Balancing SEO and Design - Ligatures

As a developer with only minimal knowledge of design things like kerning, line spacing, orphans etc. well, basically most of typography can easily be overlooked.

I've just been doing some changes on a site and came across some red pen saying 'ligature'. My first response was, it can't be done. My next response was thinking about the creativity masterclass and working out how it can be done. Yes it can be done with an html entity. E.g. fi can be represented as fi So to do 'briefing' you would actually need to do 'briefiing'. Remembering those entities is impossible and looking them up takes time, so some sort of library to convert characters would be needed. This is possible in the backend and the frontend.

The problem is, converting in the backend probably hurts SEO because those words with entities in them are no longer proper words. Try it now, use your browser and search for 'briefing', only the one in this sentence will be found. The other, probably better choice, is to do it frontend with JavaScript. That means your browser page search will not work, but SEO shouldn't be affected because spiders don't run JavaScript.

A quick Google brings up no such libraries.

So, is it worth the time to write a JavaScript function given the rarity of ligatures and its drawbacks or is there a better way?

EDIT:
Interestingly, it's now November 2011 and checking back on this post I find that Chrome will find 'briefing' with the ligature. Perhaps that means they don't hurt SEO at all... at least on Google.

Find out more about SEO at Online Magnetism.

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