One time I got an email from a “SEO expert” telling me that my site was doing so poorly in search engines because one of my pages had a few validation errors and that I needed to hire an “expert” like him to “optimize” my site so it would rank better. Here are the facts:
- The site ranked in the top 10 for phrases like “free wordpress themes” and “wordpress themes” which are pretty sought after keywords in that niche.
- The site averaged about 30,000 total visits per month from search engines (mostly Google) for other various long tail keywords.
- The site had about 400,000 incoming links from various websites, quality content, and a good reputation within its niche.
- The XHTML validation errors were because of a YouTube video I embedded. The default code YouTube provided caused a few errors in validation.
Anyone with half a brain when it comes to SEO will know that a strong link profile, quality content, and a solid reputation will trump a few validation errors on a page (with the exception of a few edge cases).
Basic Validation Errors
These so-called “SEOs” are probably going to hate me for this, but I’m going to give away some of their secrets right here for everyone to see.
- Most validation errors are caused by unclosed tags. Make sure your code is properly indented so these issues will be easy to spot.
- A common one in XHTML are image tags with no alt attribute and/or no closing slash. Example:
<img src="example.jpg" alt="Example" />
- Make sure to convert symbols like ampersands into character entities, common in embed codes. Like & instead of just & will cause an error.
Keep the following tips in mind and you’ll eliminate most of your validation errors, and keep some of the so-called “SEOs” at bay.
As far as edge cases go, Joost de Valk has a pretty good story about how a XHTML validation error caused Google to not be able to crawl a site properly.
Why Google Doesn’t Care
Google’s main job is to provide relevant search results for its users. Not to appease webmasters by ranking their crappy content sites as high as possible because they have valid coding. Google knows that if they placed too much weight on valid coding, their search results would just plain suck and users would leave in droves to the fields of Bing.
Why? Lots of older, reputable websites with great content don’t have valid code. Is Google going to penalize these sites in any way because of invalid code? No, because the users would suffer.
Matt Cutts Says So
Remember, Google uses over 200 factors to gauge the relevance of a page and XHTML validation isn’t even one of them. If you don’t believe me, maybe you’ll believe Matt Cutts.
Here are a few key quotes near the end of the video.
- “It’s important to realize the vast majority of pages on the web don’t validate.”
- “We have to crawl and index and return results on the web even if pages don’t validate.”
- “We don’t give any sort of boost to pages that validate.”
What Valid Code Isn’t
A lot of what people understand is, your code can still be horrible even if it does validate.
- Valid code is not a guarantee your site will look the same in every browser and on every platform.
- Valid code does not mean your code is good, efficient, and/or fast loading.
If your code is so inefficient that it significantly slows down your pages, then you have a problem and having W3C validation isn’t going to help you with that.
It is pretty well known now that site speed is used in search ranking, so your code should be as efficient as possible.
Why You Should Have Valid Code Anyway
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying you shouldn’t care about having valid code. There are lots of benefits.
- It can help you debug your code to help limit any display issues.
- Efficient coding can help speed up your pages, which is important nowadays.
- If you’re in the PSD to HTML business, you won’t be the laughing stock of your peers.
- You hopefully won’t get any emails from so-called “SEOs” offering to validate your code.
Okay, the last two reasons are in jest, however the main reason you should validate your code is for you and your visitors, not because you think it will help you in search engines, because it won’t.
In case you couldn’t figure it out, the site of mine I was talking about in the first part of the article was Theme Lab. Obviously the so-called “SEO” who e-mailed me didn’t do his homework, because it does very well with search traffic and a few validation errors isn’t going to change that.
What are your thoughts on W3C validation? I’d love to hear any thoughts you might have in the comments!