’d direct Windows users towards Takeshi Hataguchi’s site via SourceForge. There you’ll find a 2.8MB download of a Win32 app that will have you running Lynx in no time.
Once you unzip that, you may run into an error about not having a lynx.cfg configuration file not available.
Looks like this:
Easy enough. To get past this I went out and found this copy. A little old, but whatever. Should work. So, save that in the root of wherever you unzipped Lynx.
Try running lynx once more, and you should see this:
Getting to Your Site
I’ll go out on a limb and assume you won’t want to use Lynx as your default browser. If you do, just don’t admit to it publicly.
In order to get to your site (or any other site for that matter) you’ll want to press “G” for “Go”. Crafty. Enter a URL, like the wildly popular http://ericlander.wpengine.com/ – You will get prompted to allow the wwsg cookie. That’s from my use of the What Would Seth Godin Do? Plugin.
Here’s what you’ll see…
Navigating & Options
Navigation is pretty easy. Page Up, Page Down (or Space Bar) will jump screen to screen. You can use the up and down arrows to jump from link to link. Press the right arrow to “click” the link and visit the highlighted hyperlink.
There are actually quite a few options you can check out within Lynx.
For the Lazy
There’s something very… geek about Lynx in this Win32 port. It’s sexy in an ASCII art kind of way. But really, who has the time to open up Lynx, become familiar with these commands, look at ugliness all day… all for the sake of simulating a spider?
Yellowpipe Web Hosting (who now gets a free juicy backlink with less than desirable anchor text) created a handy FireFox plugin to simulate Lynx that makes this whole process painless. Bet you’re wishing I just told you to go download it in the first place, right?
Once you install and restart FireFox, you’ll be able to access it from Tools > Yellowpip Lynx Viewer Tool and you’re good to go. Here’s a glimpse of what my blog looks like now:
Takeaways for SEOs?
If you’re an in house SEO, I’m pretty sure this is a way to annoy any of your web designers. From a web development perspective though it’s handy to see how subtleties like unordered lists and headings are represented. Not that it means anything in the algorithmic equation of course…
For me this is something I’ll use from time to time to make sure content is being delivered as intended.
Hidden Links? Not So much…
Another oddity that I found while cruising autos.yahoo.com is that Lynx Viewer will show you hidden links. At least, hidden in the sense that they’re linked up without any anchor text. Initially I thought people like Yahoo! Autos (red headed step child for me) was really up to things again….
SEOmoz came back clean.
We Build Pages showed one flag for a “hidden link” but it’s not at all hidden. It’s a link to a profile of Jim Boykin from an image (this one). This led me to conclude that according to Lynx (or Lynx Viewer anyway) any image serving as an anchor to without ALT tags defined will show as hidden.
Section 508 compliance rears it’s head again.
Check out the “references” area too, also found at the bottom of the Lynx Viewer Add On for FireFox. It’s scrounging up some backlinks from… somewhere.
Anyway, that’s all the time I have for search geek fun today. Give Lynx a whirl.