Source Code Validation > Common Sense

Aug 21st

Website Validation = Important SEO Tip?

In April a web designer who came across our site gave me the following feedback "I don't know how you can advertise your skills in SEO when such a vital part of a good quality site is valid markup. Your homepage has 40 errors when I just checked."

To which I replied "...and yet I rank page 1 in Google for SEO. Who cares about valid code? Not me. And not Google. Oh well."

Imagine the paradox in the mind of a self-important web designer seeing high ranking sites that did not have perfect HTML. All he can do is lash out like a confused injured animal...as though he knew SEO and both I and Google were wrong.

Validation = Who Cares?

But looking at things in practical terms...

Question: What is validation?

Answer: How web designers try to justify over-charging for their work + pat each other on the back.

If you are a web designer (and/or want links from pretentious web designers) then validation is a great idea...it is core to the group circle-jerk amongst cool web designers. But for everyone else, it generally doesn't matter.

Taking a Look at Reality

The lack of understanding of basic SEO principals by web designers & web developers is a big part of what keeps SEOs in business.

One of the best ways to improve search relevancy is to use more data. But a September 2006 test by a Google engineer named Ian Hickson across billions of web pages showed that 93% of the pages did not use valid code. If valid code was rewarded by the algorithms (or invalid code was heavily penalized) then spammers would just use valid code, while search engines returned inferior search results because most quality websites do not validate. Google's Matt Cutts wrote:

Fellow Googler Ian Hickson contacted me with more recent numbers from a September 2006 survey that he did of several billion pages. Ian found the number of pages to be 78% if you ignore the two least critical errors, and 93% if you include those two errors. There isn’t a published report right now, but Ian has given those numbers out in public e-mail, so he said it was fine to mention the percentages.

These numbers pretty much put the nail in the coffin for the “Only return pages that are strictly correct” argument, because there wouldn’t be that many pages to work with. :) That said, if you can design and write your HTML code so that it’s well-formed and validates, it’s always a good habit to do so.

If I am paying a designer to make a custom web design for my site then I will demand clean code (in part so I can use it to score links from designers who care about that), but the truth is most sites do not validate. And few need to. Google doesn't, and they seem to be doing just fine.

When Web Design Has No Value

If a beautiful design gets no exposure then it has no value.
Traffic = opportunity.
No traffic = no opportunity.

When Web Design Has Value

If you have a big public relations driven launch then of course it makes sense to start off with a beautiful design. But most entrepreneurs can start out ugly and invest once capital starts rolling in. It worked for Google. And it worked for me. ;)

Once you have decent exposure great design can be worth a lot of money because it helps build trust, and increases your visitor value...allowing you to pay more for traffic and sell your products + services at a higher price point. But most small business sites can succeed with an average design and still be functional enough to get market feedback, sell stuff, build a customer base, and build a real business from. Eventually it might make sense to get a strong design, but if budget is limited then there are a ton of affordable starter options to bypass the costs of custom web design work.

Bootstrapped Design on the Cheap

The logo at the top of this page cost $99 about 5 years ago. When I color-matched the design to it this site was only moderately ugly. And the original site design we used was unbelievably ugly. Today the market is much more sophisticated with DIY design options.

Web design is being increasingly commoditized by tools & services like Dreamweaver, Artisteer, the Thesis Theme, other Wordpress themes, Themespress, open source designs, ThemeForest, iStockPhoto, logo software, 99Designs, PSD2HTML, etc.

As your budget/cash flow/traffic/reach increases paying extra for a good design makes sense & is a natural part of balancing your growth investment strategy.

LIE: "The SEO is in the Code"

What ***really*** annoys me about the arrogance of the web designers like the one quoted above is how they can know absolutely nothing about SEO and then claim that valid code is the key to SEO. It is a bogus lie used to promote their own trade at the expense of their clients.

Sure websites can have major issues that prevent a site from ranking. BUT the SEO is not just in the code. The whole reason Google was able to gain marketshare so fast was because they did sophisticated link analysis. If you are in a competitive market you need links to compete. Simple as that.

In 2004 I remember a web design firm quoting a new launching auto insurance firm (which wanted to buy SEO services) a design for $10,000 and then claiming that "the SEO was in the code" ... as though somehow there was no need for a link building/buying budget. The equivalently dishonest marketing angle would be an SEO grabbing a set of free web templates to go along with their SEO services and claim that everyone gets a free original professional custom website design as part of their SEO package.

Sure that was 2004 & that web design company was not as well known as it is today. And the above guy was just 1 random guy, so who cares, right? Well what annoyed me enough to make me write this post was seeing a recent copy of Web Designer magazine that my wife bought.

2009 Web Designer Magazine

In the top left of the magazine they advertise "TOP SEO TECHNIQUES"

And The Magazine Advertises SEO Circa 1998!!!

Their "top five tips for tackling SEO" include

  1. Choose one main keyword per page
  2. Increase the Keyword Density for each page
  3. HTML tags emphasis your keywords
  4. Include meta tags in your website
  5. Submit your website to major search engines

No mention of links. Why? The guy who wrote the article works for a company that has a business model built around offering cheap + useless services that scale - like keyword density analysis and search engine submission. I could do the same thing if I wanted to be a dishonest piece of trash, but I chose not to.

The article mentions some shoddy survey, that you can use their tools, and that "From only £100 a year, a company can implement a solution that will ensure much-improved rankings." They also flat out lied with this gem "Search engines expect the keyword or phrase on each webpage to make up six-to-ten percent of its content."

Equally Bad Website Design Tips

To apply the equivalent sort of advice to web design I would have to write truly useless design tips like

  1. set a large web design budget upwards of £100 a year
  2. spend ~ 100% of that budget by paying a designer to download an open source design they just got free
  3. if the site design fits your business then perfect
  4. if the site design looks ugly then it will stand out even more
  5. customers expect 6 to 10 percent of your text to be in a red marquee with a speed setting of 5

Many Web Designers Kick Ass

A lot of our best customers in our community are former web designers who got started doing design, but care about the success of their customers and began moving themselves up the value chain by offering web designs that come with real SEO services.

And you can learn a ton about not only web design but also marketing and running a business by reading tons of great web design blogs like Web Designer Wall, Smashing Magazine, and 37Signals.

But Some Web Designers Just Provide Azz Services, Though

But the web designers who lie about the importance of code validation for SEO and those scamming their customers with fake "in the code" SEO packages can go to hell as far as I am concerned.

May the bright colors light up their imaginations & help them become better charlatans who are excellent at optimizing valid code.

Published: August 21, 2009

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Comments

zetaseo
August 21, 2009 - 4:36pm

I've been fighting this battle for years, both internally with colleagues at my agency as well as with clients/competitors who spew this type of SEO nonsense to sell their wares (or because they simply don't know any better).

Sadly, because the end user (clients in my case) often knows little to nothing about SEO, they are easily impressed by fancy sounding phrases like "Keyword density" and "code-to-content ratio."

Really appreciate you posting this, Aaron. It's always good to have an industry authority help validate the story you're trying to tell.

Hugo

August 21, 2009 - 4:59pm

I sent the following phrase out to somebody I know in an email this week when they proposed an SEO methodology that had no mention of link building...

I've seen too many people walk down this path before and none of them get the results they are looking for...I would rather save you the experience if possible :.)

August 21, 2009 - 5:29pm

if all else is equal between two pages, will better markup rank better?

zetaseo
August 21, 2009 - 5:32pm

@mcinvale

1) The complexity of modern search algorithms ensures that you will never run into a real-life case of "all else being equal"

2) There are various case studies out there that more or less prove that better markup does not equal better rankings

3) A focus on markup for SEO is a very bad strategy given all of the other initiatives that can be pursued. Remember that time is money.

August 21, 2009 - 5:57pm

If it gets more designers to link at your site then sure valid code would help you rank better. But outside of that, it is almost flipping a coin.

If it took you a half hour to optimize source code for validity and you put that equivalent half hour into keyword research, market research, link building, or more content generation then you would almost always end up better off from an SEO standpoint having spent that time doing marketing rather than screwing with the source code.

Matt Cutts likes to say that the web is a fuzz test and way back in 1996 over 40% of web pages had at least one syntax error. Since then the complexity of design options has increased while CMS tools have made it far easier for novices to publish. Over 92% of web pages in a 2006 study of billions of pages had at least 1 syntax error.

August 21, 2009 - 6:01pm

Hi Aaron, while I agree with the overall gist of the post, I don’t think just because something is open source and template based , it is low value.

One can install full blown CMS, set up databases, shopping cart in literally under 10 minutes. It’s literally piece of cake if one knows what he is doing. But yet how many seo’s do you feel can tweak simplest of PHP template code which is freely available?

