Printer-friendly web pages can be search engine friendly

Printer-friendly web pages are web pages that can be printed out easily. They are also known less commonly as Print-friendly web pages by a factor of 8 to 1. This might be seen to be a topic of interest only to a few, but within it is a feature that is very powerful in search engine optimization terms.

Some Visitors Want To Print Web Pages
Some visitors to web pages would like to have hard copies of web pages they visit for a variety of reasons. Unfortunately most web pages ‘break’ when you try to print them. A recent blog entry, Print-Friendly Web Pages For Your Visitors, discussed some of the issues involved in this and encouraged the provision of print-friendly web pages.

Some Visitors May Want A Copy Of What They See On The Screen
As usual when dealing with the Internet things are rarely simple. Some people would like to print out exactly what is seen on the screen. This and some other pluses and minuses of printer-friendly web pages are discussed in a blog entry by 456 Berea Street, entitled Print-friendly CSS and usability. This is authored by Roger Johansson, who is a web developer who focuses on web standards, accessibility, and usability.

The bottom line on all this is that there is no sure fire way of ensuring that what you see on the screen for the web page will print out as it looks. One approach is to develop an associated PDF file that can be seen and printed out using Adobe Acrobat Reader. However this brings its own set of usability issues. If the visitor accepts that the printer-friendly version is to give mainly the textual content of the web page, then the CSS approach allows a much more do-able task.

Two Page Versions Or A Single Page Seen Two Ways
The other decision is whether to have two separate but associated web page files or combine it all into one. Having two separate but very comparable web page files runs the risk of suffering a duplicate page penalty if search engines do apply such a penalty. The arguments would seem to be strongly for combining the two into one web page file, particularly considering the points raised in the next section.

Two Media Version Web Pages Can Be Search Engine Friendly As Well
The Google Webmaster Guidelines are very straightforward in stating that the search engine ‘spiders’ should be seeing the same content that human visitors see.

Quality Guidelines – Basic principles:
* Make pages for users, not for search engines. Don’t deceive your users or present different content to search engines than you display to users, which is commonly referred to as “cloaking.”

CSS (Cascading Style Sheets) in web page design do allow a web page to be presented differently on the screen and in what appears on the printed page. This requires separate CSS style sheets for the screen and print media. The following code would then be included in the HEAD of the web page file.

< style type="text/css" media="screen" > @import “screen.css”; < /style >
< style type="text/css" media="print" > @import “print.css”; < /style >

Note: Spaces have been inserted in the above to ensure it prints here correctly.

So the web page now has different content for the human visitor depending on which media is being used. The search engine spider will presumably index the text content of the print version of the web page. However if the human visitor finds the web page via the search engine, then on their screen they will see the screen version of the web page. This might be a Flash version of the web page, or a web page with mostly image content. It all would seem to be a win-win solution.

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