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Visibility of e-commerce websites to search engines: a comparison between text-based and graphic-based hyperlinks
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Research has shown that most website developers first build a website and only later focus on the ‘searchability’ and ‘visibility’ of the website. Companies spend large amounts of money on the development of a website which sadly cannot be indexed by search engines, is rejected by directory editors and which is furthermore invisible to crawlers. The primary objective of this dissertation is to compare and report on the impact of text-based versus graphic-based hyperlinks on website visibility. The method employed in the research was to develop two e-Commerce based websites with the same functionality, contents and keywords, however utilising different navigation schemes. The one website had all hyperlinks coded in text-phrases, while the other embedded the hyperlinks in graphics. Both websites were submitted to the same search engines at the same time. A period of eight months was allowed to ensure that the websites drew sufficient ‘hits’ to enable a comparative analysis to be conducted. Two industry standard website ranking programs were used to monitor how the two websites feature in the search engine rankings. Graphs as well as text-based reports produced by the ranking programs and the t-test were used to compare and analyse the results. Evidence based on the reviewed literature indicated that there are conflicting reports on the impact of text as opposed to graphic hyperlinks on website visibility. However, there is unsupported evidence that text hyperlinks achieved higher rankings than graphics-based hyperlinks. Although the ‘human website browsers’ find a certain amount of graphical aids conducive to easier navigation, ‘search engine crawlers’ find many of these same graphic aids impossible to index. The study supported that the graphic-based website ranked higher than the text-based website, which calls for a balance to be found between these two extremes. This balance would satisfy both ‘human website browsers’ and ‘search engine crawlers’. It is posited by this author that this dissertation provides website designers with the abilities to achieve such a balance. KEYWORDS: search engines, hyperlinks, text, graphics, visibility, navigation, ecommerce, design.