Lynx: the most powerful non-SEO, SEO tool

lynx SEO tool

I’m not a huge fan of SEO tools overall. Not because I don’t like them, but I’m a minimalist at heart. I don’t use browser extensions, toolbars, or fancy widgets.

One SEO tool that I do find myself using almost on a daily basis is not really an SEO tool at all: Lynx browser.

Lynx is a text based browser that doesn’t use images or any kind of fancy javascript.

But the part that I really love about Lynx is the fact that Google actually endorses it as an SEO tool (somewhat):

“Use a text browser such as Lynx to examine your site, because most search engine spiders see your site much as Lynx would. If fancy features such as JavaScript, cookies, session IDs, frames, DHTML, or Flash keep you from seeing all of your site in a text browser, then search engine spiders may have trouble crawling your site.”

Mind blown yet?

The easiest way to get started with Lynx is via the command line any Linux operating system. I like to use my Digital Ocean droplet that I pay a mere $5/month for.

From the command line, just type “lynx yoursite.com” to get started.

Lynx as an SEO tool: basic usage

using lynx for SEO

Once it is loaded up you’ll be presented with a page that looks something like this:

lynx example dot com 2

So lets jump right into a great example of what you can do with Lynx. You know how every SEO under the sun cringes when they hear about a “Flash site?” Well, Lynx does a great job of illustrating exactly why Flash is so god-awfully terrible for SEO.

Let’s take this website for example. It is a beautifully designed Flash site with soothing music and professional graphics:

lynx flash site 2

Load this same site up in Lynx and here is what you get:

flash bad for SEO

Nothing, zero, zilch.

No text.

No links.

No navigation.

Nothing.

And that is exactly how Google sees it.

It’s like trying to get your dog to learn how to do SEO, it probably won’t work.

flash site SEO

Lynx to find usability and basic SEO issues

But Lynx is capable of so much more than this.

SEO’s are always talking about image alt tags, captions and title tags. Why are these such a big deal?

2 reasons alt tags, captions and title tags actually matter in real life:

  1. Disabled users rely on them to “see” images. For instance blind users who depend on text to audio use software that “reads to them.” When the software comes to an image if the image is XYZ123 it won’t make as much sense as “pretty pink flower.”
  2. Search engines rely on alt, captions and title tags to rank your site.

Lynx does a great job of illustrating this scenario as well. Let’s pick on Moz for a second. They have a beautiful site that they A/B tested till they were blue in the face.

Their site works awesome in Lynx. Nicely defined contextual navigation, easy to read text and everything in between.

lynx moz 1

Looking great overall. But as you scroll down the page you notice something a little off:

lynx moz 2

A group of unoptimized images. Sure “circle icon” isn’t wrong per se, but could it be described better? Perhaps these might suit Moz’s goals and their users a little better:

  • circle analytics icon
  • circle SEO software icon
  • circle custom SEO reporting icon

Yes, a simple “view source” could easily discover the same thing but it really hits home when you are using Lynx.

Also just using that as an example. I am really bad with optimizing my images overall, but definitely something to think about.

The primary reason I use Lynx is to see if I can get a comprehensive understanding of what the website is about from Lynx alone.

Lynx for advanced SEO issues

Lets take a look at this beautifully styled table that uses AJAX:

ajax

Looks all well and good, but now lets try to load it in Lynx (link):

seo lynx ajax

No good. The website loads just fine and dandy, until it hits a block of JavaScript and basically ignores it.

Essentially this is what Googlebot does for quite a bit of JavaScript out there today.

Google has recently identified this as an issue that they are working on and is making great strides to understand webpages better.

This issue has been extensively researched and written about by SEOs for a long time, but it is far from perfect.

If you aren’t a developer and don’t have a lot of technical SEO experience you can use Lynx to see if you content is visible. If you aren’t sure then contact your local web developer to have them check out your situation.

If you are a non-technical SEO you can still play around with Lynx. It is a great way to get a feel for how Google crawls your site and what it “sees.”

If you fancy this kind of low-level SEO hackery, I wrote another post recently on Linux command line tips for SEO’s.

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Thank you!

 

Patrick Coombe
Patrick Coombe is the founder and CEO of Elite Strategies Llc. Patrick takes a hands on approach to managing Elite Strategies and loves to get involved with technical projects relating to clients inbound marketing needs.
Patrick Coombe
Patrick Coombe
  3 COMMENTS
Blog SEO Web Development
  • Written by: Jane Muskovitz

    I learned something today. Thanks for this Patrick 🙂

  • Written by: Sam Barnes

    Really interesting stuff Patrick!

    I’ve been looking for something like this for a while actually. I know there are a few solutions out there but none of them seemed to work exactly how I wanted them to.

    Lynx may end up being the solution!

    (I’m a Digital Ocean user too so I’m going to try this later on one of my spare droplets)

    Thanks

    • Written by: Patrick Coombe

      Thanks for coming by Sam – yes Lynx is so awesome for so many reasons. There are definitely other solutions out there that can do everything that Lynx does, but something about being able to live browse sites “as Google would” is very cool. I also would recommend checking out Screaming Frog / Xenu which are 2 others of my favorites. Thanks!

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