Clean code is groovy
One of the perks of hiring a web designer to develop a custom website has always been clean code; although it is sometimes hard to quantify that benefit in light of the ongoing savings associated with content management systems. I’ve always taken the high road when it comes to clean code for the simple reason that it is easier for someone else to step in and modify down the road, and it can also prevent browser compatibility issues in the future. And, o.k., I’m a neat freak! Still, it is often hard to communicate the value of clean code to a client when the words “page rank” aren’t involved.
Clean code took a blow in 2006 when Vanessa Fox (Google) stated in an interview with Rand Fishkin (SEOmoz):
“Google doesn’t really care all that much about the code to text ratio, we’re going to pick up the text, extract it from the page, and we’re really going to ignore the code.”
And again in March 2007 when Adam Lansik, SEO Strategist at Google, stated in an interview:
“…But, here is the core problem why we cannot use this in our scoring algorithms currently: There are a ton of very high quality sites, pages and sites from universities, from research institutions, from very well respected ecommerce stores, of which I won’t name any, that have really crufty sites, and sites that won’t validate. On some of these you can view the source and cry. And, because this is quality content, we really can’t use that as an effective signal in search quality. So, you can quote me a saying, I would be thrilled, it would make my day if people would decruft their sites, but it’s not going to directly affect their Google ranking.”
But recent comments made by Matt Cutts’ (head of Google’s Webspam team) regarding the possible impact of page speed on website ranking in 2010 may have finally given weight to the fact that clean code can impact search engine rankings.
Webpro News said regarding their interview with Cutts on November 13, 2009:
“From the sound of it, speed is going to be a huge factor in SEO moving in to 2010. He says that a number of people within Google consider speed to be very important to the web, and they are considering if that should play a role in the rankings of websites in search results.
According to Cutts, speed hasn’t played a role in rankings in the past, but that may very well change. Watch the video for more details about Caffeine and Google’s resources for helping webmasters improve site speed.”
Why is this important? Clean code = fast web pages.
I’ll use a CMS if I have too!
Because of my love for graphic art and my passion for clean code, I have always had a hard time accepting content management systems, although I do recognize that they are a valid solution in certain circumstances. In cases where a website has to be updated frequently (real estate agents, photographers, churches, large organizations, etc.) site owners can lose their shirt in maintenance fees unless they learn some html or use such a thing. But still, they are confining and stifling and ugly and…
Recently, when I took on a real estate company as a new client it only made sense to use WordPress. I spent a great deal of time customizing the site so it would not look like a template – and I have to say I was surprisingly pleased with the code generated on the home page. Not perfect mind you, but not nearly as crappy as some of the code I’ve seen generated by other content management systems. WordPress has come a long way and installing a SEO plugin to allow the customization of title and description tags helped as well.
For a moment I almost waffled. Maybe content management systems aren’t evil…
But thanks to Matt Cutts “encouragement”, I have come to my senses again and am warmly embracing my roots. I got my groove back! CMS is a solution, but it will not be the ultimate solution any time soon. Here’s why…
Awesome tools, but now what do I do?
Another common suggestion is to “leverage browser caching” which involves modifying the hidden .htaccess file on your sever, and enabling gzip compression which is way over the head of your every day blog owner.
While Firebug provides some simple suggestions that are not difficult to implement, such as optimizing graphics and including image sizes, many of the “meatier” suggestions, in my opinion, take the skill of a web designer.
Web design is easy… uh huh!
Several years ago one of my clients moved to a hosted CMS and used a web creation tool to build a flash website. After the new site was created, she called me with genuine concern in her voice. “I’m really afraid that once people find out how easy it is to create their own site you will lose all of your business”. I told her not to be concerned, that the benefits of a custom design ensured that it would always be in demand. Six months later she called wondering why her website did not pull up in Google even for her company name.
Still, it makes you wonder. CMS are becoming more popular than ever, and right now with this tough economy “free” sounds good to everyone. But if results count, a custom design, coupled with web design skills, still has more to offer. As a matter of fact they may be even more valuable in 2010. What do you think?