This is what it looks like when divs cry.
Just as well structured content adds to the user-experience for your site’s visitors, semantic markup, in my opinion, adds to your website’s user-experience for search engines.
No, it isn’t the end all be all of on-page SEO—not by a long shot—but if you’re like me and believe that well structured information architecture can help indexing and rankings by adding context to your content, then remember to cross your semantic t’s and dot your semantic i’s.
Semantic ailments to avoid
Divs are used to divide layouts into logical segments; when no semantically appropriate tags exist. Pre-HTML5 there were no <header> or <footer> tags, so, when using an HTML 4 or XHTML doctype, think IDs for these sections as well as for sidebars, main columns, and other logical sections of your layouts. Don’t lose opportunities for semantic goodness if they’re available.
In XHTML and pre-HTML5 (which, by far are still today’s most widely used versions of HTML) one of the most common semantic markup errors is the use of multiple H1′s on a single page. The H1 tag is used for the primary heading of a page (usually referred to as the page’s title or headline in the offline world), and is meant to be used only once, right before your main content.
A new dimension to HTML semantics is the fact that the HTML5 specification now recommends what was once a poor semantic choice in HTML 4.01: more than one H1. Multiple primary headings make sense with HTML5, since pages are more—and differently—segmented, but regarding H1′s pre-HTML5, “There can be only one“.
Missing heading levels:
If you have H4′s in your markup, you’d better be using H3′s. Don’t skip heading levels. If you need smaller font-sizes for your subheadings, open your style sheet and make the appropriate changes.
I like to think this one almost isn’t even worth mentioning over a decade into the 21st century. HTML tables for tabular data, i.e., spreadsheet type stuff?, yes; for page layout? Not so much.
CSS positioning isn’t as difficult as it seems at first—especially if you have an experienced, helping hand to get you through common browsers inconsistencies with 2 or 3 easy and elegant fixes.
A key point to remember regarding CSS positioning: 90% of your positioning can be taken care of with floats and margins alone. Littering your style sheets with an over-abundance of explicit positioning properties isn’t necessary for most layouts, and will only make your styles more difficult to understand later on.
Block elements within inline elements:
Often a source of confusion for those new to HTML is the difference between inline and block-level elements.
If you’re throwing a line-break, or <br>, into your content every few words, chances are you should be using HTML lists. If you’re using multiple br’s in a row, chances are you should be adding styles
But how does semantic markup affect SEO?
“The right words in the right places” alone isn’t enough to help your human visitors get the most from your content, and neither is it for ranking algorithms. I’m over-generalizing here to make a point.
While structure is a visual concept usable for humans, search engines get contextual cues from semantic meaning embedded within your headings, subheadings, definitions lists and all other semantically rich HTML elements.
Semantics, SEO, and the future
If you aren’t up to speed with manually coding your own HTML and CSS, you might want to jump in now. Why? With Schema.org, the controversial Semweb power-play made by the 3 search giants, the semantic Web is on the verge of becoming more of a reality than the ideology it’s been for the last decade+.
The semantic Web is the next level of semantics affecting search (as well as most other things Web) so don’t get left at the gait with your divs between your legs.
Mixing proverbs? Bad. Semantic HTML? Good.
They come to you when you’re working on building value; into your website, or, the the case of happiness, into your life.
Get busy creating value.
Build something worthwhile, i.e.,
- That fills a need
- Is user-friendly
- Is marketable
Then—and only then— should you look at creative ways of acquiring worthwhile links.
What goes around comes around.
Not that deep, but important.
Raven Tools offers a fantastic set of SEO reporting tools. The minimalist interface is clean and intuitive.
Unless your only job is preparing website monitoring reports, I think simplicity should be on your software shortlist (there is such thing as too much data).
What I like about Raven Tools
- Raven does keyword tracking really well. This is 90% of what I use my account for.
- The reports are elegant, clean, customizable, and brandable, i.e., I can use my logo instead of theirs—this is important for any business.
- Raven pulls data from multiple sources (SEOmoz, Majestic, SEMRush, Google Adwords, etc).
- Support is phenomenal.
Raven Tools does a good job of giving us the choice of meaningful data to track, and making it easy to populate, easy to customize, and easy to output.
How could Raven Tools improve?
I’m adding my suggestions here as to how they could easily improve certain features. (If I didn’t like their product, I wouldn’t bother). BTW, Raven, I’m hoping you don’t mind my “open letter” suggestions; I’m hoping others that use your product will comment here.
Suggestions (Only worth reading if you’re familiar with Raven Tools)
Here are a few items I think would be nice additions:
- Numbered rows: Result rows such as in the ranking report (and in the dashboard as well), would be more user-friendly with numbered rows. When discussing the report with a client, I had to describe where the row was, instead of just telling him the row number. Not the end of the world, but a bit distracting.
- Left-aligned column text: Personally, I wouldn’t have chosen to center the text in the keyword column of keywords reports; the general consensus from a usability perspective is that centered text in tables is harder to scan than aligned. Again, not a huge deal.
- Multiple “side-by-side” competitor comparisons: Allowing more than one competitor to be compared “side by side” in ranking reports would be a big improvement. As it is, if I want to provide side by side competitor comparisons in reports, I need to add additional SERP trackers for each competitor which creates a lot of redundancy (identical ranking reports with only the side by side competitor being different). This is confusing and impractical for both my clients and myself. Here are some possible solutions to the side-by-side competitor display issue:
- Since space is an issue, maybe allow a certain number of columns in a ranking report. If I decide to remove global Adwords KW total searches from my report for example, I could add an additional competitor. A notification could let me know how many column selections I have left for my output combination.
- Substitute competitor names with numbers that correspond to a legend.
- Display competitor websites vertically in their columns.
- Allow reports for the campaign website and side by side competitor rankings only. All the detailed columns could be reserved for the main ranking report; a separate one for competition comparison only would be really nice.
With all this being said about solutions to the side-by-side competition comparison, in the reports I’ve generated so far, there’s actually been enough room for another couple of competitors, the option just isn’t available unfortunately. I’ve been tempted to export my .csv’s from my Raven Tools’ dashboard and make my own reports, but I’ll wait until the option (hopefully) becomes available.
Until then, I’ll continue with Raven tools, great product.