Cascading Style Sheets (CSS)
What are cascading style sheets (CSS for short) anyway? Wikipedia defines it as a stylesheet language used to describe the presentation of a document written in a markup language. Its most common application is to style web pages written in HTML and XHTML, but the language can be applied to any kind of XML document, including SVG and XUL.
CSS is most often used to control design elements and font attributes from a single file as opposed to having to include all those elements in each individual web page. You can easily control a site’s design functions such as layout, background, header, footer and navigational elements. CSS is also very useful in controlling font attributes such as font types, styles, sizes, headers, bullet lists, block quotes and even hyperlinked text.
There are several advantages of being able to control all these elements from one file. First of all it makes for easy modifications. Want to change your main copy font from Arial to Verdana? With CSS, you can accomplish this by modifying one file as opposed to having to do it across several pages. Want to increase the width of a site from 800 pixels to 900? If your site’s design elements are controlled with CSS, all you have to do is modify one character. Need to update your copyright date? You can do this with ease if footer elements are controlled with CSS.
The more elements you control with CSS, the cleaner your code will be. You can rid your html of tables and nested tables, having to define font styles and sizes for every paragraph, bulky header and footer code and so much more. This not only makes it easier for search engines to index valuable content, it makes for faster loading pages as well.
While I’m not going to go into great detail on how to actually create a cascading style sheet, I will say that they are simple text files that have a .css extension such as ‘style.css’ and are called for in the head sections of a web page like in the example below.
The more elements you chose to control with CSS, the cleaner your html files will end up. In fact, web sites fully driven by CSS produce some of the cleanest code around. Some of the worst violations of what I call “bloated code” is where people copy from a Microsoft Word document to html or even save to html from a Word document.
For example, would you rather have this in your html…
The first example is for a site that only has seven navigation buttons with a mouseover effect. Just imagine if the quantity of links was much greater or even if the navigation had drop-down or pop-out elements to it. That is a lot of extra code!
Size, Age and Trust Factors
I already talked about how the size of your site can impact your SEO efforts in the keyword research portion of this “Back To the Basics” series where I said…
One final thing to consider is that your web site will determine how many keywords and phrases you can actually target. In other words, if you create a list of 100 phrases, you have to have the content to support that. As an example, if you have a 5 page web site, there is no way you are going to be able to develop an SEO strategy for 100 keyword phrases.
The larger the site you have, the greater possibility exists that your site will be found for a variety of keywords and phrases – that is assuming that each page on your site is on a different topic. Take a site we own and operate for example – The Arizona Builders’ Zone. The directory portion of the site contains about 135 unique categories, all of which deal with a different subject. In another example, this blog has over 550 entries at the writing of this post, all on different subjects.
The more pages you have, the more an engine can index. And if they are optimized properly, you increase your overall visibility to be found for multiple combinations of keywords and phrases.
The age of a site also plays a key role in your SEO strategy. For example, brand new sites typically take time to rank well in search engines, despite the fact that they are optimized well and are indexed by engines.
There are several reasons for this — they have few external links pointing to them, the links that do do have pointing to them are of low quality and engines would rather reward older trusted sites with prime positions are a few. There are ways to overcome this but the bottom line is that older sites with lots of good links pointing to them can usually outrank newer sites that are optimized for the same terms.
A site becomes trusted when it has other trusted links pointing to it or even when it becomes a popular resource that search engine users visit often. This is why Wikipedia ranks so well for so many terms — lots of people link to it and lots of searchers click on Wikipedia links in search results.
This is not to say that you cannot compete if you are a new site. It just may require patience as it will take time to get established. However, isn’t that true of any new business? Unless Oprah is touting your wares, new businesses typically take some time to get a running start. The same can be true of new sites.
In the next installment, I’m going to write about some SEO pitfalls to watch out for, such as duplicate content issues, problems with Flash and AJAX and e-commerce issues.