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Paul Silver

Making websites for companies and helping advertise them

Use Opera to emulate what a web spider sees

When doing Search Engine Optimisation on a website, it can be very useful to try to 'see' the website the same way the web spider that feeds a search engine does. Generally people are advised to use the text based web browser Lynx to do this, but it can be troublesome for non- technical people to set up and use on their computer. Instead, you can use the Opera web browser to emulate Lynx for you.

First, go to the Opera website and download a copy, which is free as long as you don't mind a small banner up near the navigation. For our purposes it doesn't matter if you get the version with Java or not.

Once Opera is installed, find the page or website you want to check, just like you would with Internet Explorer, you can happily copy the address of the page from IE across to Opera and go to the page.

Once the page is loaded, go to the 'View' menu in Opera, and click 'Style' then 'User Mode.' Now go back in to the menu again (View -> Style) and click 'Emulate text browser'

The pages you look at will now be displayed as if you were seeing them in a text browser, which is helpful if you are assessing how well pages will be read to visually impaired or blind people by their speech synthesisers, and also tells you what a web spider will 'see' when it downloads the page. All of the links will work as usual, so you can click around and see all of your pages, or anything else on the web.

I find the white text on blue background a bit hard on my eyes, so I also go in to View -> Style and choose 'High Contrast (W/B)' to give me white text on a black background (just like browsing the web on a text terminal used to be years ago.) You might prefer 'High Contrast (B/W)' instead, which gives you black text on a white background.

When you've finished assessing how web spiders see your pages, you can choose the 'Author Mode' style, which switches Opera back to showing everything as normal web pages. If you want to switch over to text view again you should be able to just choose 'User mode' and it will remember your old settings.

Below is Opera showing this page (before my site redesign), first in text mode as a spider would see it (scrolled down so you can see the start of the article) and then as the normal 'Author view.'

Text view of this page    Standard view of this page

Paul Silver. December 2003

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