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Someone I know claims that search engines like Google have trouble with fonts that aren't the old standard fonts of yesteryear, resulting in pages not getting parsed by search spiders, and that to be on the safe side SEO wise I should stick with the standbys like Arial. A quick google search for 'search engines can't read fonts' yielded zilch. Do search engine spiders actually ignore text formatted with fonts they do not recognize?

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A recent video (7 May 2012) from Matt Cutts on... How does Google view font replacement? –  w3d May 11 '12 at 9:03
    
+1 for the link. I ALWAYS like to hear the answer from The Matt. –  huzzah May 11 '12 at 13:50
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2 Answers 2

up vote 11 down vote accepted

Yes and no, he's conflating two different things.

In late 90's/early 2000's, when designers needed to use fonts for design reasons, they embedded graphics files in HTML pages. Search engines cannot understand these, nor can the screen readers used by blind and partially sighted people. This is because the only HTML code in the page for a menu link, for example, would be something like

<div><a href="#"><img src="menu-title.gif" /></a></div>

which is meaningless to a robot that at the time could only decipher plain old HTML, ignoring the CSS and tags. The fix in that era was to write the code like this

<div><a href="#"><img src="menu-title.gif" /><span class="text-indent">Menu Title</span></a></div>

and use CSS like this

.text-indent { text-indent: -5000px; }

to shift the text out of the part of the page visible to a sighted user. This meant that search engines would get the information they needed to understand the context of the link without interrupting the visual.

These days you can use technologies like embedded fonts or Google Web Fonts to augment your designs. These render parts of text from the HTML document as an anti-aliased font, but leave the HTML code intact, therefore search engines (and screen readers), can parse the text.

Overall he's wrong on both counts, provided the relevant textual information is available in plain text HTML search engines will understand your page and links - the fonts/graphics are immaterial.

He's also wrong about the groups (from the sound of it he's a blow hard) anyone with access to Google can figure this out.

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You can also use alt and/or title attributes to indicate the contents of an image: <img src="menu-title.gif" alt="Menu Title" /> –  joshuahedlund May 10 '12 at 20:59
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but Google will treat it differently - as an image description, not part of the text –  Jacek Kaniuk May 10 '12 at 21:08
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If an image has alt text, the text will be treated by screen readers, search engines, text-only browsers, etc. as text content. That's the whole purpose of having alternative text content. Google will parse & search alt text, and they will include it in the text flow and treat it as anchor text in the case of image links. –  Lèse majesté May 11 '12 at 6:51
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However, the title attribute is not the same as alt. title is designed to give additional advisory info about an element. It's usually shown as a tool-tip but will not be treated as an alternative textual representation of the image content by search engines, screen readers, etc. That's why most a11y groups advise against using title as a substitute for alt or using redundant title attributes that just repeat the image text. –  Lèse majesté May 11 '12 at 6:52
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@Lèsemajesté I've been trained on JAWS and, in the past worked as an accessibility developer, I also have a close friend who is a blind web dev. The view is that improper use of alt and title has rendered them useless to most visually disabled users (though they are a critical part of the standard) and the tools evolved to take that into account. So the users use heading tags to get a sense of where they are on the page and then look at the links to figure out where to go. Alt is only helpful if the page is confusing. It's amazing to watch! –  toomanyairmiles May 11 '12 at 17:06
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Search engines don't read fonts. They don't "see" pages. They read text. They read semantic markup. They try to find relationships. Fonts are completely useless and irrelevant to them.

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