The link between full W3C Validation and it’s important upon SEO is commonly discussed topic and a huge taboo. This is the notion that having a valid site according to the W3C Standards is either critical (or not) to your website’s SEO.The first thing to note that a site passing W3C Validation will have met the following criteria: will not use depreciated tags and will not have syntax errors – essentially a syntax check.
I physically cringe when I hear quotes such as ‘valid xhtml will help your users’. Valid xhtml will not help your users, to help your users a site needs to adhere to web coding standards – this is an entirely different beast. The main difference here is the practice of seperating content from presentation, thus giving the content increased meaning. For example, a page using tables to layout the whole web page would not adhere to web coding standards because using tables for layout is semantically incorrect and requires a lot more code. Tables should be used for tabular data, simple. Another example is the use of paragraph and header tags. Visually they are very similar but have a very very different meaning sementically. However, yet again, semantically incorrect pages will pass validation. The main Google webpage doesn’t even validate (interestingly, Google does’t even quote html attributes in order to save on page size). In my opinion, as long this is the case W3C validation will be a none issue, SEO wise.
Understanding which semantic elements add value to the document will affect the onsite of a website and is an SEO ranking factor.I have read several artuicles that describe W3C validation and SEO as a match made in heaven, this simply isn’t the case, although web semantics and SEO are.
There are many websites (40% is a figure thrown around a lot) that do not validate, yet perform quite well in search engines as they have a range of high quality content. Take a quick example. I searched for a very competitive term “houses”. The number one result was rightmove.co.uk. Rightmove even has an authorative listing for that term too – SEO wise there can’t be too many issues here. Running that site through the validator throws up 33 errors and 22 warnings. – see the result. These are mainly smaller syntax errors that quite rightly, the developers of that site have ignored. There are endless examples where sites a lot worse appear at the top of the SERPs, even though they fail to validate and sometimes, don’t follow web standards at all.
There is also another camp that stresses that W3C validation is important for page presentation, in turn page presentation affects your reputation and thus your SEO (the number of people willing to backlink to you). Well again, here I’d quote the subtle difference between validation and semantics. YOu can also have a perfectly presented and formatted page that fails to validate.
The addictive, green “congratulations” message that appears is far too often used to lure unknowledgeable clients into a false sense of trust and can go a very long way into building trust between the SEO and client. As Google uses over 200 ranking factors when indexing your website, I find it very hard to believe that minor syntx errors play much role at all. Whenver I see SEO companies that associate “100% valid xHTML code” and SEO I run a mile. It’s clear they have little knowledge of SEO from this one ststement.
Validator error severity
My next hate is the severity of these errors are often mis-quoted. Don’t get me wrong, validating your website is good practice, but not critical for SEO. A random unclosed paragraph tag, or site that uses ‘b’ tags instead of ‘strong’ tags is of little worry to me. I can spend my time of much more important, valuable areas – at the end of the day this won’t effect your SEO or the way the page displays. However, when there are more serious (or hard) errors iccur these could very well stop the page from rendering all together. The latter is of course an erro you should take note of and fix quickly. However, minor syntax errors are of little concern. At the end of the day, pages that have an expected layout and content that the bots can consume easily is my major concern. However, pages that validate fully don’t give you SEO benenfit at all, however nice it is to have.
Full validation isn’t always possible
Another point is that full validation isn’t always possible. For instance, getting your site to display correctly across the plethora of browsers available can cause validation errors. This brings me to another issue. At lot of people seem to assume that a page that doesn’t pass the W3C validation is badly coded. I’ll use the example of the Google home page here. This page doesn’t validate due to a numbers of reason including the numbers of browsing devices it needs to cater for and page size (saving them a lot of money). By the latter logic, Google is a badly made webpage, I think not. I’m really not going into this anymore as it infuriates me so much. There is a trend where someone checks a page through the validator, if it fails they instanyly make a judgement that the site is badly made.
To conclude, at the minute there really is no evidence to suggest that Google factors in the validity of your code. In time search engines use it as a ranking factor, simialr to how Google began to use loading speed as a minor ranking factor. Validating or not is NOT the same thing as serious HTML errors that hinder crawling and indexing – this is one huge SEO scam in my opinion and is pushed upon unsuspecting an unknowledgable clients. Furthermore, I’m yet to see a site built so badly that it has failed to be included in search engines.For me, quality, quthorative content will always be at the heart of SEO, not coding syntax.
I’m also not saying that W3C validation should be ignored. Tomorrow, Google could well decide that W3C validation is a must and a suddenly a major ranking factor. However, for the time being, is a bit of a none issue for me.
Is W3C validation good practice for web developers, definately. Is W3C validation a must for SEO, not right now. Are SEO and W3C validation highly linked right now, very unlikely.