Tony Adam

Entrepreneur, Marketer, Aspiring Polymath


Web Standards based design and SEO

January 2, 2008 9

So, I figured to ring in the New Year of 2008, I would post about how the whole SEO industry should really start to take an understanding of Web Standards in the design of Websites. Semantic Web Design and using CSS for layouts is not really cutting edge people!! We have been doing this since 2001!

I have been so thoroughly frustrated with the quality (rather, lack of quality!) that I am seeing in some of the top agencies and experts in SEO. Even being at Webmaster World PubCon this year and sitting in on some of the interactive site reviews I was horrified by the lack of real web knowledge.

Now, as much as I love the SEO industry, I feel the need to call everyone out that is doing this. We are at a point where the web is becomming more and more semantic and browsers are standards compliant (See: Private Microsoft Internet Explorer 8 build passes Acid2 test).

What I am not going to do is start giving you a tutorial for how to build CSS layouts or semantic websites. Although this is an area of expertise of mine, there are TONS and TONS of resources for this out there already. (Resources Below).

Building Web Standards compliant websites that are semantic will add tons of value, not only to your services, but to your overall value as an organization. We are no longer in the 90’s and do not have to use tables for design purposes and layout, CSS is extremely powerful now. Using a CSS layout will dramatically reduce the amount of markup on your page. Also, use semantic markup up in your html document, such as using semantic CSS styles, insert the appropriate HTML (e.g. paragraphs, strong instead of b), etc. There should never be a class named “style6” or a div id with the name “leftside.” Classes should be named “footer” and similarly your div id’s should signify the content on the page, (e.g. div id=”logo”).
Here are the two **VERY IMPORTANT** reasons that you should build Standards Compliant websites with semantic markup.

Crawlability and Indexability is of course one of the most crucial things when working with SEO, because, the truth is, if a search engine doesn’t crawl your site, you won’t have any business. Standards compliant and semantic markup allows the search engine to read through your html documents with many pre-determined factors. To break this down in its simplist form search engines read through an html document the same way that we read through a written or “Word” document. From a User Experience stand point, page load times will drop and allowing the page to even render correctly will increase conversion.

Websites Maintenance can be a big part of the work that is taken on for consultants, agencies, and SEO Experts. Especially in larger organizations that have hundreds or even thousands of pages. Using the methods that I have been talking about will allow you to dramatically reduce the time it takes to even put up pages or re-design pages on a site, thus reducing your cost to build new or update old pages. This leads to you offering discounted rates, increasing customer loyalty, and/or increased margins for your organizations. From an SEO perspective, the benefit of building a site this way is that you do not have to attempt to stuff keywords into your content, less markup will in-turn help with keyword ratios on the page.

In summary, please build standards compliant websites that contain semantic markup. You will see a great benefit from it and help in cleaning up the web!

A List Apart Articles – Great Web Design Resource
Web Standards Project – Do I really need to explain this?
Designing with Web Standards – A GREAT book by Jeffrey Zeldman that explains why Web Standards is important (yes, even for SEO) and goes into code level detail.

If you are using Standards based design with your websites and/or are practicing SEO…please comment!…I’d love to hear and share your thoughts!

There are 9 comments

  • WEBOSIS says:

    Great post! I’ve always said that one cannot be truly effective at SEO without having, at least, basic knowledge in design and development.

  • This is absolutely right and something I wish more people would do. Thanks for laying down the smackdown and waking people up!

    CSS classes like ‘style1’ and ‘smallBlueArial’ are just plain lazy development.

    Getting rid of tables and using clean semantic HTML/CSS and proper content ordering will drastically improve your site’s speed, SEO and customer satisfaction. And hey, chicks digg it! :o)

  • bruce lawson says:

    I entirely agree (but, as a member of the Web Standards Project, you’d expect me to).

    Playing devil’s advocate, though, can you explain the S.E.O. advantages of not having CSS classes like ’style1′ and ’smallBlueArial’?

  • Is this a problem of people not practicing what they preach? Or are other SEO specialists not even preaching the Web standards gospel? And who are the guilty parties?

  • Tony Adam says:

    @bruce – the only thing I could think of is a bit blackhat and spammy…but keyword stuffing in your class names…i’ve seen it done…and while I find that annoying, I would rather see “RealEstateNav” vs. “style1” anyday.

    @Kimberly I would say it is more of a problem of people in general not following Web standards.

    Overall, the point is not that being semantic helps your SEO, but standards compliance does (as I am sure you both know), but being semantic will effect your overall ROI to an organization and for your own.

  • Bruce, presentation-oriented class names are a symptom of a larger problem, which is an essential lack of semantics in markup and CSS.

    The use of HTML tags appropriate to their meaning (h1…h6 for headings, p for paragraphs, etc) rather than div or table/tr/td for *everything* is going to help crawlers make sense of your site.

    Also, to more directly comment on the use of class names, look into microformats, which use classes to identify even more granular semantic meaning within web content than HTML tags alone can convey.

    Using semantic class names also has non-SEO benefits. It’s just a good idea, and like Jeremy said, chicks dig it!


  • Mark says:

    Hey Tony,

    The more I read about your profession, the more I want to work in it. Can you or any of your readers provide me specific groups in Los Angeles where I can meet up with professionals and rub shoulders?

    Your help is really appreciated. Please respond directly to my email address.



  • mcinvale says:

    your page has 71 errors and 7 warnings. so much for standards, eh? 😛

  • Niya says:


    Interesting article. Nice to know SEO experts realize the huge benefits of writing valid, semantic markup.

    Just to add on, there are other strategies that may augment, or boost, your SEO rankings; E.G., keyword placement, keyword selection, the title attribute, meta information (well, not so much nowadays, but it helps a tad) and writing good, relevant content/copy for your target audience. A little user research would go a long way too. Get in the minds of your consumers, how they search and what they’re thinking and things will be ‘all good.’

    Oh, there are a few HTML and CSS errors; not as many as 71/7, so you must have done a little house-cleaning. Far better than 99% of the sites out there!

    Again, nice article and thanks for sharing.



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