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How unhelpful code affects your SEO

So far we've covered:

You'll notice we haven't even started talking about content yet! Time to get started ... but not on the content itself, first we need to make sure it is structured right. Having solid keywords, a reliable host and clean code won't cut anything is search engines can't understand what you're talking about.

How to structure a page so it makes sense to a search engine

Here we'll cover basic structuring of content pages and list pages so when a crawler comes along it at least knows what you want to rank for.

Imagine each page of content (we'll come to lists in a moment) is a chapter in a book. So it needs to have:

  • A title
  • Sub headings
  • Text descriptions of images

The title

This needs to be accurate and descriptive as it carries weight. So if you have a contact page the title shouldn't be Contact, it should be something like Contact Jerrys Plumber Services of London - a title that contains your keywords, in this case 'plumber' and 'london'.

This should appear in your <title> tags and be duplicated in your <h1>. If at this moment you are lost look at the source code of your site to see if they exist.

  • The <title> tag - should be very near the top
  • The <h1> tag - should be not far after the <body>

In Firefox or Chrome right hand click on a blank part of the page and select 'View Page Source' followed by Ctrl+F to open the search function so you can track these down fast.

If they're not there or they do not match you'll need to get it sorted or hire someone who can sort it for you. Note this is a surprisingly common issue because many webdesigners don't fully understand SEO.


<h1> is your heading tag but you also need to pay attention to the tags which define subheadings as search engines also take note of these. The subheading tags are <h2>, <h3>, <h4>, etc.

If your website were a book, each page is a chapter which means each h1 is a chapter title and each H2 is a chapter subtitle.

Take the example of a website called '' then the domain name is similar to the title of a book. The page '' is a chapter titled Repairing a puncture and to confirm it there should be an h1 tag on the page something like: <h1>Repairing a puncture<h1>

The first subsection on the page could be 'Tools you will need' so it should be in the code as <h2>Tools you will need<h2>

Each heading should have a reasonable amount of text under it or you could be accussed of trying to scam search engines because you know heading tags are important.

So now a robot crawling your site can make sense of your structure and understand the website is about bicycles but this page is about punctures in bicycles and that section is about tools for repairing punctures in bicycles.

Note the structure. You don't have to say <h2>Tools you will need to repair a puncture on a bicycle<h2> because the robot has already worked this out thanks to your lovely clear structure.

Many of the pages I see have all the information there but they don't structure it correctly for search engines, don't be one of them.

How to use the image alt tag effectively

The alt tag is an alternative description that will be displayed should the image not load. It also suggests to search engines (although they rarely trust this on its own) what the image is.

Image load failure can often occur on mobile devices where users have switched graphics off to speed up their browsing or save on bandwidth so it should not be seen as a 'one in a million' event.

Check your source code to make sure all your images have alt tags there and they are a fair description of the image. An alt tag will look like this:

<img src="//" alt="Tools needed to repair a bicycle puncture" />

Make sure both the image name and the alt tag are descriptive. In the above example an image name of tools.jpg and an alt tag of "Tools you will need" does not tell a search engine anything and will not help the graphic get ranked in image search results or give search engines confidence that this image is related to the content of the page.

Thinking through your alt tags carefully is well worth the time and effort. Add an alt tag to every single image and help users who do not want to wait all day for your graphics. Then, in whatever browser you use, switch of image loading and see how easy it is to get around your website.

Don't imagine you can use a scam here. Modern search engines can analyse images and make a fairly good guess as to what they are about so misleading file names and alt tags are more likely to land you in hot water than be an effective way of achieving a goal.

Why your images should have defined sizes

Here's an example of correct markup for a 200px x 300px graphic:

<img src="//" alt="Tools needed to repair a bicycle puncture" height="200" width="300" />

There are three very important reasons for doing this

  • Your page will not 'jump around' as it loads because you are relying on graphics to hold the content in place
  • Your page will display correctly even if a graphic fails to load
  • Your page will display correclty for users who have set their browsers not to download graphics

Note if you have images which repeat (such as your logo or a standard size picture at the start of every article or in a list of articles) declare your sizes in your CSS file instead. This reduces code and code repetition which in turn help your page load speed.

How to check if search engines can see the whole page

What you see is not always what search engines see. Common examples include:

  • Javascript menus - These drop down menus were all the fashion some years ago and many let them linger on their websites. But the content of these can be totally invisible to search engines.
  • Flash content - Some people build their whole website in Flash and then wonder why they can't get indexed. It's simply because search engines struggle to see this content although they are improving.

To check if your pages Google Webmaster Tools and use the 'Fetch as Googlebot' feature which will show you how Google sees your pages during a crawl.

On a side note - if you really want to build a website, or even part of a site, in Flash then always make sure that there is an HTML option available. This is not only for search engines but also for users who have their Flash disabled - many do to avoid the annoying banners that plague the web or due to security concerns with plugings that can play the content.

Why poor spelling and grammar matter

Just like Microsoft Word or other text editors, search engines can pick up poor spelling and grammar. Given the choice search engines will rank well written pages above those which are obviously in someone's second language because it is simply a better user experience.

There have also been tidal waves of badly written and poor quality content (often originating from Asia based spam companies) added to the web in recent years, Search engines have been keen to make sure this dross doesn't end up in their search results.

So if your native language is not, for example, English you would be well advised to hire a qualified person to edit your content once it is complete.

How to handle category and list pages

These are often poorly understood, even in the SEO world, and there is a great deal of misinformation out there about them. The reason for their notarity is a Google penalty given to websites that duplicate content.

Say you have ten articles that you have tagged 'United States' and the same ten articles are tagged 'Presidential Election'. You have not used these tags in any other articles. So the page which lists articles tagged 'United States' will be identical to the page which lists articles tagged 'Presidential Election' (except for the title and h1 tag). Isn't this duplicated content and aren't you going to get hit for doing it?

No. Content is content and lists are lists so long as:

  • Your website is not made up almost completely of lists and has hardly any content.
  • You make it clear to search engines that the lists are lists

On this latter point you can tell search engines that a page is a list in two ways:

I'm Tim Hill, a Search Engine Optimisation and Online Marketing specialist. I created this site to help others understand that SEO is not a mysterious black art!.

If your a newbie try the Getting Started in SEO page, otherwise feel free to dig around and learn more.

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