Then wouldn’t using open source be as “fake” a feature as SEO’s amongst us who charge for freely available service features like setting up G analytics, xml sitemaps, letting clients know about crawl issues, keyword research, link pop details, competitor analysis, tracking metrics, robots.txt, socialmentions, etc etc.

Many quality scripts as well as seo tools are free but regrettably many clients do not know where to search for them.

IMO, It all boils down to ability to put sense into tools, data and extract value from it to benefit client.

In that sense isn't offering W3C compliant web design in same league as SEO’s offering header tags crafting as one of the feature in seo package ?

-AD

August 21, 2009 - 7:43pm

But there is a big difference AD...you are talking about charging for setting up the CMS and layering services on top of the CMS. That is totally legitimate....there are real services being done there AND there is real value being created.

What many scamming web designers do when they charge their clients for an SEO package where "the SEO is in the code" is steal their money, add no value, and do no work. Simply put: theft.

They call code validation an SEO service when the 2 are not the same thing. At all.

Worse yet, they not only screw over their customers by stealing their money (while providing no real value), they also make the client think that SEO should be a cheap throw in, that source code is so important to SEO, AND that SEO is some type of black magic which does not work.

Further, by being ignorant about the products + services they claim to sell and know about, some web designers feel a need to be territorial and protect their clients from accurate advice.

Many years back I did an SEO report for a client which I priced fairly affordably. In 2008 that customer emailed me out of the blue stating...

Hey Aaron! Do you remember me? I hired you years ago to do an seo report for me. It’s funny because I took that report to my web developer –at the time---and he told me all your stuff was bs…

Now I’m a pretty big real estate blogger---and everybody is like “Aaron Wall this…” or “Aaron Wall that…”

Point being...this guy had the smarts to get good advice, got good advice, and his web designer talked him out of implementing it EVEN AFTER HE ALREADY PAID FOR THE ADVICE!

August 21, 2009 - 7:59pm

If we could only get more web designers and SEOs to work together, rather than trying to be master of both worlds, there would be a lot less SEO skeptics, and a lot more satisfied customers.

August 21, 2009 - 7:56pm

Validating code is a way to speed up web development. When you start with valid code it takes less time to debug the site.

To the extent that validation saves time and cuts web development costs, it can provide more budget for improving content and promoting the site.

When I work with designers, I have them deliver the artwork, and then we do the slicing and coding. That avoids having to redo things they might screw up--like building menus that are hard for search engines to index, or trapping words in images.

August 21, 2009 - 8:06pm

Don't worry Aaron - the guy who sent you that email was just a 'hater'. Some people spend so much time worrying about details that their projects never get off the ground.

Cheers!

mommboy

August 21, 2009 - 8:29pm

"If you are a web designer (and/or want links from pretentious web designers) then validation is a great idea...it is core to the group circle-jerk amongst cool web designers. But for everyone else, it generally doesn't matter."

What I gather from this:

Designing in valid code = pretentious

Caring about valid code enough to link to a site = pretentious

Designers who care about valid code = circle jerk of cool web designers

Why does one guy that doesn't know what he is talking about make you lash out at everyone who cares about valid code just for the passion of it?

It seems to me like you hate the community, deeming them, "a circle jerk of cool web designers".

The rest of your article is totally spot on... I just don't know why you had to generalize everyone with a passion for clean code as pretentious ego-wankers in the beginning of this article.

August 21, 2009 - 9:19pm

I don't think everyone who loves clean code is a pretentious wanker. As I stated in my post, if I buy an original design I prefer clean code myself. And I am no pretentious designer type...I am not creative enough and am far too pragmatic ;)

But I think the designer who has to lash out and tell an SEO that "I don't know how you can advertise your skills in SEO when such a vital part of a good quality site is valid markup. Your homepage has 40 errors when I just checked." while that SEO is ranking on the first page of Google's search results for SEO absolutely is a pretentious wanker.

August 21, 2009 - 8:30pm

By the way. What is the point of having a subject field in your comment form if it doesn't get used on the post?

August 21, 2009 - 9:54pm

I just added the comment subjects...but not sure if I like the look and feel of them.

August 21, 2009 - 8:49pm

Aaron I usually find myself agreeing or learning from your posts but to me this looks like a rant because some web designer said that you had 40 errors in your code and then questioned your SEO skills, it's obvious that the web designer may not get the whole picture if he equates valid markup to seo. However, to put this reasoning to a simple close take for instance a website that does not validate because of missing alt tags ... 1) by adding the alt attributes you make your page valid and 2) I'm certain, when used properly the alt attribute can have SEO benefits. In the simplest form I think that validates the argument. There are other issues such as taking the time to write non bloated code which may be crawled faster and in which M. Cutts has said that they may consider how fast the site is downloaded may affect the results and that was sometime now. One other thing I'd like to point out is while you can find some paid and free well designed website solutions a great amount of sites are designed with bloated code, huge images that take forever to download, etc.

I started off as a web designer so I'm able to write clean, valid code fairly easy, there's times when allowing the user to have a better experience calls for not having valid code but if it usually only takes a couple extra hours in a css file or the markup to write valid code why not?

August 21, 2009 - 9:40pm

I totally agree 100% that alt tags are great on images...particularly if you want to rank those images and/or if those images are links. And in general when I hire a designer I prefer to get valid code.

Your point about load times is also super-important... slower page load time directly relates to sales lost for sites like Amazon and Google:

For Google an increase in page load time from 0.4 second to 0.9 seconds decreased traffic and ad revenues by 20%. For Amazon every 100 ms increase in load times decreased sales with 1%.

But part of why Google's page loads so fast is because it is not valid code. They optimized for load time over having valid code.

My point of this post is not that validation is bad, just that from an SEO standpoint it is generally a fairly minor aspect when compared against other SEO efforts (like keyword research, market research, link building, site architecture, etc.) and I don't like when designers create a valid design and say "the SEO in the code"...even without doing any market research or link building.

August 21, 2009 - 9:02pm

Errors found while checking this document as XHTML 1.0 Transitional!
Result: 176 Errors, 25 warning(s)

That's for www.seobook.com/blog You could get rid of about half of them just by changing your node-blog.tpl.php to use lowercase a's in your links.

August 21, 2009 - 9:09pm

Aaron, you woke me up this morning! This article FAILs in so many ways that I don't know where to start exactly.

Well, we could start with the FACT that this post has 146 Errors and 25 Warnings. And that many of those errors are related to missing alt attributes, malformed IDs and a plethora of other amateur coding mistakes.

Just because you cannot validate SEOBook.com doesn't make the act of validation some sort of SEO lie. Dude, WTF is up with you? This statement...

I don't know how you can advertise your skills in SEO when such a vital part of a good quality site is valid markup. Your homepage has 40 errors when I just checked.

...could have been perfectly "valid" if it were used in proper context. Note the words "a vital part of a good quality site". Note "a vital part of". I don't see anything there that would lead me to believe this person wasn't on to something.

I'm going to assume that there is much more to this rant than meets the eye. I can't believe you're dissin' validation like this. How about a challenge? I'll spend the time to assist you in cleaning up your tag soup and then you can monitor the effects of that cleanup and then report back in this topic. We can come to some sort of monetary arrangement for the time I spend in cleaning up what SHOULD be cleaned up.

I don't know how you can advertise your skills in SEO when such a vital part of a good quality site is valid markup. Your homepage has 40 errors when I just checked.

I'm literally jittery as I type this reply, got me pissed Aaron, not that it matters. I'm looking closer at the errors for this Post, what a mess you've got on your hands with double p elements and all sorts of other tag soup. How dare you discuss anything to do with validation.

Read the HTML 5 Spec yet? We'll see ya on the other side.

Oh, your example of SEO doesn't count. There's much more there than meets the eye. Certain sites have carte blanche when it comes to their positioning in the SERPs, SEOBook.com is one of them. Not to mention ALL the damn links you have. :)

August 21, 2009 - 9:27pm

Your ugly design from 2003 looks a lot like my ugly blog from 2003:

http://web.archive.org/web/20031223003949/http://www.tonyspencer.com/

August 21, 2009 - 9:41pm

I think your design looked much nicer Tony :D

zetaseo
August 21, 2009 - 9:55pm

@Media

Optimizing an alt. image attribute to target specific keywords is not the same as simply validating to make sure that the attribute is there and properly validates according to W3C standards. Those are two completely separate things.

For example, you can have a fully validated alt. image attribute (according to W3C) and yet completely fail to optimize that same exact attribute for natural search (by failing to perform keyword research, etc).

@pageoneresults - you know I love you, but I really think you are WAY of base here. You often talk a lot about the virtues of validated code in terms of SEO but I have personally performed countless tests that more or less prove that this is not the case.

I also suspect that you've fallen pray to a false positive. In other words, you likely do have validated code on all of the pages you create, but you also employ true "SEO" techniques to then optimize site-side elements (title attribute, meta elements, internal linking, server-side, etc).

