This is the fourth post in a series of articles which expands on Six things you absolutely have to have on your website.
The Six Pack Series
In the beginning, the internet was basic, very basic. HTML documents were not very pretty. It consisted of what seemed like a limited amount of font and colors. As the internet progressed, developers started using pictures and other sources of media files to enhance their web pages for the visitor.
Since the beginning, web pages have always been designed in HTML. As a result, we developers and website designers have looked for ways to enhance the experience. Nevertheless, search engines have had more and more web pages to identify and, ultimately, index in their database for search results. There are billions of websites and webpages on the internet.
Search engines built robots, or spiders, automated programs which search the internet looking for pages to index in their vast databases. What these robots look for is data. They are searching for HTML elements such as hyperlinks, tags, alt tags for images, text, meta tags, etc. Search engine robots aren’t looking for images, graphics, flash animations or any other kind of user enhanced media experience. It’s not that those things aren’t good, that’s just not what search engines are looking for.
The result is that a new discipline called search engine optimization has been born to help websites make sure they are optimized for these robots. Building your website on a basic foundation of HTML is a very necessary journey. Can you use media in your webpages? Absolutely! But keep in mind these four reasons for building your web page on HTML.
Internet surfers who are vision impaired do not see the cool images and graphics. In fact, they use a screenreader which reads the text from the underlying source code of the web page. The screen reader browsers read the important elements of the page based on the HTML tags that are used.
For example, if you have the title of your page inside the <h1> tag, the screen reader browser will read that first as it is the most important element. It reads the links to the internet surfers too. What vision impaired surfers see is very much like what search engine robots see. The snazzy media files will not help them much.
2. Keywords, header tags and alt tags for Search Engine Optimization
These are basic HTML elements and, simply put, they are very attractive to the search engine robots. Header tags will tell the robots what words are important on the website which is why it is a good practice to put your website’s keywords in a header tag.
Alt tags are for images. You and I will see the images, but the robot does not. Adding an alt tag helps the robots, and vision impaired internet users, know what the image is for.
Meta tags are in the header section of the website and identify to the robots what the website is about (description) and what the keywords are on the page. Adding the keywords in the header tags later in the page reinforces what you are telling the robots and usually get you some attention in the search engines.
3. For creating sitemaps
HTML by its very nature is hierarchical as is most markup languages. Hierarchy really just refers to organization such as how an outline will organize any kind of document. This structure makes it easy to create sitemaps for both the user and the search engines.
HTML sitemaps is excellent for your visitor letting them know where things are on the website. A website is made up of web pages, and they are arranged in an ordered way. There is evidence that having an HTML sitemap is very helpful in getting better indexed in the search engines.
XML sitemaps search have long been used for indexing in search engines as well, although there is debate on its effectiveness.
Nevertheless, there is benefit for using one or both of these type of sitemaps for SEO purposes, and they are created by using the HTML structure used for building your website. Without the HTML structure, it will be difficult to build a sitemap.
4. Mobile based platforms
There is a need to use HTML when designing for a mobile based version of your website. There are a lot of things you need to know when designing a mobile version of your website, however, you need to start with basic HTML elements which easily read by mobile browsers today. Mobile surfing technology has migrated to HTML, but it does not include flash programing as of yet.
There is a temptation in website design to go heavy on flash and other media related applications. While that can enhance the user experience and create a more interactive environment, a website that is built exclusively on a different platform will ultimately leader to lower visibility in the search engines, a poor user experience for the vision impaired, hard to initiate a basic structure for a sitemap and difficult to be used on mobile platforms. Keep this in mind when having your next website built.