A bear walks into a bar. The bartender asks, “What can I get you?”
The bear says, “Give me a … beer.”
The bartender asks, “What’s with the big pause?”
The bear throws his arms up in the air and says, “I don’t know. I was born with them!”
An hour later, a pony walks into the same bar and whispers to the bartender, “I’ll have a beer, please.”
The bartender asks, “Why are you whispering?”
The pony responds, “I’m a little hoarse.”
What was the point of these jokes? First, to hopefully make you laugh. Second, to illustrate how a poorly told joke doesn’t earn laughs the way the joke teller expected. Studies have even shown that a poorly presented joke makes listeners have negative thoughts and feelings toward the joke teller. Likewise, a poorly coded website doesn’t enhance the website’s SEO like you want it to, and it can leave visitors with a negative experience.
Is it important to properly code your website? Yes!
Does a properly coded website influence rankings? This is a trickier question to answer. There isn’t a direct correlation between perfect coding and an improvement in rankings. However, there is a strong correlation between a decline in rankings and poor coding.
An old proverb says, “Absence makes the heart grow fonder.” In this situation, the absence of coding errors will help Google grow fonder of your website, which will prevent your website from being penalized.
I have created a list of coding mistakes that can hurt a website. Most websites do not have perfect coding, which is okay. But as you go through the list, see what you can clean up on your website, so search engines do not penalize you.
1. Using Flash
Flash is a type of code that allows for dynamic (not stationary) media content. In the last couple of years, HTML5 has slowly started to replace flash as the go-to type of code for dynamic media. Even browsers like Chrome have phased out flash in an effort to stay up to date with best coding practices.
Flash impedes SEO efforts in a couple of ways. First, flash presents notorious security risks. Flash has been around a while, and because so many people use it, hackers have become adept at finding security holes to exploit. Most hacks with flash involve downloading or installing malware to steal or infect data from an inspecting visitor. If a website gets hacked or if its security is compromised in any way, Google will not want to present that website to searchers.
Flash is hard for search engines to read. Search engines can still read websites built in flash, but they often struggle to find all the content. A website built in flash could contain a lot of pages and unique content, but Google may only see one page of content.
As we know, the more unique content Google can index and read, the better. Unfortunately, flash can frustrate a search engine’s efforts to fully index the contents of a website.
2. Adding Iframes
An iframe grabs a part of an external page or website and inserts it on your page. Search engines do not read or follow the content inside of an iframe. This type of coding has its purpose. People may use iframes to embed videos or to minimize duplicate content issues.
Iframes become a problem when you create large amounts of pages or websites using them. To a visitor, a website created entirely out of an iframe will look the same. However, as search engines do not look inside iframes, the pages and website appear blank.
If a website appears blank, it is nearly impossible for Google to determine the relevancy of the website and search terms. To learn more about using iframes properly, see our previous blog post.
3. Adding Frames
Frames are similar to iframes and present similar issues. While an iframe is technically “one box,” frames are multiple “boxes” of external pages or websites added together to form a page or website. Again, if you use a lot of frames, your pages will appear blank to search engines.
4. Pushing Code Too Far Down
When a search engine indexes a website, it doesn’t see a website the same way as a user would. A search engine reads the website and pages on the website through the coding. The higher you place content or other coding elements on the page, the more importance Google places on it.
So if content is placed way down on a website, Google will not value the content the same as if it were at the very top of the page. Sometimes, a website unknowingly contains a ton of coding that pushes other elements down and makes everything else less important.
The example to the right shows how coding can push down other important elements on a page. If you look at the source code for LingsCars.com, the webmaster has included a bunch of coding nonsense to form a picture and warning message. The webmaster probably added this code to be funny and warn others not to mess with the website, but the code pushes everything important down the page. I wouldn’t normally recommend this strategy.
5. Blocking Important Pages
You can block pages on a website in many ways, usually in the robots.txt file of a website or on each individual page. Often, website owners intentionally block backend pages, like checkout pages that contain sensitive customer situations.
However, website owners could purposefully block pages, such as CSS (the files that determine the styles of your content and pages), that Google still wants to see. In 2015, Google sent out a message warning owners to not block CSS and JS files.
And sometimes website owners accidentally block pages that they want users and the search engines to find. For example, website editing programs could block pages from getting indexed if you click the wrong button.
I recommend registering for a Google Search Console account to monitor your website and make sure you haven’t blocked any important resources.
6. Hiding Content
Google wants to see the CSS files of a website to better understand how the website is presented to visitors. If the coding shows that the text of your website is white, along with the background, Google knows you are trying to hide content from your visitors.
As Google looks at your website design, they get a good idea of whether the design is helpful to your clients. Go through your website, and make sure, at the very least, that you aren’t trying to hide anything from your visitors or search engines.
7. Redirecting Away from Important Pages
I don’t see this issue a lot, but it can still present some issues for your rankings. Redirects can redirect the user to a different page, a search engine to a different page, or both.
You may want to redirect a search engine to a different page when your website has duplicate pages. Many times, a website’s blog posts show up in multiple locations, like the archive, feed, and post page.
A rel=canonical tag lets search engines know, out of all the identical pages, which one is the most important. You could create an issue if you target and build authority to one page while telling Google that a different page is more important.
Make sure the redirects are on the correct pages and pointed to the appropriate pages.
8. Forgetting a Sitemap
A sitemap is one of the very first places a search engine tries to visit on your website. It lets search engines know the pages to index and each page’s level of importance.
I have run across issues when a website targets a deep-level product page but excludes that page from the sitemap. Include all pages that a user should see (along with some other pages, like CSS files) in the sitemap.
9. Including Too Much Code
Sometimes a website has more code than it needs to serve its purpose. The more code there is, the longer it can take for a search engine to read the code, which can result in slow load times.
Try to keep your text-to-code ratio to at least 5%. (You can use free programs like Xenu to check for this ratio). To improve this ratio, minimize coding and increase content.
10. Not Removing Hacked Code
I once worked with a website that had received a manual action for a hacked website. Manual actions are penalties sent specifically from Google to the website owner (not good). We submitted a reconsideration request to Search Console. However, even after Google approved the request, the keyword rankings did not improve.
Upon further investigation, we found three lines of malicious code still on one page. Even though the reconsideration request was approved, the keywords shot up to page one only after we removed the hacked code and cleaned up the website completely.
11. Not Choosing a Preferred Domain
Each website can load with or without the “www” before the domain name. For example, you could enter www.Boostability.com or Boostability.com to find our website. To a search engine, these look like separate websites. However, you should choose a preferred domain so, when a user visits your website, they are redirected to either the www or non-www version of the website (not both).
If both versions of the domain still load, you can lose both authority and relevance. Basically, this splits and divides the authority over multiple websites. Make sure you choose a preferred domain.
12. Forgetting to Add the Google Analytics Code
Analytics will not directly or indirectly affect the coding of your website. But, because Google Analytics is such an important tool to measure how users behave on your website, I am including it in the list of coding errors.
To accurately track users on your website, you need to include the Analytics code in the header of each page on your website. On occasion, I have seen the Analytics code in the body of the website, which throws off the numbers that Analytics pulls.
It’s hard to make informed decisions with inaccurate information.
Any time that someone discusses code, I picture glazed-over eyes set to the background of snoring sounds. Most of us are small business owners, not programmers or coders. Even so, the points above will help you look for errors in your code. Coding doesn’t need to be perfect, but you do need to make sure it isn’t hurting your SEO efforts.