You think that it's your perfect validation that somehow helps move the needle, but I'm 99.9% sure that it's the actual "SEO" that did so.

Since you're in the mood for throwing down challenges, I'll offer up one for you:
Create a fully validated web page that does not include keyword-optimized elements (e.g. don't optimize key elements with the keywords/keyphrases) and see how well you do in the SERPs...

Or better yet, you build out a perfectly validated one-page site (with full keyword research and SEO implementation) but don't build any links to it whatsoever, and I'll create a completely blank page and get one solid inbound link with keyword-rich anchor text, and we'll see which one ranks for a nonsensical term (neither site can have the term in the domain or any URL extension).

Let's see who wins...could be fun

August 21, 2009 - 10:02pm

Hi Ed
We could validate SeoBook...but we have not made it a priority yet. ;)

Many of our other sites do validate though!

I wasn't dissing validation as a whole. I was dissing designers who called validation an SEO service, and sell it to clients as though it is a complete SEO service, even though they build no links. And Hugo said it better than I can! :D

August 21, 2009 - 10:48pm

For example, you can have a fully validated alt image attribute (according to W3C) and yet completely fail to optimize that same exact attribute for natural search (by failing to perform keyword research, etc).

What keyword research? You're describing an image. There should be very little keyword research involved when utilizing alt attributes. They are the most basic of all elements that we work with. Most of the time, they are dynamically generated, there is very little SEO involved there other than initial configurations.

@pageoneresults - you know I love you, but I really think you are WAY of base here.

Love ya too Hugo. Ya, I'm off base and I'm stealing 2nd, 3rd and heading home as we speak. :)

You often talk a lot about the virtues of validated code in terms of SEO but I have personally performed countless tests that more or less prove that this is not the case.

I'd like to see the method of testing. I could probably show you otherwise.

I also suspect that you've fallen pray to a false positive. In other words, you likely do have validated code on all of the pages you create, but you also employ true "SEO" techniques to then optimize site-side elements (title attribute, meta elements, internal linking, server-side, etc).

Hugo?! How do you determine false-positives when you're working with 40+ elements and almost just as many attributes? Not to mention Microformats and all the other metadata technologies.

You think that it's your perfect validation that somehow helps move the needle, but I'm 99.9% sure that it's the actual "SEO" that did so.

I'm going to make it easy. I'm 99.9% sure that it is a combination of multiple efforts being put forth. The foundation of those efforts is always the first priority, the HTML. There can be no finger pointing when things break (in most instances). You know you're working with a solid platform that utilizes the proper elements and attributes in ALL instances, not just the ones people usually talk about. You know, stuff like [dfn], [dl], and [link] elements. I guess that could come from the designers side if they were using valid HTML and following protocol. If they presented a portfolio of pages representing different sections of the site and utilized the proper elements and attributes (empty of course) then I'd say they've provided a solid SEO foundation, you just fill in the blanks with the dynamics. It doesn't get much freakin easier than that.

Since you're in the mood for throwing down challenges, I'll offer up one for you: Create a fully validated web page that does not include keyword-optimized elements (e.g. don't optimize key elements with the keywords/keyphrases) and see how well you do in the SERPs.

I'm dead serious about this. What would the above achieve? Nothing.

Or better yet, you build out a perfectly validated one-page site (with full keyword research and SEO implementation) but don't build any links to it whatsoever, and I'll create a completely blank page and get one solid inbound link with keyword-rich anchor text, and we'll see which one ranks for a nonsensical term (neither site can have the term in the domain or any URL extension).

Come on Hugo, we ALL know that discovery needs to be made. Links are part of the equation. And I fully concur that Links Trump ALL else. But that doesn't stop me from snuggling into the #2 positions.

Let's see who wins...could be fun.

No it wouldn't. I don't partake in those childish SEO games. If we're going to make something happen, let's do it to SEOBook.com for all to see. I say it's time to clean up and make a statement. But, I don't see that happening anytime soon. Why? Pffft, seen all the errors? They are cascading too. There are now 190 Errors present. They continue to increase as each reply is posted, some borked coding there. Take that 190 and multiply it by 4 or 5 and that is how many actual errors are probably present. That is uncalled for, especially from a high quality SEO Community such as SEOBook.com.

Hi Ed We could validate.

Heh! You've read my Twitter TOS, huh? Strike 1. :)

But we have not made it a priority yet. ;)

Obviously or we wouldn't be having this discussion now would we? ;)

Many of our other sites do validate though!

Ya, ya, ya, I've heard it all before. That ole' Shoemaker thing. It won't fly with me though.

I wasn't dissing validation as a whole.

I know Aaron but you sure struck a nerve. Can ya tell?

I was dissing designers who called validation an SEO service.

It could be if they are providing templates that follow protocol. And I understand that most sites don't validate. I just happen to know that there are few reasons for them not to validate. The rest of it is because the schmucks doing the coding don't know what the hell they are doing. They need guidance. There is absolutely no reason for you to have 400+ errors on this page (takes into consideration the cascade). And then, you have errors that are breaking other functions. You probably don't know because there are just so many things going on there that it gets lost in the shuffle. For one, you have IDs that perform functions, then you have multiple IDs for those functions using the same names. Which function do you think works? It's usually the first in the cascade, the rest of them are borken. That's just a small example of what lies in your source Aaron.

And sell it to clients as though it is a complete SEO service, even though they build no links.

Links are a completely different subject. Those come after the core SEO is done. I wouldn't want to see something like that sold as a "Complete SEO Service" either and to label it that way would be an injustice, SEO Malpractice as they say. :)

And Hugo said it better than I can! :D

I'm ready for both of ya! :) < I have to make sure I insert enough of those smileys and winks before I get my arse kicked around here. Bring it on meatheads!

August 22, 2009 - 2:09am

Hey Aaron,

I'm not really sure if people who make statements like this one:

I don't know how you can advertise your skills in SEO when such a vital part of a good quality site is valid markup. Your homepage has 40 errors when I just checked.

..really lie on purpose (some might, some might not). Obviously, that guy is completely wrong, but I hear claims and (il)logical conclusions like that every other day. People just not thinking logically/clearly enough to notice how flawed their reasoning is, because they're making a judgement about something they have no clue about.

I remember speaking to an acquaintance about France, because he lives close to the French border (here in Germany) and he went: "France is great. But Luxembourg is WAY better.".

He had only ever been to one small town in France right across the border (absolutely non-representative of 'France', which is a pretty diverse country including Paris & the Côte d'Azur), yet he thought he knew that Luxembourg was 'better' than France.

Considering the cities in France, right across the border look very similar to German towns (plus it was a small town), that's basically like someone from Mexico going to Santa Fé and later saying he doesn't like the US all that much, because he has been to Santa Fé before and wasn't particularly amazed by it (which he considers representative of the US).

I could mention dozens of other examples, but I think a lot of people are just not gifted enough at thinking logically (or call it thinking clearly) to notice such flaws in their reasoning. And then they truly believe what they say is right.

I bet many web designers who say stuff like that are simply making such logical reasoning mistakes. They don't know anything (or at least not enough) about SEO, yet draw the conclusion that what (in their world) makes a "quality site" must be the same as what makes a quality site marketing, SEO, conversion-wise...without knowing much about those topics.

(...) how they can know absolutely nothing about SEO and then claim that valid code is the key to SEO. It is a bogus lie used to promote their own trade at the expense of their clients.

Of course, there probably are some scammers out there, but I bet many of those people aren't necessarily bogus liars trying to promote their business using lies, but..well..just really illogical (I'm not trying to defend them, just saying..).

August 21, 2009 - 11:27pm

Arrogance is unwelcomed.. point taken. Now, about SEO and valide code:

Client has a site designed and no one checked validation. Bill was paid. SEO comes in, to work with business, and notes a low-convertng page template, lacking a call to action. In a meeting, that page is brought onto the overhead screen. Guess what? Different layout.

Due to invalid code, cross-browser issues kept the call to action off the page in some browsers... a significant portion of visitors. Oops.

If the SEO wasn't there to say "make the designer show the code validates, or make a case for otherwise" how would this problem be addressed? Back and forth with change orders to the developers every time a bug was discovered? Each change could introduce new errors. Reliance on Browsershots or some other one-off visual inspection? Bad idea.

Valid code matters to the extent that it supports quality control, and lowers the cost of doing business. Same thing Aaron is saying, after the arrogance bit. If it matters, do it, provided the cost/benefit ratio supports the endeavor.

