Have you ever come across something new and you realize immediately that you should have known this a long time ago? This happened to me last month. While perusing through SEO forums I came across a thread about W3C validation. Running pole-position-web.com through the validator produced a report showing over 350 errors on the home page alone! The question I immediately had is “What does this mean and why should I care?”
Lets back up a bit. The W3C is the World Wide Web Consortium. According to the W3C home page they develop “interoperable technologies (specifications, guidelines, software, and tools) to lead the Web to its full potential.” In short, the W3C is responsible for setting the guidelines for proper website coding. Their site validation tool is designed to find errors in your coding, or more specifically, code that does not meet the approved and accepted format.
Many websites that do not validate will still view properly in most browsers, but one must also consider the search engine spiders and how they will view your site. Spiders read your code but not necessarily in the same way a browser does. While a browser displays the page according to how the code is written, a spider must be able to read the code and pull specific portions out for indexing and measuring according to their ranking algorithms.
Validating Your Site
Think of it as a painting. The browser acts as an art gallery. You simply provide the completed picture and they put it on the wall. The picture simply must be complete to be allowed in the gallery for viewing. A search engine acts more like an art critic. They painting is on the wall but the critic wants to see if you separated your colors properly, were able to bring out the intended emotions, and want to be sure you conformed to the rules of artistic expression.
While your page may view fine in a browser, a search engine may find bad code that it fails to interpret as intended. If such is the case the search engine will not be able to properly critique your site. In other words, your painting may be such a mess you won’t even get the critic to comment on it. Since we rely on search engine critique to achieve top rankings, it is vastly important that we present to them a properly coded site.
Most of the errors I found on the PPW site were minor, certainly nothing that would keep a search engine spider away. However, I did find several errors that may have prevented the SEs from properly interpreting the code. I’ll know for sure down the road if I see increased search engine activity or ranking improvement. Either way, I learned something about producing a meaner, cleaner code, which is always good for search engine improvement.
While most non-validated code will not prevent search engines from properly parsing your site, validating (along with the use of css) goes a long way to create a more workable, paired down code. This alone will allow the search engine to find the important elements (text, etc) more quickly without having to sort through junk.
In our commitment to provide the best optimization possible, Pole Position Web will begin including page validation on all of our SEO projects. Over the years we have found that SEO is an often changing, always growing industry. Rules that were acceptable 2 years ago are no longer acceptable today and strategies that have worked in the past may not work tomorrow.