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Can Google Find Your Data?

‘Data’ and ‘database’ are common terms in programming circles that make more normal humans feel a little prickly, so let’s not talk about data, lets talk about lists and spreadsheets.

If you are a business, you have databases, lists, spreadsheets and calendars. Some of this information should be kept private, but there will be some that should be made available as widely as possible - take, for example, a list of products and prices, stores and their opening times, product reviews, calendars of events or stock availability.

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To see how information can be exposed by Google to millions of potential customers, let’s start with this example, a simple list of products that our company might sell.

sample table of data

Bad Design

A novice web developer will create you a nice web page where visitors can search for your products.

search facilities are no good for Google

This is OK except for the following failures:

  • Google can’t search using your search box and will never find your information. And even if Google could search, what would it search for?

  • A search page typically refreshes itself, each time showing the appropriate results. But it is still just a single page, and Google sees a single page, often empty.

  • How do visitors to your web page know what to search for?

  • Searches might find no results at all and visitors will disappear rather than keep trying.


Average Design

A mediocre web developer will understand the problems listed above and will go some way to help Google find the hidden information, typically by adding pages of links like this:

using links to expose data

A link might appear to say “View metal toys”, but the page that Google sees is likely to have a name like this: www.mysite.com/propage.aspx?catid=15672 and a link to “View plush toys” might have a very similar name like this: www.mysite.com/propage.aspx?catid=15673

Again, this is OK except for the following failures:

  • A single page still exists, and although Google might now find and index the several views of the same page, it’s still not perfect.

  • The page names are very ugly and not very human readable.

  • Google scours the underlying name of a page looking for keywords. The examples above have no keywords at all; catid=15673 means nothing to anybody outside of the company, and probably very little to most people inside the company either!


BEST Design

Imagine a method of expanding the list of products into a huge array of pages, each with keyword rich names, and each being indexed by Google. Search engine friendly URLs, combined with a technique to simulate a huge quantity of distinct pages, really do demonstrate tangible results, these being increased website traffic and increased Google rankings.

For most companies, an increase in web traffic leads to an increase in orders and revenue.

To see how a simple list of products can be expanded for Google, look again at our sample products:

sample table of data

The pages that would be created using this advanced technique are:

Products
www.mysite.com/toys/boys/metal/red-car
www.mysite.com/toys/boys/metal/blue-car
www.mysite.com/toys/girls/plush/doll
www.mysite.com/toys/boys-and-girls/art/paint-set

Category 1
www.mysite.com/toys

Category 2
www.mysite.com/toys/boys
www.mysite.com/toys/girls
www.mysite.com/toys/boys-and-girls

Category 3
www.mysite.com/toys/boys/metal
www.mysite.com/toys/girls/plush
www.mysite.com/toys/boys-and-girls/art

That’s 11 pages off 4 products, each one properly named with pertinent keywords, useful for search engines and humans. Some pages contain several related products, others contain a single product.

Picture a potential customer searching on Google for “a red metal toy car”. Google will rank this page very highly:

www.mysite.com/toys/boys/metal/red-car.

Of course the content of each page needs to be sensibly built too, but the structure of the site is now perfect.


So what’s the secret?

Depending on the programming language being used, there are many ways of implementing this technique of expanding information into many search engine friendly pages. Just keep in mind that nearly all methods rely on a single underlying page in much the same way as the first and second berated methods listed above. What we essentially do is add a layer of SEO goodness to a single page. My favourite technique that works across all programming languages is the “custom 404 error handler technique” which works briefly as follows:

  • A link is provided for both users and search engines to find. The link is formatted according to categories and sub categories like this: www.mysite.com/toys/boys/metal

  • When the link is followed, the web server realises that the page requested doesn’t exist and throws a “404 page not found error.”

  • This error redirects to a custom error handling page that looks at the requested page to see what content the user (or search engine spider) was trying to locate.

  • The URL is split into its key parts which are in turn passed to a single underlying page like this:

    www.mysite.com/prods.aspx?cat1=12&cat2=15&cat3=21.

    It’s an ugly URL tarnished with the problems listed in this article, but it is totally hidden. The visitors and search engines only ever see the friendly URL

    www.mysite.com/toys/boys/metal

  • The dynamically generated page contains many links to help the visitor navigate up and down the hierarchy or categories. This also allows search engine spiders to find every page.
    links for visitors and spiders to follow


Conclusion

Your company has information that your friends, colleagues and customers will benefit from gaining access to. The clever and increasingly popular technique covered briefly in this article will allow Google to index and distribute your information to anyone who searches for it.

In short – get your information found – get more website traffic.

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