SEO & Importance of Valid Source Code (W3C Validation)

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Does W3C compliance impact a site’s search rankings? The question has been mulled on Search Engine Journal in the past and the basic conclusion is that although W3C is incredibly important for browser compatibility and overall site usability, it does not have a direct impact on Google rankings, especially since Google’s pages themselves do not validate.

However, it is still a common practice to make sure one’s pages do validate W3C standards, and in the future, in an effort to judge site authority and quality, Google may just include W3C validity in their algorithm; you never know.

Besides, believe it or not, there is much more to the web than only Google. And Yahoo, Ask.com & MSN’s Live Search are also major traffic generators in the Global search market.

Additionally, if you’re going to be running a social media campaign, planning on running a story on Digg, and the majority of Digg users use a browser such as Safari or Firefox which your site may not load correctly in or results in botched CSS formatting, your story is going to get no attention and you’ll be missing out on the potential of hundreds of organic editorial links.

So, when looking at the whole picture; presentation is reality is reputation… and having a smooth and valid site is critical to your company’s reputation.

Mike Tekula of New Sun Graphics sent Search Engine Journal a write-up of the importance of valid source code and SEO and here are some of his tips in assuring the search engines can properly read your site’s coding and browser compatibility. Enjoy.

    Testing your web pages in browsers is an absolutely necessary process for building any web page. It allows you to see what others can see, and often you will notice mistakes in your HTML code because of the symptoms they cause in browsers. But what about when your testing browser(s) display the pages exactly as you intended. Are your pages error-free? Not necessarily.

    The World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) sets the standards for coding HTML and CSS for web pages. They also provide tools to validate your code for free. So do some third-parties. The question you might be asking is, “if my page looks fine in Internet Exporer, Safari, Firefox, etc. why do I need to worry about validation?” If all you’re looking is for proper display, you might not have to. However, if you’re concerned at all with search engine optimization (SEO), and you probably should be, validating your source code is a necessity.

    One reason for this is the difference between search engine spiders and browsers. Spiders “crawl” the web indexing web pages and their content. They are basically toned-down web browsers that aren’t concerned with displaying for a user but with recognizing content. In other words, search engine spiders are looking at the same code your web browser is and parsing it in a very similar way. This difference in functionality, however, is vast.

    There is a very real pressure on web browser developers to ensure that their browsers display pages correctly to the user. This often includes forgiving errors in the source code. Improperly nested elements, unclosed tags, unrecognized parameters – these are all errors in HTML code that might not affect your web page’s display in your favorite browser. When it comes to search engine spiders, however, it can be an entirely different story.

    That is not to say that small errors in your HTML code will spell death for your search engine rankings. Certainly they won’t normally make your page invisible to spiders.

    They can, however, disrupt the vastly important process of a spider parsing your page for all relevant content or make some of that content invisible. And since so much of SEO is paying close attention to every little detail of your site and its content, why leave the possibility open of causing problems for search engines when they try to index your pages?

    Validation might mean some big headaches when you set out to fix every last error on your pages, but the benefits of valid code are clear – and running your pages through a validation service like that of the W3C can do a lot in the way of educating you about the mistakes you may be making.

So, in a nutshell, here are some basic tips:

  • Use W3C to make sure your site is viewable in major browsers, especially Firefox & Safari
  • Test your site on mobile browsers
  • Check for all errors in HTML coding and fix them when possible
  • Pay attention to your programming errors and be aware of them when programming your next site
  • If you pay for a designer, put something in the contract that the site must pass W3C validation.
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Loren Baker
Loren Baker is the Founder of SEJ, an Advisor at Alpha Brand Media and runs Foundation Digital, a digital marketing strategy & development agency.
Loren Baker
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