bigstockphoto_Goals_1036912Editors update: March, 13th, 2010

True story: About two weeks ago, I came across a website that listed top SEO companies – well-known SEO companies at that. The website had used a site validator to see how clean the top SEOs’ site codes were. I stared in shock and then started gloating.

Several of the top name SEO companies had more errors than you could shake a stick at – and these people are supposed to know how to optimize website code. Further down on the page were other big name websites, such as the BBC, with just as many errors.

Horror of Optimization Horrors

While sharing this information with my programmer and coding specialist, she made a strange comment. “You know, that’s something I haven’t thought of, running a site validation.” Well, I had the site redesigned shortly before she came on, by a professional designer. I just KNEW our site code would be clean and I could continue gloating.

The first page we ran the W3C Site Validator on had thirty-three errors. Thirty-three! My programmer informed me that, since she had planned on updating the site anyway, these errors could be quickly solved. I took a deep breath and we went on to the next page. Seven-eight errors!

On each consecutive page, error after error was found. I had taken so many deep breaths I felt like I was hyperventilating. She swore she’d clean it up and, after taking one more deep breath, I left it in her capable hands.

A thought occurred to me then, which is the foundation of this blog. “If SEO companies who are supposed to know clean code can have errors like this (and I include mine), what about webmasters that have to rely on outside help?” In other words, if you don’t know programming and you don’t have an in house programmer you can trust, how do you know YOUR site code is… well, up to code?

  1. Run each page through the W3C Markup Validator. It will give you a list of errors and information on how to fix them. You’ll probably need a little programming background. If you don’t have any programming knowledge but you do have errors, you can hire a professional programmer to do the work and then run the Validator yourself to make sure they’ve done the job right. According to my programmer, it took her ten minutes to a half hour per page, depending on the number of errors. Factor that in when hiring.
  2. Run your stylesheets (CSS) through the W3C CSS Validator. It will also give you a list of errors and how to fix them. Again, you may need a little bit of CSS coding background and, again, if you don’t have any, you’ll need a professional. According to my programmer, it took her ten minutes to clean up our CSS,  but there weren’t that many errors.
  3. Use the W3C Link Checker. Not only does this check for broken links, but it also shows where you have redirects. In running our site, we had 400 redirect links when only two were intentional. How did this happen?

There’s a programmer’s shortcut: instead of using the whole URL to indicate where a page will pull its content from, they use a series of path codes that look like this:

/../../filename.extension

Unfortunately, this doesn’t sit well and the engines will use this path to redirect to the full URL. It’s messy and it takes longer, which slows down the time it takes to load your site.

The moral of the story:

A website’s code is just a part of search engine optimization. However, it’s a huge part of how your website performs for the user. If you’re not sure how clean your website is, take a few minutes to run it through W3C. You may be surprised how bad (or good) your code really is.

I wanted to add this wonderful post aptly named W3C Validation for SEO – Myth and Reality by Alan Bleiweiss

Another great articles about W3C that I recently read was “W3C Validation for SEO? Separating Facts From Fiction” at Springboard SEO