Seo-mama’s Blog

How On-Page Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) Varies For Different Coded Websites

Posted in Uncategorized by Rajib Roy on November 17, 2008

SEO is a multi-faceted and holistic discipline; a crossover where keyword, key phrase, audience and semantic space research and definition, SEO copy-writing, link building and code optimisation all merge in harmony (hopefully) in an attempt to address a variety of search engine ranking factors and deliver defined business objectives. Programming the website in a way that allows engine spiders to access, categorize, and index the content to ensure your other SEO tactics fulfil their potential is also an important aspect of SEO best practice. Put simply, organic search engine optimisation boils down to two things:

1. Getting other quality sites to link to yours and:

2. Optimising your website’s code and content.

You will want to ensure your code is as error-free as possible, from a W3C validation standpoint and that you follow guidelines for semantically correct mark-up. Testing shows that good, clean, semantically correct code allows for faster indexing by the search engines.

Code is often the most neglected aspect of search engine optimisation campaigns. In a recent online poll only 2% of respondents rated coding as the most important factor in SEO campaigns. Well-written, standards-compliant code makes your site load fast, and opens it up to search engines. With Google now giving pages a score for download speeds, the less unnecessary code on a page the quicker it downloads and the better you score.

The big question when it comes to coding a website is whether to opt for pure HTML coding, in particular Semantic XHTML Mark-up, or to go with Cascading Style Sheets (CSS). Each option has SEO implications. At SEO Consult our programming team share experience and expertise in both specifying on a project-by-project basis, depending on a range of factors.

It is a universally agreed principle that the whole concept of SEO is to optimise a page so that the engines can better understand what it is about. There are those that argue that the simpler the page – meaning a CSS solution (with less HTML and relatively more content), the easier it is for an engine to understand what it is about. It will also load faster and be less prone to spider blocking code errors or any other programming glitches that might prove detrimental to the SEO campaign.

Another particularly influential argument for CSS solutions is that search engines tend to weight content towards the top of HTML documents highest and search engines spider the content that comes first in your source code. CSS can be easily structured so that the SEO relevant content takes priority. In an HTML page you cannot adjust which parts of the page are positioned higher in the source of the page. So when a search engine comes to your site it will usually see the links first, and maybe some text that you wanted in the header. If you use a template then this will be the same on almost every page. However, if you use CSS then you could easily have your main body first, the H1 tag and paragraph text on display to the search engines, when in actual fact when you look at the page it appears to be the main body that appears last.

Other people argue that search engines don’t even read CSS and that although using CSS is a better way to develop websites from a content management, bandwidth and code volume perspective, it doesn’t matter to the search engine whether you use CSS or not. They still view the page exactly the same, as it is the content that is important. Yes, they may read the CSS file, but they are looking for links not styles. They advocate Semantic XHTML Mark-up. Semantic coding can be regarded as the art of programming your website so that the code used is descriptive and representative of the information it contains, more meaningful to search engine bots and more productive SEO-wise.

Some SEO experts are of the opinion that for the purposes of or search engine optimisation, semantic HTML coding is the best way forward, improving how easily search engine crawlers can discern the meaning of your web page. In fact one of the highest ranking sites for the term ‘SEO’, which is probably the most competitive of all the keywords in the world, actually uses tables in their pages.

When a search engine spider like Googlebot visits your web page to index it, it generally extracts the text from the code so it knows which parts of your web page are readable to humans. Googlebot isn’t interested in indexing or displaying any code or text from your website that isn’t visible to humans – it doesn’t record how many div tags you used. What it does do, and what many other search engines are starting to do, is attempt to apply more weight or importance to certain text on your web page.

Here are some great semantic coding guidelines, courtesy of Barry Wise:

  • tags should only be used once on a page, to define the title and/or purpose of the page. It should be very close in meaning to the

  • header tags should be used for subheadings, in order of descending importance. Try not to skip.
  • Don’t use
    to separate list items. Instead use the
      tag with

    1. elements for ordered lists, and

      • should be used for unordered lists.
      • For bold or emphasized text, use strong or em, instead of the less descriptive and tags.
      • Wrap paragraphs in

        tags, and never use

        tags just for spacing. Use the margin and/or padding attributes of the

        tag in your CSS code to add visual spacing.

      Either way it’s wise to check W3C compliance as although it’s unlikely that validity has any direct influence on search ranking, it is incredibly important for error checking, browser compatibility and overall site usability. Who knows; in the future Google may just include W3C validity in their algorithm.

      An increasing number of people use PDAs and mobile handsets with the majority of social media users these days accessing the web via Safari or Firefox. You’ll do well to nip any browser compatibility issues in the bud or risk missing out on a growing audience.


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