August 21, 2009 - 11:32pm

Hey Aaron, while were picking apart the HTML on this page, have you ever browsed your site in FF 3.5 with images off? How am I supposed to get around if I can't SEE your primary navigation links? I'm sure a designer following protocol would have caught that in their CSS validation routines. ;)

At least there are text links there that I can hover over. Ya, I know, most users would know to position their cursor in that big white space and search for links. :)

http://Twuna.com/SEO/Sniff-1

August 22, 2009 - 5:44pm

Thanks Aaron for continuing to tell it like it is. The more we get the true information out there, the more people will start to get it.

Hate to link drop, but I think my Search Engine Land article 85 Reasons Why Website Designers/Developers Keep SEOs in Business goes along nicely with your post.

August 22, 2009 - 5:58pm

Thanks Jill. I probably should have added a few more links to the original post, and that is one of them. :)

August 23, 2009 - 4:11pm

The more we get the true information out there, the more people will start to get it.

Can we define which information it is that you are stating is true? And also, what does "will start to get it" mean? What is it that we're getting Jill?

I read your article. Maybe one day "you'll" get IT. Oh, and don't worry about me, I haven't gotten IT yet. I just write about IT, like you do. :)

FTR we're now at 252 Errors and 25 Warnings.

August 22, 2009 - 10:24pm

Aaron, I agree that search engines do not care if your code is valid or not. Heck, Matt & other search engine engineers have said as much over and over. They design crawlers for the real web.

I still try to get clients to validate their code. Why? If clients' developers validate their code I do not have to worry (as much) about spider-road-blocks. Requesting validation is much easier to explain than a request for 'no spider blocks.' That said, I'm smart enough to not require W3C valid code. Many things developers will do for design or usability will never W3C validate. Just because a feature does not validate doesn't mean it should be excluded. It still has to have a real world negative impact.

Testing for W3C validation isolates potential crawling challenges. I can easily look at each warning then determine if it is a real issue or not. If it does not affect the crawl, fine. But if it might compromise SEO, then I'll make sure it is fixed or redesigned.

The bottom line.

W3C does not benefit SEO in and of itself and need not be required. Testing for W3C validation can surface potential negative-SEO issues. So, test and know what the results mean. Know which warnings should be acted on and which can be dismissed.

August 23, 2009 - 12:40am

Hi Aaron, I often read your blog even tho I never take the time to comment. You are a true inspiration and I do agree on all the points you did mentioned in this post, validation of HTML code doesn't have to do anything with SEO, we all can forget an image tag without an alt text, we can all forget the self closing elements in xHTML and close them as if they were HTML elements and things like that.

What I don't agree with you is about the quoted part bellow (even tho I can understand the frustration you felt in that moment, criticized on a subject on which you rock, thats SEO).

Question: What is validation?

Answer: How web designers try to justify over-charging for their work + pat each other on the back.

Now yeah, i might have felt a bit "frustrated" from what you just wrote there as my main business and living comes from web development and I keep preaching about validation of HTML code, but lets look at it from another angle.

Can you be a copywriter if you have no clue about grammar ?

The same thing reflects to HTML, it is not a way how web designers justify over-charging for their work (web designers even hardly code). Validation of a code is a proof that you do know your job, just as ranking on page 1 for SEO is a proof that you do know your job.

No hard feelings please, I just cared to highlight that.

Kind regards,
Astrit

August 23, 2009 - 2:25pm

I think there is a difference between those items though Astrit:

  • if a page does not rank then people will simply not be able to find it
  • if a page uses poor copyrighting then that page will convert at a lower rate than a page which uses good copyrighting (precisely because prospective customers see it)
  • BUT if a page does not validate but renders quickly across all browsers then in many cases nobody will know it does not validate (other than perhaps designers)

I am not saying a person can be a world-class designer without knowing HTML, but I am saying that there are enough tools on the market that a person can get by as a webmaster without tons of HTML knowledge & without validating their code.

It is much harder to be a profitable webmaster owning your own online business while using poor grammar and/or ignoring SEO.

August 23, 2009 - 6:52pm

Oh yes, I do absolutely agree with you on that Aaron, my note was just on the justification of what a validation is (i.e. just an excuse to over-charge), nothing more and nothing less, because it would be dumb to not agree with what you wrote on the post and state that validation of code is crucial for SEO.

Thank you for the reply, kind as always :)

Astrit

August 23, 2009 - 8:54am

What most people didn't realise was that up until a short while ago, The Google main page didn't even have a doctype LOL

So much for valid code.

August 23, 2009 - 12:45pm

Aaron speaks more truth here than many people realize. I work in SEO and deal with hundreds of different people every month, and 99% of them think they 'know' SEO or 'a friend is doing it for me"

One case in particular, the website designer was doing their SEO, and blatantly put black hat miniaturized text on the home page - without zooming in all you could see was a dotted line.

To my eye it looked fishy. And there, in the source code it was - font size something like 1 pixel. Odd thing though, I think they were getting rankings for it (new site, so possibly Google hadn't jumped on them yet)

Anyway, good post Aaron

I will be back for me reading

seo-wizzards.co.cc

August 23, 2009 - 6:55pm

Hah now that was funny. Most people do like to complicate even the most simple things, what humans can't see search engines should not see too (with exception of page description), its simple enough.

August 23, 2009 - 1:56pm

I have been a website developer for 12 years, and largely I agree with you Aaron.

I do hate web design fundamentalists who insist, for example, that CSS layouts rank better than table layouts (have seen this argument over and over). When people spout such utter rubbish, I realise they know zero about SEO which in 2009, is unprofessional for a website developer. These zealots do nothing but confuse people.

HTML is a semantic guide for search engines (TITLE, headline tags, alt tags etc). 99% of the rest of the markup tells the search engine spider zero about the content. Tag soup? Search engines couldn't care less. They want content, and a few HTML clues.

I say all of this, and also know W3C compliancy (or near as dammit) helps with cross browser compatibility and accessibility - it's just a case of taking the holisitc approach (which I think is your main point Aaron).

August 23, 2009 - 6:58pm

Not really true that one ranks better then the other, but however keep in mind that Tables are meant for tabular data and not for creating a layout (even tho everyone is free to chose how to structure his layout).

August 24, 2009 - 7:54pm

Aaron speaks more truth here than many people realize. I work in SEO and deal with hundreds of different people every month, and 99% of them think they 'know' SEO or 'a friend is doing it for me"

You know, I would tend to agree with you in most instances. In this case, there are no truths being spoken. Just rants from individuals who are performing Surface SEO.

One case in particular, the website designer was doing their SEO, and blatantly put black hat miniaturized text on the home page - without zooming in all you could see was a dotted line.

And WTF does that have to do with validation? I think half of these stories are made up so a few links (or TLD references) can be dispensed here and there.

Here, let me include another one for you http://seowizzards.co.cc/ < ya gotta link it though for maximum benefit, ya'll are SEOs, you should know that. :)

^ Ooops, did I leave out the hyphen? Sorry about that. I'm sure your 301 to the hyphenated version will take care of that. ;)

I do hate web design fundamentalists who insist, for example, that CSS layouts rank better than table layouts (have seen this argument over and over).

I have too. And, I've seen the proof of what a change from a table based layout to a CSS layout can do. So, until you've had the experience of making that transition, I'm not too certain you can claim that it is utter rubbish?

When people spout such utter rubbish, I realise they know zero about SEO which in 2009, is unprofessional for a website developer. These zealots do nothing but confuse people.

Zealots? Confuse people? How is it that writing valid code and using proper markup is confusing people? I'm more confused with this post than anything else. We've got some well respected names here who write off invalid code like it is nothing. You know what? You're not SEOs. No, you're Surface SEOs. Push Button SEOs. If it doesn't come in the form of a Plugin for WordPress then it is not SEO.

HTML is a semantic guide for search engines (TITLE, headline tags, alt tags etc). 99% of the rest of the markup tells the search engine spider zero about the content.

Aaron, that is some mighty strong Kool-Aid you've got. I may need to borrow your recipe for my Twitter Followers. :)

Tag soup? Search engines couldn't care less. They want content, and a few HTML clues.

So 1990s of you.

Aaron, how about this. I want to write an article about this post. I also want to perform a basic SEO audit on SEOBook.com using W3 guidelines. I must warn you, it will most likely bring tears to your eyes afterwards and many of those participating in this topic will be mourning. You can't write about validation until you fully understand its purpose and long term effects. Ready for my article?

BTW http://seo-wizzards.co.cc/, you have no business in this topic. I viewed the home page of your site. Your site stutters, do you know that? Nah, you probably didn't. That's because you're one of those Plugin SEOs and haven't figured IT out yet. Yes, I'm probably going to start calling out each and every one of you who has no business even discussing validation. None! I'll do my absolute best to maintain decorum during this time.

I guess I should start including links to authoritative resources on the subject. The first thing those reading this topic SHOULD do is assimilate the UAAG. Huh? What the hell is that? Ya, I knew that would be the response. Here ya go...

