How Web 2.0 Affects SEO Strategy

“Web 2.0” was originally coined by O’Reilly Media in 2004. Web 2.0 properties are perceived as harbingers of second-generation Web usage, such as interactive communities and hosted services that facilitate collaboration and sharing between users.

“Web 2.0” is also one of the most overused and abused terms on Wall Street, sublimely crafted to reinvigorate investing in online entities that remain rooted in Web 1.0 technologies. Even though much of the machinery behind the Web remains relatively unchanged — just upgraded, versioned, and rebundled — people surfing the Web have changed. Web netizens have progressed beyond solely seeking information to embracing greater levels of interaction, even if it’s virtual.

It’s not enough anymore to deliver goods as promised from an e-commerce site. Merely informing your online audience of breaking news is passé, and amusing visitors with quirky applets is seriously behind the times.

To succeed on the Web today, you must engage your visitors so they return repeatedly. Toward this end, some Web 2.0 platforms could be your site’s savior; others could be its online demise. Either way, much of the discovery depends on your search channel. This is where things get very interesting for those who seek greater visibility.

Some Web 2.0 content management systems, such as blogs and wikis, are primed and relatively optimal for search engine visibility straight out of the box. Google, in particular, seems to adore blogs. Blogs and wikis have essentially replaced outdated forums, third-party product reviews, comments in guest books, and user groups because specific elements inherent to blogs and wikis are naturally search engine optimized. They’re textually rich, extensively interlinked, frequently updated, and rooted in semantic markup.

If you haven’t yet embraced corporate blogging or transformed your glossary of terms into a wiki, your Web site is behind the times. Blogs and wikis can help you expand your search channel to embrace and engage new users, as long as you’re willing to let go of the wheel a bit to allow your prospects, clients, and customers to help drive your online business.

Unfortunately, many so-called Web 2.0 embellishments can choke the life out of your Web site’s search channel. Interactive elements such as AJAX, widgets, Flash, podcasts, and video are inherently inhospitable to search engine spiders, rendering them dazed and confused. If you intend to embrace these Web 2.0 elements for increased conversions, improved usability, and greater customer interaction, be prepared to leverage XML, RSS, mirror sites, and syndication services to keep the search-referred traffic flowing.

To be certain, some search engines have rudimentary means of extracting content and links from a Shockwave Flash file (.swf). Nonetheless, any content or navigation embedded within a Flash file will at best rank poorly compared to a static, HTML-based counterpart and at worst won’t make it into the search engine’s index.

AJAX poses similar problems to spiders as Flash because it too relies heavily on JavaScript. Search engine spiders can’t click, so they can’t execute JavaScript commands. The beauty of AJAX is it can be used to pull data seamlessly into a loaded Web page’s background, sparing users from dreaded levels of click-and-wait ennui. The processing offers a great timesaver for users, but the additional content that’s pulled in via AJAX is virtually invisible to spiders — unless the content was preloaded into the page’s HTML and simply hidden from the user via CSS (define).

Unlike Flash and AJAX, XML and RSS are inherently search engine friendly. That’s because an RSS feed is an XML file, and XML is text rich with semantic markup. The problem lies in the fact that RSS isn’t yet well supported within traditional Web search. It is within certain vertical engines, like Google Blog Search and Technorati. Perhaps Google Universal Search will change the scheme of things a bit.

We actually have RSS to thank for the evolution of pod- and videocasting. It’s the RSS feed with audio or video enclosures that makes a podcast visible to search engine spiders, not the fact that you have audio or video files available for download. If you already produce podcasts, make certain to utilize your MP3 files’ IDv3 tags to incorporate show notes, images, and links to your podcast feeds. Then syndicate your audio and video feeds via multiple venues for optimal Web exposure.

The good news is SEO (define) is evolving to better meet Web 2.0 challenges. Specific SEO tactics exist to expose content trapped in Flash and AJAX, as well as tap into contextually rich audio and video transcripts.

The bad news is the major search engines still can’t cope with these elements without some assistance. So the burden is on us to link disparate SEO tactics into an overreaching SEO strategy specific to our industries and inline with our business goals. As the Web produces new ways to present revitalized content, so too must your SEO strategy evolve.

Join us for Search Engine Strategies on June 12-13 in Toronto.

Want more search information? ClickZ SEM Archives contain all our search columns, organized by topic.

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