Posted on March 6, 2009

There are many techniques that can be used to achieve higher search engine ranking, some noble and honorable, and others less so. However, many people don't know part of the foundation of SEO: clean code.

For ease of understanding, let's split this into two concepts:
- Search engine optimization, an action that is performed to make sure the site appears as close to the top as possible in the search engines.
- Search engine optimizable. SEO-able means your site presents its information in a way that has maximum visibility not only to users but also to the search engines.

This is where clean code comes in. Surprise of surprises, search engines are not a bunch of people sitting at computers, ready to hurry up and find all relevant pages when you hit enter in the search bar. In fact, most search engines use something called a robot or spider, which is a computer program that crawls the web (get it, spider?) and uses algorithms to match sites to your searches.

Since these spiders can't see a computer monitor like humans can, they are actually just reading the HTML file, the file that contains all the information on the site. The easier it is for the spider to understand the HTML file, the more of the information it understands, and the more information it understands, the more likely it is to be ranked higher.

What makes it easy for the spider to understand the HTML file? Clean code! In the olden days, designers had to include all presentation in the HTML file. This made it difficult for the search engine spiders to figure out what was content and what was presentation information.

Then CSS (Cascading Style Sheets) was invented and suddenly, presentation could be handled in a separate file! That fixes everything, right? Now the spiders can read the HTML file without any of that pesky presentation junk getting in the way, and we're all good, right? Not so fast.

For years, browsers had poor support for CSS, leading to designers falling back on HTML presentation, namely using tables for layout, a thing which should never be done. Even when browsers started offering better CSS support, since designers had been presenting websites with HTML for so long, many of them refused to change their ways.

A second generation of designers sprung up, using a type program called a WYSIWYG (What You See Is What You Get) editor that lets the designer program without needing to touch or even know HTML or CSS. As useful as this sounds, it results in messy code. The most popular WYSIWYG editor is Dreamweaver, and although it has improved drastically in recent years, it still can't come near the code that a creative, intelligent, charming and good-looking designer can write in his sleep.

Designers skilled in HTML and CSS are rare. With Dreamweaver being so popular, some designers don't even know what clean code looks like. Even the ability to hand-code doesn't mean it's clean. A good designer is always coming up with new ways to make it that much better.

So what can we conclude?
- Clean code is the basis of an SEO-able site; without it, no matter what fancy tricks you throw into it, search engines will never see it.
- At Fusionbox, a Denver SEO company, we write our code with care. We don't use WYSIWYGs, tables, or pesticides of any kind. Our designers are smart, creative, and ever-so clever.

Next time you look at your site, ask yourself this: "Did the designer even know HTML?" If your designer is Fusionbox, the answer is "Heck yes."