Search engines have moved beyond simply calculating keyword density and link relevance. More and more, the major search engines are mastering the ability to identify natural human language and evaluate a web page based on natural human language. AskJeeves.com was the first search engine to attempt to move to a natural human language system, although they focused on the user input aspect of search rather than evaluating the natural language of a web page itself.
By learning to identify natural human language, search engines are able to greatly reduce the amount of search engine spam. Search engine advances continue, especially on the heels of Google's suspected algorithm change which will enable Google to weigh the relevance of links against the content of their pages. Search engines will continue to look at the entire content of websites and continue to attempt to identify the real subjects and themes of any given site.
As search engines learn to better identify the natural language structure of websites, sites that are well formed will have a natural advantage. Although good search engine rankings will always depend on more than just the structure and content of a website, the content of a website will always be the heart of a page's rankings.
Make a Search Engine's Job Easy
Search engine spiders have a lot of work to do. Not only do they spider billions of pages every month attempting to discover new web pages and update already discovered web pages, these spiders need to parse through hundreds or even thousands of lines of code trying to distinguish between titles, content, structural code, and even the occasional keyword stuffing by search engine spammers. By simplifying your website, you make the job easier for the spider and allow the spider to index more pages on your site in a shorter amount of time.
Avoid Bloated Code
Unfortunately for the sake of design, many website owners have paid absolutely no attention to how efficient their code is. As a result, they may have a lot of extraneous, unnecessary code. The result of bloated code is a page that may be difficult and confusing for a search engine to decipher, or the spider may misinterpret the code.
Fortunately, HTML and CSS is quickly catching up to the design standards of website professionals. Using proper HTML and CSS, you can design extremely appealing websites that do not rely on tables for their layout. If you would like to see just how versatile and effective HTML and CSS is, look at the examples laid out at CSS Zen Garden. CSS Zen Garden is a website that displays the power of CSS and properly formed HTML. There are several different designs all using the exact same HTML, but through CSS they are able to build sites that look completely different from each other.
If you want to see something very amazing about what CSS Zen Garden is doing, follow these steps. View the HTML of their page. It does not matter what style you are viewing, the HTML is the same for every style. Now copy that code and paste it into your HTML editor and view the output. The page that you will see is an extremely basic looking page. More importantly, though, the page that you will see is a very well organized page which would be easy for any spider to understand.
Learn More About HTML
If you are like most website owners, you know very little about HTML. You may know a little bit of code here and there, but it really does not seem worth your time to learn the inner workings of HTML. If you feel this way, then you are really missing out on great SEO opportunities.
HTML is built to naturally identify parts of your web page that are more important than others. It was built to be extremely organized. Using the organization that HTML provides, you can help a search engine spider identify the parts of your website that are more important. Below are some uncommon tags that HTML provides that you can use to help organize your content:
Alt Tag – Most website owners know about this, but including an Alt Tag on your images is actually required if you want to have a properly formed website.
<acronym> - The acronym tag allows for a website to explain what an acronym stands for. For example, the acronym SEO stands for Search Engine Optimization. However, when the spider comes to your website, all it will see is SEO which may mean various things. The acronym tag will allow you to add this keyword to your text. The use of this tag should look like this: <acronym title="search engine optimization">seo</acronym>
<caption> - Although using tables to determine the layout of your website is becoming a practice that will soon be extinct, tables will still be necessary. The caption tag allows you to identify what a specific table is about. An example: <caption>Table 3.2. Raw Sales Data</caption>
<code> - If you ever want to display programming code on your site, you should use the code tag which will set that text off as being programming code. Example: <code><?php echo "this is a code example";?></code>
The H Tags – H1 tags became popular in SEO circles once website owners learned that Google did pay attention to this tag. However, there are actually 6 different heading tags. The H1 tag is the most important while the H6 tag is the least important. If a search engine were to try to create a table of contents from a website, it should be able to do so from the H tags.
These are just a few examples, but HTML provides several tags for your content to help you organize your material, and help search engines know what to emphasize in your content.
Article Tip: We have started a thread of these HTML tags. If you know of any tags that we have not mentioned here, please add to the list. You can find the post at: http://forums.site-reference.com/t378/s.html.
The lesson from this should be that learning HTML is not an endeavor that has few benefits. There is a lot of HTML that can help you both simplify your code and add more content to help your rankings.
Consider Moving to a Table-less Layout
The demands of web surfers unfortunately increased faster than website technology could keep up. As a few website owners were able to present visually appealing websites through tabled layouts, web surfers quickly became used to the graphic rich and well organized content. Unfortunately with tabled layouts, HTML code became sloppy and full of information that dealt only with the layout of the site, not with the content.
Fortunately, web technology is catching up. It appears as if Internet Explorer 7, which was announced to be released this summer, will finally adhere to the CSS2 standards. If you are not familiar with CSS, just read that previous sentence as being a very good thing. As was demonstrated by the example of CSSZenGarden.com, CSS can be used to create a page that is as appealing, if not more appealing, than standard tables.
Most website owners know CSS to be a tool that they can use to edit the appearance of text and the colors of their site, but CSS is also a tool that can be used for the layout of your site. As CSS comes out with newer versions (CSS3 is in the works), layout will become a more important development.
So how do you move to a table-less layout? The answer is simple: learn HTML and CSS.
The Side Benefit: Accessibility
Did you know that blind people surf the Internet? That may not seem shocking initially, but consider that the Internet is a highly visual medium of transferring information. Blind people are able to use web readers and Braille machines that interpret HTML code.
Unfortunately, the vast majority of websites are not accessible for blind people because they are not well formed sites. By moving to a well formed website, you will be adding access for an audience who marketers really do not focus on.
Article Tip: Search engines love websites that adhere to W3C's Web Content Accessibility Guidelines.
Bringing it Back to SEO
Many website owners are reluctant to take the time, energy, and money to really learn HTML and CSS, or to learn how they can make their websites truly accessible. However, in the end, they could be hurting their search engine rankings once search engines move closer to identifying natural human language.
The creators of HTML have done a magnificent job in creating a structure that can be used to organize your content in ways that make search engine optimization extremely easy. As the owner of your website, you should take care to make sure that it is running the way it was intended to. You would never purchase a car that fails to meet basic standards of quality, so why would you trust your company's income to a website that is based on code that does not meet the quality standards of the Internet?
Designing your site properly does take time and effort, but the rewards are numerous. Not only will you have the satisfaction of having a website that is both light in its code and efficient, but search engines will be able to identify the key points of your content much easier, thus giving you more control of your rankings.