UUAG - User Agent Accessibility Guidelines
http://www.w3.org/WAI/intro/uaag.html

That would be just the beginning. Let's talk more about using proper markup and validation once you've understood the above while keeping in mind that your favorite SE's UA is named Googlebot who is blind and deaf. Oh, and that Slurp character? That one is blind, deaf and I think under the influence of something at times. :)

FTR we're now at 308 Errors and 25 Warnings.

August 24, 2009 - 1:53am

pageoneresults, I'd love to know why search engines care that a layout is in a table format or CSS layout. So you have website A which has killer content, honed and perfected by a knowledgeable expert on the subject, but he's presented it in a simple table layout (say, two columns). Website B has generic content, offers nothing to the visitor that's remarkable or unique, and his content is in a complex CSS layout that doesn't actually display correctly in a couple of browsers (I use this example to make a point). Why would Google slightly (or heavily?) penalise site A, and slightly (or heavily?) reward site B arbitrarily because site B uses CSS for layout (even though it's been applied incorrectly)? How does that benefit the searcher? I'm talking about in REAL TERMS, in REALITY. Don't give me a negligible reason like "oh CSS renders ever-so slightly faster than tables if the table is large". If you want to go nebulous and equivocal, then there are a hundred other factors that determine the latency of page loads. As for accessibility, this is also very dependent on the actual layout. Screen readers can handle tables fine if the content is laid out sensibly and simply. Also, screen readers can return non-sensical results with complex CSS layouts. The common issue screen readers have is complexity of layout more than anything else, be it tables or CSS.

Your last post is a good example of not looking at things holistically, but laser-focusing in on one aspect of web development, to the detriment of all others.

August 24, 2009 - 2:00am

@Pageoneresults

Please do us all a favor and have a nice cup of STFU!

Thanks!

Rock on Aaron, good article and well said.

August 24, 2009 - 10:55am

Probably going to ruffle a few feathers with this one but here goes...
In my opinion this harks back to the early days of SEO when it was considered a techy science. SEO has moved on - it is now much more of a marketing discipline now, that relies heavily on quality content and a user-focused research. In order to be proficient at current SEO practice, these techy minded folk would need to remove themselves from their code-minded bubble and learn to be more creative and commercially minded, which to be honest is beyond many of them. Howver, in a attempt to maintain a small hold on what has become a very lucrative industry web developers turn to what they know best - code.
In addition to this, most SEO campaigns require a certain amount of client contact which, again, is not something that many of the techies i've worked with are especially comfortable with.
Now I know this post contains a lot of generalisations and if it has offended anyone I apologise. There will always be exceptions to every situation, but this is based on my own experience - the vast majority of web developers i know no longer concern themselves with SEO because they can only take it so far with the skills they have.

August 24, 2009 - 8:31pm

A+++ Steve! Spot on analysis.

August 25, 2009 - 12:13am

I'd love to know why search engines care that a layout is in a table format or CSS layout.

I could show you - for a fee.

So you have website A which has killer content, honed and perfected by a knowledgeable expert on the subject, but he's presented it in a simple table layout (say, two columns). Website B has generic content, offers nothing to the visitor that's remarkable or unique, and his content is in a complex CSS layout that doesn't actually display correctly in a couple of browsers (I use this example to make a point). Why would Google slightly (or heavily?) penalise site A, and slightly (or heavily?) reward site B arbitrarily because site B uses CSS for layout (even though it's been applied incorrectly)?

The example provided doesn't make sense at all. How does Website B stand a chance against Website A in this scenario? They don't.

How does that benefit the searcher? I'm talking about in REAL TERMS, in REALITY. Don't give me a negligible reason like "oh CSS renders ever-so slightly faster than tables if the table is large".

Page load times are part of the overall equation, something I've always looked at from the very beginning.

As for accessibility, this is also very dependent on the actual layout. Screen readers can handle tables fine if the content is laid out sensibly and simply.

Heh! After that statement, I KNOW I'm speaking with someone who doesn't know yet. Most of the table based layouts I see fail miserably from an accessibility standpoint. How many of you tablers use [thead] and [tbody] elements? Huh? What are those? Just as I expected.

Also, screen readers can return non-sensical results with complex CSS layouts. The common issue screen readers have is complexity of layout more than anything else, be it tables or CSS.

That's not the Screen Readers fault, it's the developers. I've got a few videos you are welcome to watch that were made by blind users surfing the web. After you watch those videos, many of you will have a different perspective on this. Googlebot and the other UAs function very similarly to Screen Readers.

Your last post is a good example of not looking at things holistically, but laser-focusing in on one aspect of web development, to the detriment of all others.

That's because we're talking about validation as a whole. If this is getting a little difficult for you to comprehend, you're welcome to just sit back and follow along. I'm laser focusing because this topic is laser focused. It's referred to as relevancy.

Please do us all a favor and have a nice cup of STFU!

Finally, I'm getting under people's skins, thank you for your confirmation. And, I love me a hot cup of STFU any time of the day. Since I have a different perspective on things, as evidenced by this Post, that S for me stands for "Speak". So, I'm going to Speak The Phuque Up and drag this topic on until one, I get banned or two, ya'll give up on this batch of Kool-Aid.

In order to be proficient at current SEO practice, these techy minded folk would need to remove themselves from their code-minded bubble and learn to be more creative and commercially minded, which to be honest is beyond many of them.

Better be careful, those techy folks are going to be taking your SEO jobs soon. All they need to do is get IT and good-bye Surface SEO, you can sell your plugins elsewhere.

Howver, in a attempt to maintain a small hold on what has become a very lucrative industry web developers turn to what they know best - code.

No, we turn to what WE KNOW is the foundation of any website marketing campaign, the website. If you want to market a house of cards, go for it. I'm in this for the long term. They haven't even thought about Plugins yet that do what needs to be done. I'd rather it stay that way too, many of ya'll wouldn't know what to do with those if they were available. It's quite obvious with those damn title attribute plugins, what a FAIL those are. For those who are reading and saw me use the term stutter, this is one of the plugins that cause your site to stutter if not done properly. And, 9.5 out of 10 don't do it properly.

In addition to this, most SEO campaigns require a certain amount of client contact which, again, is not something that many of the techies i've worked with are especially comfortable with.

This has nothing to do with being techy, nothing whatsoever. Oh wait, yes it does. The SEO is going to need to know what the hell they are talking about when performing audits on HTML and CSS. I guess you could call that tech.

The vast majority of web developers i know no longer concern themselves with SEO because they can only take it so far with the skills they have.

Hmmm, the vast majority of developers I know are expanding their education in this area. In fact, I've assisted a couple of companies in canning their SEOs, they didn't need them. I'm surprised either of those two haven't found this Post yet or, maybe they have. :)

I'd love to test all of you on your knowledge of HTML. I'd like to see what type of recommendation you would make for content development within a Glossary section of a website. I'd also like to see how you would group a section of pages together using the elements that are available to you from the guidelines.

Have any of you ever read this?

Techniques and Failures for Web Content Accessibility Guidelines 2.0
http://www.w3.org/TR/WCAG20-TECHS/

No, most haven't and won't because they haven't gotten IT yet. I know, that W3 is difficult to understand and follow. But, once you understand how the W3 works, the answers to most of your SEO questions are within.

I'll be writing a follow up article to this Post. In that article, I'm going to be using some of you as examples so be prepared. I hope your sites are up to snuff because I'm going to be spanking a few of you. Hard! ;)

FTR we're now at 355 Errors and 25 Warnings.

Ya, I know, I'm such a schmuck. Most know that too. But I'll be damned if they don't keep coming back for more. ;)

P.S. Anyone in this Post using Microformats? If so, why? What's the goal behind Microformats? Would you consider Microformats to be part of SEO? If so, who would be providing the instruction to use Microformats to the client? And should that person know the Microformats protocol?

P.S.S. Heh, you ready for this? Everything we do is via FrontPage and/or Expression Web on Windows. And before you make any snide remarks, look first. I'll have a box of tissues for you upon your return. ;)

August 24, 2009 - 5:09pm

I could show you - for a fee.

In other words, you have no evidence. If you had, you'd have provided some links to back up your claims.

The example provided doesn't make sense at all. How does Website B stand a chance against Website A in this scenario? They don't.

So you prove my point. And of course it makes sense. It's a good example of where layout is utterly irrelevant in terms of the value a page gives to its readership. And that value is what search engines care about.

Most of the table based layouts I see fail miserably from an accessibility standpoint. How many of you tablers use [thead] and [tbody] elements? Huh? What are those? Just as I expected.

A zealot always sees every problem as a nail when he's holding a hammer. Tables have their uses, just ask Google (who use tables to display their results). It's not either / or. As you said yourself here:-

That's not the Screen Readers fault, it's the developers.

In other words, a bad developer can cause mayhem with either CSS layouts or tables. We are in agreement here. Which kind of makes your point moot.

