I am writing this article after spending a week or so dealing with plugins and getting failed validation through W3C constantly with many of them. Validation is ensuring your HTML, CSS, RSS, and other aspects of your site meet the accepted standards discussed at W3C. Why is this so important to a good site? Is a attribute tag of data- used in XHTML good coding when it is specifically used in HTML5? There are several views that one could have about validation, most notably: “The big sites don’t validate,” “Google says it does not require validation,” “Validation ensures that as many web viewers as possible are able to see your site correctly.”
Lets look over one of the biggest web traffic sites, Facebook. So a W3C Unicorn validation of the HTML and other site properties lists 37 HTML errors, 35 CSS errors, 2 RSS errors, and the Internationalization standard validates. Are they worried about this? Most definitely not, they are established with millions of unique visitors a month, well known by all Search Engine Spiders(SES), and actually help establish some attributes due to the demand of their developer tools. Now if we would see the same errors on a new or recently established website, would people look the other way? There is no clear cut answer that says it doesn’t help to have your site validated. On the other hand, having a non validated site could leave possible security loopholes and shows a lack of time spent to ensure visitors the best web experience possible on your site.
Here is Matt Cutts, Google’s Distinguished Engineer, discussing Google’s stance on validation and SERPs.
Question was asked by hemanth.hm from Bangalore, India:
“Does the crawler really care about valid HTML? Validating google.com gives me 23 errors and 4 warnings.”
“It makes it more maintainable, it makes it easier whenever you want to upgrade, it makes it better if you want to hand that code off to somebody else, there’s just a lot of good reasons to do it.”
“So, there are plenty of reasons to write valid HTML and to pay attention to your HTML and to make sure that it is really clean and that it validates.”
“At the same time, Google has to work with the web we have, not the web we want to have and the web that we have has a lot of syntax errors, a lot of invalid HTML. And so we have to build the crawler to compensate for that and to deal with all the errors and weird syntax that people sometimes mistakenly write in a broken way on the web.”
“So Google does not penalize you if you have invalid HTML because there would be a huge number of web pages like that and some people know the rules and then decided to make things a little bit faster or to tweak things here there and so their pages don’t validate and there are enough pages they don’t validate that we said OK this would actually hurt search quality if we said only the pages that validate are allowed to rank or rank those a little bit higher.”
“First and foremost we have to look at the quality of the information and whether users are getting the most relevant information they need, rather than whether someone has done a very good job of making the cleanest website they can.”
“Now I wouldn’t be surprised if they correlate relatively well, you know maybe it’s a signal we’ll consider in the future, but at least for right now do it because it’s good for maintenance, it’s easier for you if you want to change the site in the future, don’t just do it because you think it’ll give you higher search rankings.”
So Matt says that Google states validation is not required to ensure the best Search Engine Result Placement(SERP). Of note, he states that there are a enough websites that do not validate, that this would hurt placing valid content. We all know that content and especially current content is the number one priority for any SEO campaign. However, does Google speak for every SES out there? There is no way of knowing that fact unless you knew every algorithm from every SES. Since we are on the topic of Google, let us take a look a their validation. So again, another well known site with 33 HTML errors, 11 CSS errors, and not even passing Internationalization validation. At least Facebook passed Internationalization validation. Due to the fact that Google is the main search provider, we must accept what they initiate as standards, but do be aware, Matt also stated that this Google stance could change in the future. Although the result is that currently Google does not require validation, the fact that Matt even suggested that it could change in the future perhaps spells better times for those of us that ensure validation.
Imagine if in the future a conundrum appeared: Sites that now toss up information as quickly as possible while letting the site fall behind on validation, but gaining rank on SERPs quickly VS. a site current on validation and a bit slower on content speed that is ranked lower on SERPs. Google tosses out a validation update.. Bam!! Your valid site now beats out those content monsters that now have to deal with fixing issues that might require a new site build.
What are your thoughts?? Are you for validation and meeting the standards even though Google doesn’t require it? Do you feel that a future update could tip the balance of SERPs to those who take time on building a website to standard?