Validating Your HTML

Search engine optimization

HTML code is a pretty straightforward programming language. However, like any language, a document written in HTML can contain a lot of meaningless garbage that doesn’t seem to interfere with the message but leaves the document less than pristine. In fact, if your web site designer leaves a snippet of trash in your HTML code because it didn’t overtly affect the site and the designer didn’t want to take time cleaning it up, it could spell disaster for your SEO. With HTML there’s a lot behind the scenes that site visitors don’t see. There are the tags and elements that must be there for users, of course, and then there are the tags and elements that aren’t ever visible, so whether they are there or not doesn’t seem to matter — but of course it does.

When you recognize that a search engine crawler looks at text, and that HTML is a type of text, then your HTML begins to take on new meaning. If your site contains something that shouldn’t be there, visitors may not see it but search crawlers will, and it could affect the quality score of your site. Because HTML can be manipulated on the back end, a set of guidelines and best practices has been developed by the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C). These guidelines and best practices were created to help web designers use HTML in the most efficient and effective manner. Unfortunately, the designers don’t always pay attention, and sometimes the HTML of a site can be littered with unneeded elements that affect your search engine rankings. The best thing to do is validate your HTML, or check to ensure that it complies with W3C standards.

You could do that manually, by going through every single line of code in your web site, but that would take a very long time when you consider that some web sites contain millions of
lines of code. Instead, you can use a tool such as the free HTML Validator ( that the W3C makes available to examine (or validate) your HTML to ensure that it adheres to the W3C guidelines. To use this tool, just enter the URL of your web site, and the validator will run a diagnostic on the site and return the results to you. You can then use that information to ensure that your site is free of the clutter that turns crawlers off. 

After Your Site Is Built

Building the right site to help maximize your SEO efforts is a difficult task; and when you’re finished, the work doesn’t end. As mentioned earlier, SEO is an ongoing strategy, not a technology that you can implement and forget. You need to spend time reviewing your practices, examining results, and making adjustments where necessary. If this ongoing maintenance is ignored, then your SEO efforts up to this point will quickly become time that would have been better spent standing on the street with a sign around your neck advertising your web site. That might be more effective than outdated SEO.

Beware of content thieves

Maintenance of your SEO strategies is also essential to helping you find problems that might be completely unrelated to SEO. For example, SEO strategies can help you locate content thieves. One such strategy is tagging your web site. Some people (including black-hat SEOs) take snippets of content from your site to use on their own. If you tag your content cleverly, you can use some very distinctive tags, which will help you quickly locate content that has been stolen. Another way in which SEO helps you to locate stolen content is through tracking. 

Presumably, if you’re executing SEO strategies, then you’re also monitoring your site metrics with a program such as Google Analytics. Watching the metrics used by one of those analytics programs can help you locate content thieves. For example, if you look at your incoming links on one of these programs, you might find that people are coming to your site from a completely unexpected location. If that’s the case, you can follow the link back to that site to find out why. A site using stolen content is easy to find using this method. 

Many services are available that will help you track your web site content. Tagging works well for finding content thieves, and you can also use domain cloaking to thwart automatic content scrapers. Recall that this is a process by which your web site appears to be located somewhere other than where it actually is. This is accomplished using an HTML frameset that redirects traffic from one URL to another. For example, if your web site address is, you can use domain cloaking to have your site appear to be As you learned earlier, a problem with using domain cloaking is that it can confuse a search engine crawler, because the same content appears to be on two pages, although it’s only one page that redirects. Another problem is that some search engine crawlers can’t read the frameset that’s used to redirect the user, which means your site may end up not being ranked at all. Domain cloaking is a tactic that should be used only in special cases — namely, where content is truly unique and could possibly affect your SEO rankings (or that of someone who might
steal it) in a dramatic way. 

Dealing with updates and site changes

One last problem you may encounter after you’ve initially set up your SEO strategies is the updates and changes that your site will undergo. Web site owners often think that once the SEO is in place, it’s always in place and they don’t have to think about it again. That attitude can lead to a very unpleasant surprise.

When your site changes, especially when there are content updates or changes to the site structure, links can be broken, tags may be changed, and any number of other small details may be overlooked. When this happens, the result can be a reduced ranking for your site. Site crawlers look at everything, from your tags to your links, and based on what they see, your ranking could fluctuate from day to day. If what the crawler sees indicates that your site has changed in a negative way, the site’s ranking will be negatively affected.

As you know, many factors affect the way your site is ranked in a search engine. You’ve seen an overview of a lot of them on this blog, and you’ll see them all again in more depth. Realize that SEO is not a simple undertaking. It is a complex, time-consuming strategy for improving your business. Without attention to all of the details, you could be wasting your time. Plan to invest the time needed to ensure that your search engine optimization efforts aren’t wasted.

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