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Dirty Code by DIY Website Generators Can Hurt SEO

Most business owners and managers today have heard of "keyword density" as compared to "website code". However, very few seem to be aware of how extraneous code (or dirty code), can be a factor to a website's ranking in search results.

For those that are not aware, it's important to note the detrimental ramifications that excessive code can have on search engine ranking and placement in search results.

Extra code effectively lowers a website's overall ratio of good, human readable text vs machine readable program code; negatively impacting SEO.

For example:
If a website page takes 100 lines of code to generate, and the actual human readable content is several paragraphs of text with usable links and images taking 75 lines of the code, then that web page has a 75% "text to code" density ratio.

When a webpage is coded by hand, or an SEO-friendly CMS (Content Management System that allows a novice to easily manage the site), more often than not, the amount of code is minimal, thus lending to a higher text to code ratio. (The more human readable content versus program code, the better it is for SEO.)

On the other hand, most of today's DIY (Do-It-Yourself) website template creators, (such as WordPress, Wix, Drupal, and others), create sites with very low text to code ratio. What might take a professional programmer or an SEO-friendly CMS 100 lines of code to create, many DIY sites will take 5 to 10 times as many lines of code!

While WordPress or Wix may make it easy for an amateur to create a website that "appears" to be a nice, professional looking website; more often than not, the code behind the scenes is often:

  • extremely verbose (often taking 10 times as much code as a SEO-friendly CMS, or hand-coded site) resulting in low "keyword" text to "code" density
  • not cross browser compatible resulting in browser rendering issues or failure to load properly on all platforms
  • not responsive, and may require the development of two websites; one optimized for laptops/desktops, and one for mobile/smartphones/tablet-like devices; resulting in duplicitous work
  • looks messy, like an amateur wrote the code; making it difficult for programmers to understand the previous work for future customizations

Best SEO Practice

Extraneous code can be detrimental to proper SEO (Search Engine Optimization) of a website. Just like a book editor would tell a book author to write short, sweet, and to the point; website code needs to be concise, and well written too.

This makes sense from an SEO perspective as the most important factors are:

  • Human Readable - Preference is often given to sites that are built for people with a greater text to code ratio. Sites with more HTML code than text can appear to be built for search engines, and perhaps attempting to use deceptive ranking methods, or black-hat SEO tricks.
  • User Experience - Sites that have more text than code are often more cross-platform compatible, resulting in a better user experience; hence an important ranking factor.
  • Page Load Time - The more coding a website page has, often means the longer the page will take to load. Quick loading pages receive better ranking. Check yours here at Google.
  • Search Indexing - The less code a search engine has to crawl, the easier it is for it to index the important content, keywords, and related phrases within the page.

When competing for top ranking in search results, factors such as low-keyword density, and extraneous code can mean the difference between getting first page ranking, or page two or three!

Lack of Cross Browser Compatibility

Another major issue that poorly created website code causes is cross browser compatibility. Google and other search engines want to make sure that all websites appearing at the top of search results will load on any browser, or platform so that search users can properly find the search results they need.

A well coded website will load and render on most any platform or browser. Most DIY template website creators require the development of several websites; one website for standard computer laptop browsers, and one website for smart phones and mobile devices.

Most people seem to prefer a website that has the same navigation regardless of platform, AND contains all the same features and capabilities regardless of platform.

Many DIY websites developed for smartphones or mobile devices are "dumbed-down" versions of the full website. Often, a user visiting a mobile version of a website will have limited features and capabilities as compared to the "full site" version.

A well written website will be properly coded to work on any device regardless of whether it is a laptop, desktop, smart phone, iPhone, iPad and so on. This is often referred to as "responsive development" and is actually Google's latest recommendation for 2018 as they implement their Mobile-First initiative.

As well, a good programmer will make sure that the website loads on any browser whether Safari, Opera, Firefox, Chrome, or the infamous Internet Explorer (or its replacement MS Edge).

Again, search engines, such as Google, are known to give a better ranking preference to websites that are cross browser compatible and load on any website versus those sites that are browser or platform specific; especially with their Mobile-First initiative.

Hard to Read Code

A well-coded website will read like well-written book to a programmer or website designer. A good programmer will use "proper syntax" and "programming grammar" to create a website page and make it obvious "what is what" for future changes and updates.

Well written code makes it easy in the future for other programmers or website designers to identify key areas of a site and its functions - so as to make changes, updates, or future additions while maintaining website integrity and SEO.

When future customizations are needed, most DIY template sites, (or similarly - poorly coded sites), have to be scrapped, and started from scratch. This is often due to poor code, and a lack of clarification on extraneous code and hierarchy.

Better in the Long Run

While a DIY website may initially be cheap and inexpensive (so a business can get up and going for free or next to nothing), the long run and missed opportunity costs will be expensive, including loss of potential customers, free search engine traffic, as well as possibly having to scrap the intial DIY site and start over.

Besides the numerous issues noted earlier, a DIY website often comes across as amateur or cheap. This can cost a company lost sales due to customers wondering if the company will be "cheap" with their products and services like they are with the website. Worse yet, people may wonder if the company is a fly-by-night scammer using free software to make a buck, instead of the legitimate business the brick and mortor location may portray.

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