Anyway, POR - don't get so wound up about things. Aaron's original point is to look at an online business as an online business - in its totality, and to divide your time wisely so you can make the most of that online business. I think you see it too closely as a clean dichotomy of websites that validate and ones that don't. That's totally missing the point.

August 24, 2009 - 6:09pm

If you are a web designer (and/or want links from pretentious web designers) then validation is a great idea...

... Or you could write an article that really sets the blood boiling of said web designers and wait for the angry links to roll in. :D

Without getting caught up in the fog of comment war, I would just like to pick up on a minor point that, while a bit OT, is important to SEOs or Web Designers:

Come on Hugo, we ALL know that discovery needs to be made. Links are part of the equation.

Google has proved in my experience that it needs neither links nor manual URL submission for discovery. I have seen brand new sites crawled, indexed and ranking based on nothing more than a domain registration. Google is a registrar after all....

August 24, 2009 - 7:03pm

In other words, you have no evidence. If you had, you'd have provided some links to back up your claims.

If I provide the links, will you follow them and READ everything presented as evidence? I WILL provide the links in an upcoming article pertaining to the importance of validation. I should have a first draft in the next 48-96 hours.

So you prove my point. And of course it makes sense.

I don't think I've proved a point - yet. No, it doesn't make sense in the context of what we are discussing. If you'd like, I'll give you an hour of my time and assist you in making the conversion. You cannot do anything else to the site for the first 60 days after which you are welcome to report back your findings. I'm going to expect YOU to do all the legwork in tracking the results. I'll assume you've already got that part nailed down. ;)

A zealot always sees every problem as a nail when he's holding a hammer. Tables have their uses, just ask Google (who use tables to display their results). It's not either / or. As you said yourself here:-

Just ask Google? Do you know the reason why Google use tables? Their pages MUST be designed to be compatible with a variety of devices. CSS only layouts tend to present challenges on a large scale. Getting it "just right" usually brings additional page weight. Sure, they could probably cleanup what they have now and I'd personally like to know the exact reasons why they haven't. My feeling is that the pages are designed to be 100% portable and will display on just about any device out there, the least common denominator as they say. Did you know that Google is using an HTML 5 DOCTYPE?

In other words, a bad developer can cause mayhem with either CSS layouts or tables. We are in agreement here. Which kind of makes your point moot.

Whew, I got lost there for a moment. No, I don't think anything has made validation a moot point. And exactly which point are we referring to? I've made quite a few of them. Validation can assist a bad developer in minimizing the mayhem they produce. I understand that few of "your" sites can validate 100%. Tell me something, how do you test the "correctness" of your code? How would you know that there were 20 alt attributes missing and 8 of those were on what I'd call primary navigation images? Which of course left me, the user with images disabled, the UA, with nothing to index that is relevant to your internal link structure.

Are you saying that validation from that perspective is a moot point? Let's focus on specifics here.

Anyway, POR - don't get so wound up about things.

Me? Wound up? Nah, this is my normal MO. It's a passion - obviously. ;)

Aaron's original point is to look at an online business as an online business - in its totality, and to divide your time wisely so you can make the most of that online business.

I had to read the article again to make sure I hadn't lost focus. Divide your time wisely? Absolutely. But I don't think it was a wise to choice to downplay the importance of validation and its role in producing a solid foundation from an SEO perspective. Website Designers SHOULD be part of that process.

If I am paying a designer to make a custom web design for my site then I will demand clean code (in part so I can use it to score links from designers who care about that), but the truth is most sites do not validate. And few need to. Google doesn't, and they seem to be doing just fine.

The above is an injustice to the whole purpose of validation. I find it unfair that Google is being used as an example here. It's not a fair comparison in the true context of this discussion. Google can do whatever they want. And so can many others. There are a plethora of error routines in place by the UAs to compensate for most of the invalid coding practices out there.

I believe that SEOBook have a relationship with Majestic? I'd like to see MajesticSEO chime in on this topic. They've built a crawler, they KNOW what is involved in processing HTML. I think we do too. We've built our own version of a crawler that is utilized regularly to perform site audits. I saw every single error that was generated from crawling websites during development, ALL of them. I couldn't believe some of the errors we had to compensate for. And, the process is ongoing. I really have a deep level of respect for the developers of UAs, they've got their work cut out for them. Why? Because folks like many of you who downplay validation make sure that they will FOREVER have job security. ;)

Yes, I'm a bit of an evangelist when it comes to this whole validation thing. There's a reason behind the madness too. Give me a few days and I'll put together a piece that WILL explain the importance of validation.

I don't know how you can advertise your skills in SEO when such a vital part of a good quality site is valid markup. Your homepage has 40 errors when I just checked.

By itself, I see nothing wrong with the above original statement. That could have been me making it and, I'm neither a Designer or a Developer. I know just enough to pretend like I am. :)

Ah, a last minute addition...

Google has proved in my experience that it needs neither links nor manual URL submission for discovery. I have seen brand new sites crawled, indexed and ranking based on nothing more than a domain registration. Google is a registrar after all.

Methods of Discovery...

Top 20 Stealth Links - Getting your URL in front of Search Engines by nontraditional means
Getting into the "URLs Live Every Where" mindset.
http://www.WebmasterWorld.com/google/3893713.htm

FTR we're now at 400 Errors and 25 Warnings.

August 24, 2009 - 9:00pm

Clean code is not about SE crawling, or ranking. It's about fast loading 100% rendered pages for punters regardless which user agent is involved.

Although search engine crawlers digest the ugliest code, you should treat them as a user agent too. I'm 100% with Edward, because once you're stuck in hundreds of errors per page most probably you will not find the few critical coding errors that prevent user agents used by humans from executing (all of) your code, and sometimes even search engines from properly ranking your stuff.

I've seen landing pages that receive tons of traffic from search engines, but not enough sign-ups, because minor coding errors made the signup process not executable and/or unrepresentable for a few (not only exotic) user agents.

I've stopped reading the comments here once you folks started to discuss details out of context and common sense as well, arguing about idiotic assumptions. Of course a page w/o strong inbounds will not rank caused by a W3C button. Also, a page that delivers just whitespace to some user agents but ranks great at search engines is crap. Doh!

As always, be pragmatic. If you've the skills to optimize for loading speed, that's great. You should know which non-validating code avoids rendering hassles. If not, stick with validating code, staying on the safe side of a thing you don't possess.

August 24, 2009 - 11:57pm

I'm preparing everything now for my upcoming article that will provide the authoritative links to many of the issues we are discussing. From my perspective, a quality Website Designer who can provide me with a validated set of templates is in the upper echelon in my book. And, if they promote their adherence to standards, I'll pat them on the back in the process.

Answer: How web designers try to justify over-charging for their work + pat each other on the back.

Over charging in what sense? If I'm providing you with validated design templates and a framework which includes the proper containing elements/attributes (empty) for interior pages and such, I'm going to charge you a premium. Sure, you can download free templates all day long online, and all night too. But, few are going to be close to being valid from both an HTML and Protocol perspective. While some claim to have valid templates, and they are, that doesn't mean they are correct. That has been mentioned already in a reply to this topic and I understand that completely. I've seen it with me own eyes! :)

While I'm writing over the next couple of days, I do have a preface for everything you'll be reading. This is not a one link proposition. We're talking months of reading and understanding on your part. I'm not sure how I can condense 10 solid years of surfing the W3 into one article, heh!

Aaron, hope you don't mind. Whatever you do, please give me plenty of warning in regards to "thickness of skin" issues. YOU know how I am, others in this Post may not be as forgiving. ;)

The Ultimate SEO Guide
http://www.SEOConsultants.com/SEO/Guide/

HTML 4 SEO Best Practices for HTML Authoring
http://www.SEOConsultants.com/HTML4/Elements/

HTML: SEO Point Values
http://www.SEOConsultants.com/HTML/Points/

Semantic Data Extractor
http://www.SEOConsultants.com/Tools/Semantic/Extractor/

^ Note: When you run the Semantic Data Extractor and this error is returned...

Using org.apache.xerces.parsers.SAXParser
Exception net.sf.saxon.trans.XPathException: org.xml.sax.SAXParseException: The reference to entity "hl" must end with the ';' delimiter.
org.xml.sax.SAXParseException: The reference to entity "hl" must end with the ';' delimiter.

...or something similar, that means the extractor could not understand the document. No big deal as the tool is somewhat strict in its interpretation. But, that should be a warning that something may be amiss in your HTML. If I can't extract an outline of your document, something is wrong. The meaning of your page is lost and you leave fate in the hands of error handling routines.

FTR we're now at 422 Errors and 25 Warnings.

