Coding and Search Engine Optimization

I’ve previously written about some simple things you can do to your web site and its pages to optimize it for the search engines. It’s time to dig deeper. In this article I will discuss code and its role in search engine optimization.

We’ve already covered in detail <title tag>, <h> tags, <alt> tags, <images> tags, <meta keywords> and <meta description>. You can learn more about those elements by reading my  article on website development and SEO.

Page Styles

There are two methods you can use to format your pages: HTML or HTML/CSS. As far as SEO goes, I believe both ways are okay.

HTML is the standard used by most websites. As long as there is quality content on your site and many inbound links, it will rank in search results.

HTML only

When you use HTML-only code to lay out pages, you greatly limit yourself. With an HTML-only layout, you have to format each and every page of your website (or use one template for all).

When you feel there’s a need for redesign or make adjustments, you have to go through each page, one by one. What if you have 1000 pages? What if you decide to make more modifications? It’s tedious.

HTML/CSS

CSS stands for Cascading Style Sheets. CSS separates content from design. Content, which is text, images and video, is laid out using HTML, while CSS does the design job. The main advantage of CSS is that you need to modify only one file in order to make changes on all pages. This way, you can make as many adjustments as you want.

CSS is also friendly to users, since they only need to download one or several files to see the design of an entire website. With HTML-only design, visitors have to download design elements each time they get to a new page. CSS is faster.

Learn more about CSS and HTML.

Code validation is the practice of making your website code conform to industry standards set out by the World Wide Web Consortium, or W3C, which is an organization that comes up with new versions of HTML, CSS and other web languages.

To find out if a page validates, run it through WC3 Validators:

Code validation is not a necessary part of search engine optimization. Many firms and SEOs would have you believe otherwise, but check the websites at the top of search engine rankings; many will have bloated code that is full of errors and mismatches.

Validation is rather part of an SEO service provided by firms. Many clients are not aware of whether validation matters. They pay for rankings and don’t really care how it’s done. Validated pages make professionals look good, but don’t really give any SEO value.

You will also encounter an argument that pages with errors prevent search engines from properly spidering content, which is partly true. The statement is valid if a page has 1,000,000 errors, takes an entire minute to load and is just plain horrible.

Search engines are after one thing only – high quality content that can benefit users. Search engineers are well aware that quality content may be put on the web by complete amateurs who know little if anything about HTML, or simply don’t give a whit if the code is correct as long as it looks good in the browser.

Also, you have to remember that before CSS was widely adopted, most designers used table layouts; hence, search engine spiders were designed to extract information from tables. Though tables are mostly gone, I believe search engines didn’t modify spiders to somehow “ignore” table layouts. It doesn’t make sense to do so, because they may miss a piece of quality information if they ignore it. If a search engine misses content, a competitor will find it and feature it in search results. As a result, user experience goes down, while competitors get an advantage.

It’s in the commercial interest of search engines to spider all pages on the web, regardless of whether they validate. I would recommend you focus on content much more than validation.

Passing The Sniff Test

Aaron Wall recommends that you validate your pages in order to pass the “sniff test.” The sniff test is a check of a website by potential clients who are industry pros and understand HTML/CSS. They may run a site through the validator or glance at the code themselves, to make sure everything adds up.

If a company is in web design/development, often it will get clients who understand code. In that case, it’s very important to offer clean, validating pages. Who wants to work with a "professional web design" firm that has 53 HTML errors on its home page?

It’s a different story if your company is not involved in the website design/development field. If your clients aren’t quite so web savvy, they won’t check your site’s code. Indeed, if your clients buy a product from you that is not so technology- or Internet-related — women’s self-help books, perhaps — then you probably don’t have to worry quite so much about validating your web site’s code. 

 

JavaScript is a programming language used on the web to enable some cool features.

Search engines have trouble with JavaScript. They generally don’t like it, but seem to have gotten better in how they handle it over time.

There are two ways to use JavaScript.

First, you can put the JavaScript together with your page code. When search engines come, they will be forced to read it.

Second, you can put it into a separate file and create a reference in your HTML file. Example:

<script language="JavaScript" src="files/scripts.js"

type="text/javascript"></script>

This way, search engines do not have to read the script, the page loads more quickly for users, but the effects remain the same. If you use JavaScript, put it into a separate file.

Tables

We mentioned above that tables don’t mean low rankings, but tables increase page load time for users, so be sure to minimize their use.

You will rarely find a new site using tables as a layout technique. Even HTML editors have moved away from tables and incorporated full CSS support.

Using HTML Editors to Code Your Pages

I personally think HTML editors are perfectly okay to use in website design and development. They produce quite clean, search engine friendly pages, with few errors.

Errors can be spotted using the “mark-up” checks (build into the software). Even if you do leave few errors, it won’t kill your rankings. It’s links that matter.

Dreamweaver

This is an industry standard. Dreamweaver produces no excessive code, has more than enough features and is closely integrated with Photoshop. It’s a perfect web development tool.

FrontPage and Expression Web Designer

FrontPage is a web development tool from Microsoft. I recommend you stay away from it because it produces TONs of unneeded code that slows down page load times. You can find some sites high in search results that were made with FrontPage, which proves that bloated code is okay, but I wouldn’t use it because Dreamweaver is so much better.

Expression Web Designer is another piece of software from Microsoft. I have not tried it, so I cannot say anything about it, except that Microsoft positions it against Dreamweaver.

 

No matter how hard you try, your site will have dead links and give some 404s from time to time. Check the validity of your links with Link Sleuth to minimize broken links.

When search spiders encounter a 404, they discard the link. There’s not much you can do about it.

When visitors encounter a 404 they become frustrated, but you can minimize their frustration.

Create a custom 404 redirect

When a 404 does appear, make use of the 404 to redirect to a custom page that offers options to users. Apple has a great 404 page. Here’s some more very creative examples of 404 pages.

I personally think it should be a somewhat fun-looking, useful page.

404 Page Rules

  • All links should be absolute instead of relative. An absolute link is http://www.site.com/folder/example.html, a relative link is folder/example.html.

  • Make all images absolute as well.

  • There will be no links to this page from other pages.

Learn how to implement a custom 404 redirect.

Comments Tag

The comments tag is an “invisible” HTML tag. It is invisible because browsers ignore it. Developers use the comment tag to leave instructions for other developers. For example:

<!– Don’t change anything until line 346 –>

SEOs used to spam this tag by putting excessive keywords into it. This doesn’t work now; in fact, you will likely get a penalty if you do stuff keywords there.

Conclusion

I believe that code is the least of the matters that search engines consider in algorithm computation. Code may have a place in the room, but it’s one of the smallest ones. To support this claim, explore some website in the top search results; many will fail validation and feature a lot of unfriendly, bloated code.

Do not conclude that therefore it is okay to make heavy pages with tons of errors. What I am trying to say is, make your pages light, user-friendly and search engine friendly, but do not overwork yourself worrying about validation and code compliance. It will be a waste of time.

If you want more proof to support the claims, check leading websites in the search engine optimization industry with WC3 Validation…

surprise….

By Clicking on the links you’ll be taken to the WC3 Validator.

Yet they still rank like mad, because of quality content and tons of inbound links.

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