Why Your Website Code is Important for SEO

by Martin Malden

Optimising PerformanceI’m just completing an SEO review on the website of a local business, and I thought it may be helpful to talk generally about some of the major points that came out.

Don’t fret – total confidentiality is guaranteed!

First thing to keep in mind: Search Engine Optimisation is a dynamic environment.

The search engines constantly update their algorithms to provide more relevant results and stay ahead of the black-hatters.

Plus, developments in technology enable them to continually use new and more effective methods of discovering what your site is about.

None-the-less, some core principles hold true:

Web users want sites that load quickly, are easy to navigate, provide good information and are clearly laid out.

So do the search engines.

Consider that for a moment, and you’ll realize that this means more than just good content and good META tags.

It means your entire site construction must be efficient and clean. Here’s why:

Use of images

Among the things that slow down site load times are, of course, too many images that are too large.

I’ve seen sites that use images to portray information that should be in H1 or H2 headers.

Not only does this slow down the site load time but, unless you provide informative descriptions in your ‘alt’ tags, the search engines won’t know what information you’re putting across – because they can’t read images.

Not good for SEO.

Wherever you use images be sure to complete informative ‘alt’ and ‘title’ tags. And use images to support your message, not to give it.

Multiple versions and types of code

HTML versus XHTML

HTML has evolved through a number of versions to XHTML. Because of this there’s a doc type declaration at the top of each page that tells the browser which version of HTML or XHTML you’re using.

This enables the browser to render your site quickly and accurately.

I’ve seen sites that declare XHTML in the doc type but then use earlier versions of HTML (as well as XHTML) in the body content.

This will slow down site load times as the browser will take longer to figure out what you’re trying to display. On some browsers it may well create errors.

It will also reduce your cross-browser compatibility, meaning that your site will render completely differently in some browsers – potentially destroying your carefully designed layout.

Ensure that your site is consistently built, using the version of HTML (or XHTML) that you define in your doc type declaration. This will speed up site load times and improve cross-browser compatibility.

Good for SEO

Tables versus CSS

I’ve seen new sites (developed as recently as last year) built using tables, but with blocks of CSS definitions and JavaScripts in the HEAD section.

This, again, will slow down site load times and reduce cross-browser compatibility.

No new site should use tables in its construction.

CSS was developed to separate the design from the content. The styling of your site should be done in a stylesheet and kept in a separate file.

This will speed up site load times because all the style rules need only be downloaded once, instead of each time a page is downloaded. The external stylesheet will ensure styling is displaid consistently throughout your site.

It also improves cross-browser compatibility by reducing the amount of code on the web page and defining the styling in accordance with the agreed CSS standards.

Reducing the amount of code on a page (thereby improving the ratio of content to code) will help the search engines to read your site and understand what it’s about.

Good for SEO

Summary

We’ve all known for a long time that the search engines’ aim is to provide the most relevant results possible. Therefore, good content was important if you wanted to do well in the search results.

But other factors are coming into play all the time, and site load-time is a recent one.

So, in addition to all the things I’ve written about before (good content, correct META tags, proper use of H tags, alt tags and title tags, etc), you need to pay close attention to things that will affect site load times and consistent rendering.

Which means making sure your code is up to scratch.

Cheers,

Martin Malden

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