August 25, 2009 - 2:08am

POR, I've been debating a specific point here - the myth that your choice of using tables or CSS as layout has a bearing on your rankings. You're misrepresenting my argument as me not caring about validation whatsoever. Two very different points. Just to be clear: I think validation IS important. It's good to take your markup through a validator to "regulate" it. I'm not obssessional in terms of eradicating every error (e.g. I find escaping & to "&amp ;" in URLs a redundant "error" these days) - it's just that validation keeps your markup regular and healthy - it's a benchmark. But that does not mean validation has any value strictly in terms of rankings. IF it has any bearing, the influence is so negligible as to be meaningless.

Now here's what I AM saying: I'm dispelling myths that SOME developers create (for whatever reason, normally it's because they're CSS evangalists) - conflating good developer practise (using CSS for layouts instead of tables) with a complete lie just to "win an argument" or bamboozle clients into thinking they're adding value. The tables / CSS is a good talking point, because it's a ridiculous claim that CSS layouts rank better than table layouts - it fails to withstand any scrutiny (which is why I apply scrutiny to this false claim in this thread).

August 25, 2009 - 4:31am

I feel proud to have helped inspire an article Ed :) but it still doesn't change my core argument that designers claiming to sell SEO while doing no actual SEO are scamming their clients ;)

In the forums someone shared a great link to a blog post about how many of the top ranked sites have tons of errors in them and few ranking sites are free of errors.

Probably closing in on ~ 500 errors now. hehehe...that means the page was GOOD ENOUGH to start an engaging debate. If anything, HTML errors might be a signal of content quality :D

August 25, 2009 - 1:14pm

Also people are confusing "Code" and "Markup" and its similar to the OO gurus who have only learnt OO programming and will insist on using it even when the aplication does not suit OO.

Some designers are guilty of wanting this to be true but then theres the question of what stndard to validate too and how your read the standard - its quite posble to come to diferenet interpretations with even a nailed down spec like OSI or take 802.11a/b/g.

Back in the day I worked on grownup networking eg OSI which was a more complete stndards based system but yet it lost out to the sloppy and porer quality TCP/IP.

Why becuse TCP/IP was simpler and easier to understand and did what people needed - though it would have been cool to be able to say oh just send email to C=UK G="Maurice"

August 25, 2009 - 4:13pm

The myth that your choice of using tables or CSS as layout has a bearing on your rankings.

Not a myth. I've seen the results of converting a table based website to CSS and it was pretty amazing. It is all relative. If the table layout was an absolute mess, just cleaning up the tables would have had an impact. Converting to CSS had that much more impact.

I'm not obsessional in terms of eradicating every error (e.g. I find escaping & to "&amp ;" in URLs a redundant "error" these days)

OT, did you know that many hacks are performed through HTML that is not escaped? I'm just sayin...

But that does not mean validation has any value strictly in terms of rankings. IF it has any bearing, the influence is so negligible as to be meaningless.

Let me ask, have you ever validated a site 100%? ALL of the pages?

I'm dispelling myths that SOME developers create (for whatever reason, normally it's because they're CSS evangalists) - conflating good developer practise (using CSS for layouts instead of tables) with a complete lie just to "win an argument" or bamboozle clients into thinking they're adding value.

In the above instance, they are adding value. They're getting the client out of an old school bad practice and using proper markup for the job. Using tables for design when not appropriate is like bringing a hammer, screwdriver and a pair of pliers to fix my BMW. Don't even think about it!

The tables / CSS is a good talking point, because it's a ridiculous claim that CSS layouts rank better than table layouts - it fails to withstand any scrutiny (which is why I apply scrutiny to this false claim in this thread).

I don't think its a ridiculous claim. I guess because I've seen the results of conversion many times over the years. In fact, I have a 10k+ site now that will be converting from tables to CSS sometime soon. I'd love to show you but the whole NDA thing prevents me from doing so. Plus, it's bad Karma. ;)

I feel proud to have helped inspire an article Ed :) but it still doesn't change my core argument that designers claiming to sell SEO while doing no actual SEO are scamming their clients ;)

Strike 2! http://Twuna.com/TOS/Edward :)

Designers claiming to sell SEO? That's all relative too. If they are providing a set of templates that contain the proper framework for an SEO Campaign then I guess they could say they are providing a core SEO framework for the team to work with. I do it quite frequently. I have to take pages and rebuild them for clients to "show" them what it is that needs to be done. I take their page, rebuild it based on protocol and then return the page with a fill in the blanks instruction.

In the forums someone shared a great link to a blog post about how many of the top ranked sites have tons of errors in them and few ranking sites are free of errors.

What a failed example. We already know that the majority of the web does not validate. Did you ever see the code stats that Google put out in 2005?

Web Authoring Statistics
http://Code.Google.com/webstats/

Take a close gander at ALL of the information presented. There are some clues here and there. :)

Probably closing in on ~ 500 errors now. hehehe...that means the page was GOOD ENOUGH to start an engaging debate. If anything, HTML errors might be a signal of content quality.

Most likely, I'll let you know down below. If I see one more person mention that HTML Errors are a signal of content quality, I'm going to go off! :)

Its the delusion that standards are automatically good.

They are. That's why they are there. Ya'll can keep fighting standards all you want. You can keep producing your table based layouts too. The time is coming though where you're most likely going to be left with your thumb up your arse. HTML is changing as we discuss this. HTML 5 is the next level. Take a look at the HTML 5 spec. It's a new ball game.

Here's a good summary of why you should validate...

Why Validate?
http://Validator.W3.org/docs/why.html

How does validation affect rankings?

Well, when you find stuff like missing alt attributes on images that SHOULD have them, there may be missed opportunities, don't you think so? This is the most basic of examples...

Required attribute X not specified

The attribute given above is required for an element that you've used, but you have omitted it. For instance, in most HTML and XHTML document types the "type" attribute is required on the "script" element and the "alt" attribute is required for the "img" element.

  • Line 84, column 63: required attribute "alt" not specified
    /images/web-designer.gif" />
  • Line 130, column 73: required attribute "alt" not specified
    /images/rank-checker-small.png' />
  • Line 130, column 139: required attribute "alt" not specified
    /images/the-seo-toolbar-2.png' />
  • Line 130, column 198: required attribute "alt" not specified
    …seobook.com/images/seo4ffmini.png' />
  • Line 752, column 73: required attribute "alt" not specified
    /images/rank-checker-small.png' />
  • Line 752, column 139: required attribute "alt" not specified
    /images/the-seo-toolbar-2.png' />
  • Line 752, column 198: required attribute "alt" not specified
    /images/seo4ffmini.png' />
  • Line 762, column 116: required attribute "alt" not specified
    /images/seo-training-400.png" border="0"/>
  • Line 774, column 126: required attribute "alt" not specified
    …idth="281" height="131" border="0" />
  • Line 781, column 137: required attribute "alt" not specified
    …-community-mini-logo.png" border="0">
  • Line 873, column 148: required attribute "alt" not specified
    …nity-small-mini-logo.png" border="0">

Whew! This conversation was getting a bit one-sided, thanks for dropping by Sebastian.

I'm 100% with Edward, because once you're stuck in hundreds of errors per page most probably you will not find the few critical coding errors that prevent user agents used by humans from executing (all of) your code, and sometimes even search engines from properly ranking your stuff.

FTR we're now at 486 Errors and 25 Warnings.

August 25, 2009 - 4:14pm

Aaron, you're my hero! This article highlights everything I ever wanted to say about designers making claims of valid mark up giving better SEO results.

Worst part is that..people are making money out of this claim! Millions! Anyone heard of the Thesis theme? What's their main selling point again? Other wordpress designers sacrifice good markup for good design? And crawlers get confused by them? The Thesis theme somehow overcomes that? God damn it! It's god damn HTML/CSS! How could it be any better?! IMHO, the thesis theme is no better than anyone else's theme. It just gives its buyers a fake sense of security and superiority over people using regular themes.

pageoneresults,

Over charging in what sense? If I'm providing you with validated design templates and a framework which includes the proper containing elements/attributes (empty) for interior pages and such, I'm going to charge you a premium. Sure, you can download free templates all day long online, and all night too. But, few are going to be close to being valid from both an HTML and Protocol perspective.

Notice the circular logic here? Not sure if I can call it that though. The debate here is that valid markup is of very little value.. now wait.. no value at all.. it doesn't justify charging your clients an extra $300 for it. You say it is value because its correct - which pays for the time you spent to get it to be correct. But thats where we come in and say, the client shouldn't care if the markup is correct and runs smoothly through the W3c validator.

August 25, 2009 - 4:28pm

FTR we're now at 486 Errors and 25 Warnings.

FTR, Aaron still not caring. SEO ranking? Yup, still got it. Motherlod of Traffic? Yup definitely still coming.

August 25, 2009 - 6:32pm

pageoneresults, let's judge you by your standards.

