Web Design, Structural Markup and SEO
Web Standards folk say that website markup should be structural — unfortunately, it's difficult to get a take on precisely what this might mean. While this kind of lack of easily-obtained definition is common on the Web, it doesn't help to clarify issues nor forward causes. Jeffrey Zeldman to the rescue (no surprise there?); a "tiny excerpt" from his Designing With Web Standards is reprinted online at Informit.com in Structural Healing. An even tinier excerpt:
To the greatest extent possible, you want to use CSS for layout. In the world of web standards, XHTML markup is not about presentation; it's about core document structure. Well-structured documents make as much sense to a Palm Pilot or screen reader user as they do to someone who's viewing your page in a fancy-pants graphical desktop browser.
Luckily, Mr. Zeldman is not only bright, talented and industrious, but pragmatic as well, as the second page of the except illustrates. (You'll have to read it.) I have no problem with structural markup and Web Standards, so long as one is not forced into completely structural coding versus "old style" coding without consideration of the specific project and circumstances at hand.
What do Web Standards and structural markup mean for SEOs? To be honest, done poorly, structural markup can be as complex as tables-based layouts; conversely, you can have clean, lightweight code that can be optimized beautifully regardless of position of elements on the code … and still have structurally correct, semantically marked-up pages.
Those who see their jobs as SEO as a marketing effort will likely see the benefits of Web Standards, wherein one can communicate to a larger audience who use multiple types of devices to access the Web. Given that you survey (or, at the least, evaluate) who your target audience might be and what types of browsers they use — it's time to look towards the future rather than the past.
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