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One thing I hate about SEO advice mavens… - Elf M. Sternberg
One thing I hate about SEO advice mavens…

There’s one piece of advice SEO mavens always give out that always sets my hair on fire.  It’s this: “Always design your web pages with CSS.  No Tables!

This advice is pure, unmitigated bullshit.

I just designed a website for a client.  I used CSS for a lot of things.  Surprisingly enough, I used tables for– gasp– tabular data.  A table of classroom assignments.  A table of type/key/value tuples for features of the software the students are writing for each assignment.   Tabular data.  That’s what tables are for.

SEO experts who terrify newcomers into thinking they’re doing something wrong when they use a table– a perfectly useful tool intended for the liquid display of tabular information, the outer perimeter of which can be affixed to whatever grid makes you happy– do nobody any favors.  Be specific.  Say “Don’t use tables for layout.  Learn about semantic design.  Use tables for what they’re good for.”

This entry was automatically cross-posted from Elf's technical journal, ElfSternberg.com


8 comments or Leave a comment
acelightning From: acelightning Date: June 10th, 2009 04:51 pm (UTC) (Link)
Cue the Twilight Zone music!

I designed, and continue to maintain, a website for a musician friend of mine. I just got finished adding the schedule of his upcoming performances for the next few months to the main page... and I had to use a table to make it look neat in all browsers.

shockwave77598 From: shockwave77598 Date: June 10th, 2009 05:04 pm (UTC) (Link)
I use what works in any job I do. If the spec doesn't specify X, then I'm free to use Y at my discretion.

I used to write PC side installations in Visual Basic because it was fast to work in. And all the serious embedded processor stuff was in straight C. The two talked over serial links and outperformed anything else. But I got tired of managers sticking their noses in hte air about Visual Basic for the GUI. Today I use C# for the GUI and C for the embedded side - still vrooms.
bolindbergh From: bolindbergh Date: June 10th, 2009 05:41 pm (UTC) (Link)
<TABLE> considered harmful considered harmful?
shemayazi From: shemayazi Date: June 10th, 2009 07:06 pm (UTC) (Link)
Yup. Tables for tabular data. Who would have thunk. Just had a similar discussion last night with my sister - her catalog page has rows of images, descriptions, paypal links and the like - all tabular stuff that needs to line up predictably. Doubtless I could have worked something out with Divs, but why bend the brain to avoid using what tables are good at. Egads.
From: (Anonymous) Date: June 11th, 2009 12:46 pm (UTC) (Link)
Saw a site once that claimed it avoided using tables to help visually impaired users...

Real pain is that I'm completely blind, and it would have been so much easier to browse their list of products if it was in an actual HTML table. Shock of shocks, my screen reader software actually has specific commands for moving around tables.

Yet another case of people giving us (people with disabilities) what they think we need rather than what we actually want. Better than giving us what they think we should have though, that's even worse.
From: (Anonymous) Date: June 11th, 2009 02:43 pm (UTC) (Link)
There's a debate going on in my university's web developer mailing list right now about tables and accessibility, and a couple people have said to avoid using tables even for tabular data because screen readers were limited in how they could process them. I'm glad that's not the case! It sounded pretty hard to believe.

Number 127
From: (Anonymous) Date: June 12th, 2009 09:45 am (UTC) (Link)
The major Windows commercial screen readers should be fine, if they can handle Excel or Access then an HTML table is a piece of cake. People just need to rummage through the help to find out how. One problem with screen readers is there are so many functions, relying on different keyboard key combos, that noone knows them all. I can only speak for Jaws for Windows, but the combo for version 9 and earlier is control+alt+arrow keys to move around them. I believe V10 uses the windows key instead. Without these keys they default to reading through left to right, top to bottom, as the table is in the HTML.

A good tool for testing is the free open source reader NVDA at www.nvda-project.org, they have a specific mode that makes the speech appear on the screen as visible text for sighted testers. They've also had sizable grants from both Mozilla (for promotion of NVDA and improved Firefox support, which was originally the preferred browser) and Microsoft (improved IE and Windows 7 support). They aren't quite Jaws, but they are doing a great job and it's free for any use including commercial. I use it as my backup for when Jaws crashes, all software crashes some time and when you're reliant on one program for all your usage of a computer you need a backup.
From: (Anonymous) Date: June 13th, 2009 07:42 pm (UTC) (Link)

BS indeed

I agree with you that the advice not to use tables in order to SEO a website is BS. But I will go even further: if you know what you're doing, you can use tables for layout as well without impacting your search engine rankings to any appreciable degree.

Google & friends tend to be pragmatic. At least 99% of the websites out there are written to satisfy the owner's or client's requirements, which generally stipulate that the page layout should be as desired - on all popular web browsers. That's the main reason why "pure" CSS for layout still hasn't really caught on yet: it's enough of a pain (even without considering the cross-browser issues that are still a fact of life today) that it doesn't warrant the extra effort, development time, testing and other ways to bust the budget. Purists frown on the use of tables for layout, but out there in the real world tables are still a much better way to get the job done as per specs, on time, and within the budget, than is CSS.

So layout tables tend to get used simply from a standpoint of practicality. And Google & friends deal with that pragmatically, and as a result the use of tables for layout rarely impacts SEO to a noticable degree. Yes, it can have some effect, but not nearly as bad as not including sensible alt parameters in img tags, proper copy writing (search engines index text, after all) or the misuse of flash for navigation.

The advise not to use layout tables is a bit of a deja-vu for me. There was a time in the mid-1990s when Altavista, Yahoo and Google wouldn't index a site that used frames, so back then frames were a no-no if you wanted your site indexed at all. But that problem just went away. Rather than expect web authors to abandon frames (which did have their use at the time), search engine operators fixed it simply by updating their web crawler algorithms to handle frames. As they have done with HTML code using layout tables long ago.

There are many things one should NOT do with layout tables (especially from a standpoint of accessibility) but even this doesn't mean that layout tables should be abolished - it only means that they should be implemented properly.

// Frank
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