Let's look at seoconsultants.com (the site your profile links to, I assume it's your site?). Straight away I see I need to roll my mouse over some links to bring up sub-menus, and even sub-sub-menus. Right now, my accessibility meter is on Amber Alert. Tabbing through your site fails to bring up the pop-up navigation that only appears when you rollover (with mouse) the left-hand navigation. Amber-to-red alert.

So I'm thinking - ok, he's got the popup links in the sitemap, or the "text version" link at the foot of the page. Nope. Those pages that feature on those magic popup menus aren't there in the sitemap or "text version". You've just miserably failed Accessibility 101.

Then let's look at http://www.seoconsultants.com/directory/
- ever tried the "Search by US State" link? You mustn't have because it doesn't work. Try actually scrolling through the list of States (you can't, it's longer than the page, and there's no scrolling).

This is after a cursory 5 minute audit of your site....(if it is your site, if it isn't you shouldn't be showcasing it in your profile).

(tested in FF3 and IE8)

August 25, 2009 - 9:37pm

Andrew, I won't opine much on your last reply. I'm a bit lost in how we went from validation to usability? And I'll concur, that CSS menu system has some flaws and hasn't been rebuilt/updated in years. It was one of the first of its kind and has proven to be a great implementation in many instances. When it goes as deep as mine does, it becomes a usability issue.

Can you tab your way through other menu systems that are similar? No you can't. Not unless they've taken great care in incorporating the logic to perform that function.

You realize that we have some give and take in all this, correct? And yes, I know, many of you will choose to deal with the 500+ errors and chase links. Have at it!

Let's come back to validation, we'll cover usability in another topic. But, if you wish, we can review each other's sites. I'm aware of the flaws in my sites, how about you? Nah, you couldn't be. Not with 10 nested tables and all those errors to traverse through. ;)

Ever tried the "Search by US State" link? You musn't have because it doesn't work.

Just tried it, works fine. And, for those who may be somewhat technically challenged, you can click the link which takes you to a page that is a bit more accessible, for those who may have disabilities, such as yourself. I have them too, that damn menu is a targeting nightmare in some instances. ;)

FTR we're now at 512 Errors and 25 Warnings.

Addendum: I updated that menu function within the /directory/ portion Andrew. I agree, that was a bear to contend with. You'll notice that there are different menu versions and there is a method to the madness.

At least I react to user feedback and make corrections where necessary. You have to give me credit for that. Unlike others I know. ;)

August 26, 2009 - 1:18am

No worries POR - but those issues are very much accessibility issues. Not everyone can use a mouse, so website navigation via keyboard is an important accessibility consideration.

Accessibility is a big reason why people choose to validate their markup, and why W3C give these guidelines in the first place.

August 26, 2009 - 10:10am

I thought this was a great way to sum up this Post. I have a high level of respect for Jeffrey Zeldman and like minded folks. He gets IT!

Client who saves $5,000 buying cut-rate non-semantic HTML will later spend $25,000 on SEO consultant to compensate.

On a side note, it sure would be nice to have a [cite] element available when replying. :)

[cite] http://Twitter.com/zeldman/status/1137456194 [/cite]

August 26, 2009 - 2:09pm

Client who saves $5,000 buying cut-rate non-semantic HTML will later spend $25,000 on SEO consultant to compensate.

A SLIGHTLY hyperbolic statement from Zeldman there. $25K buys you a lot of links, for example. And he's comparing that large chunk of cash to the cost of on-page optimization ("to compensate")? (i.e. semantic markup for search engines). Wow....on-page optimization isn't a black art or rocket science...it's standard stuff (as it should be!) - it's common sense clues for search engines - there's no "secret sauce" to it (as it shouldn't be). That quote only highlights Aaron's point about developers exaggerating their SEO worth (I am a developer of 12 years by the way).

August 26, 2009 - 4:10pm

I generally think Zeldman gets the web better than 99.999% of people using it and respect his views, but in that instance he is talking his craft from his own perspective.

Since when is a $5,000 web design cut-rate? Plenty of designers who are skilled would fall over themselves to get work at that rate.

Zeldman can charge more because he is Zeldman, but most can't. And it doesn't mean that everyone charging less than him is cut-rate. Many designers have similar talents but are just newer to the field and/or not as self-promotional as Zeldman is. The equivalent would be me writing a Tweet about cut-rate $50,000 client SEO projects. A hell of a lot of decent SEOs would be willing to work for that, even if I was not interested in the offer.

Our site design here was like $1,600 including logo & making the design fit the CMS. Granted I think it is easily worth $5,000...but because it is not valid code does not mean that I am forced to spend $25,000 more on links + SEO.

I mean...we have entire websites where all of the pieces combined did not cost $25,000. And I am not talking an $8 domain + PLR content + an open source design. I am talking the full package, including...

  • market research & strategy
  • premium aftermarket domain name
  • original web design
  • unique web content
  • buying software for the site and (in some cases) having it customized
  • link building
  • creating + promoting featured content

You can do all that on < $25,000 if you are resourceful and hunt for great opportunities. Over time if it is profitable it makes sense to keep re-investing...but you can get in the game in most markets for far less than $25,000...and that is even if the domain name costs you $5,000+.

August 27, 2009 - 3:55pm

Our site design here was like $1,600 including logo & making the design fit the CMS. Granted I think it is easily worth $5,000...but because it is not valid code does not mean that I am forced to spend $25,000 more on links + SEO.

Exactly. If you had to validate the markup, or spend $25,000 on links and SEO, the latter would have WAY more impact.

August 31, 2009 - 4:14pm

I mentioned above that I would be writing a follow up article to this Post which I have...

The Importance of Website Validation
http://www.SEOConsultants.com/Validation/
URI Short: http://Twuna.com/Validation

In addition to the above, I've also got a Website Validation Showdown in progress.

Website Validation Showdown
http://www.SEOConsultants.com/Validation/Showdown/
URI Short: http://Twuna.com/V/Showdown

Aaron, I just wanted to say thank you for allowing me to have my say on this. I know I can't convince SEO folks such as yourself but maybe, just maybe, a few others reading this will realize the importance and get on board.

Let's see how many other Posts spawn from these topics on Validation. I see things heating up a bit. Do you? :)

August 31, 2009 - 10:54pm

Will be fun to see the outcome. You're nothing if not well researched and hard working :)

September 1, 2009 - 5:13pm

Hi Aron, I completely understand your frustration.

However, SEO isn't absolutely everything :) Yes, validating code is useless for SEO, but it is usually necessary for accessibility, which is required in some fields. I also think it's important to be courteous to disabled users using our websites. That's the one and only reason I do it.

There are web designers/developers and there are web designers/developers worth their salt. The latter will write clean and standards-compliant mark-up code from the off and shouldn't charge you a cent more. I'm an ex-web-designer-now-SEO and I'd have to go out of my way to write non-standard code.

Most respectable and knowledgeable web designers also understand that there's a lot more to SEO than what they could ever know or have time to implement at the development stage, a good web designer just offers a good starting platform.

September 10, 2009 - 6:50am

from: http://paulsutton.us - Paul Sutton

As a fellow web designer, first off I will say that I truly believe that valid code has 'nothing' to do with SEO; it is in fact good practice, but nothing more.

You make mention of sites like Google having non-validating markup, which is fine, but like you stated... Google is doing fine for themselves! However, Google's service is built on the foundation of their 'service', not a nice design or valid code? Most companies, including yours, do not stand alone or at least on a winner's podium, when it comes to competition. So most companies competing for the top SERPS need to set themselves apart with a nice design, customer service, etc... You have to believe this to some degree, you have spent a little on design yourself, if that had not been the case I would have bounced within a minute of entering the site.

I agree that designers offering SEO packages that actually know nothing about it is bad practice. I am by no means an SEO expert, but more often than not I have taken a phone call from a self proclaimed "SEO" marketing expert, and actually known more than he/she did.

It's unfortunate that these very designers are giving a lot of us a bad name, but that's the case with all the SEO experts as well... how do we filter through all of the muck and the mire, you all look the same as well.

Simple fact is, if it's important to your business, the internet is a pretty resourceful place and all the secrets and myths about SEO are becoming more and more known daily and the lines between internet designer/developer/SEO/SEM blah…blah…blah are becoming more blurred every minute...so I suppose we better learn to get along.

September 10, 2009 - 4:37pm

I agree that everything is blurring and getting commoditized Paul. And that creates 2 big ways to add value

  • either be THE expert in a chosen field OR
  • tie together multiple disciplines
sassie
February 5, 2013 - 9:23am

I like to recommend you the HTML Guys, they also offer conversions for PSD to HTML, PSD to Wordpress, HTML to Wordpress and PSD to Email. You can also get an idea and useful tips in their blogs regarding conversion and many more things you like to know making websites.

Cheers,
Sassie Porche

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