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10 Ways Coding Skills Can Improve SEO Efforts

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10 Ways Coding Skills Can Improve SEO Efforts

It’s not necessary to know how to code to be a good SEO.

Coding skills are not a prerequisite for SEO competency, but additional skills always make one more effective.

Here are 10 ways that understanding code can help turn a good SEO into a great one.

1. HTML Coding Standards And SEO Go Together

An SEO familiar with HTML understands how a web document should be structured and is alert to the consequences of poor coding practices.

An important building block of a webpage is the HTML elements, which are to a webpage what a foundation, door, floor, and roof are to a house.

Search engines may be unable to properly crawl a web page if HTML elements are used incorrectly.

The official HTML specifications limit what HTML elements are used in the <head> section (location of metadata that only browsers and bots see) and which HTML elements are used in the <body> section (the document itself that users see).

But when you put <body> elements (like <a> or <div>) inside the <head> section where the metadata is supposed to be, search engines will begin rendering the webpage from the normally hidden <head> section, resulting in the metadata being indexed as part of the content itself. It means that Google will fail to index that webpage the way it’s supposed to be indexed.

That error can happen when a Facebook pixel code is placed in the wrong place within the <head> section of a webpage.

Another example of how a lack of coding knowledge influences SEO is the 400 error response message.

Some SEOs believe a 400 error code is a bad thing because they see that word “error” and instantly think it needs to be fixed because we understand errors as something to be fixed, especially when they’re displayed in Google Search Console as errors.

But an SEO who knows HTML coding standards understands that the 400 error response code only means that the browser REQUEST for a page is in error (because the page does not exist).

In most cases, that’s a good thing, it’s what’s supposed to happen, and there is nothing to fix.

Knowing HTML standards makes a person a better SEO because they have the ability to spot even more problems than an SEO who lacks coding knowledge.

They are also better positioned to dismiss common SEO misinformation that springs from a lack of coding ability.

2. Structured Data

Structured data is a markup language, which means the code has rules that govern how it is written.

There are a few different ways to express Schema.org structured data, but Google’s preference, JSON-LD structured data, is arguably the easiest to understand, which makes it easier to troubleshoot.

Like HTML, JSON-LD has rules that govern how it is written, with a nested structure where you have a subject of the structured data (called a Type) and then the attributes of that subject (called a Property).

Understanding JSON-LD structured data is easy, regardless if you know HTML or any other markup language.

The benefits of understanding how to code structured data cannot be overstated.

Correct structured data markup is essential for achieving many of the highly coveted rich results positions at the top of Google’s search engine results pages (a.k.a. SERPs).

Incorrect structured data markup will make that webpage ineligible for rich results.

One can rely on Google’s structured data markup checker to verify if the JSON-LD structured data is valid and if it’s eligible for a rich result.

But just because the tool says the code is valid doesn’t mean it’s eligible for rich results. This is where the ability to analyze JSON-LD comes into play to fix the structured data, so that rich results become an option.

Manual troubleshooting ability is important because Google’s structured data checker tells you when it’s broken and provides a general idea of where it’s broken. Still, it doesn’t tell you how to fix it.

One can rely on plugins, of course. There are benefits to setting something and forgetting about it.

But structured data specifications constantly evolve, and plugins don’t always keep up fast enough. Also, they aren’t always specific enough for every situation.

When ranking high in the search results, it’s generally best to know how to code JSON-LD structured data to obtain the highest advantage over the competition.

3. Communicate Better With Clients

Knowing how to code enables a person to simplify an explanation so that a non-coding client can understand the why of a particular problem and the solution.

One cannot explain what they do not understand.

For example, knowing how to code structured data empowers the SEO to explain that not only it is okay to combine structured data, but also explain to explain the benefits of doing so and how to do it.

Knowing how to code allows one to explain that a client only needs to drop in a few lines of code into their WordPress website’s child theme functions.php file to avoid installing a bloated plugin to do the same thing.

Leaving aside that an SEO without coding skills wouldn’t even know about the functions.php file solution, a person who codes and is literate in PHP can understand when it’s better to use a plugin over the coding solution and then explain it to the client.

Knowing how to code confers the ability to look at the HTML code and zero in on why the site isn’t indexed adequately or is performing poorly.

I once audited an ecommerce site that used a custom-made template and (poorly) featured a crazy level of incompetent coding. Just fixing those codes sitewide enabled the site to have its content indexed accurately.

Knowing HTML allowed me to catch the errors and then explain to the client why it was broken and how they could fix it.

4. .htaccess Knowledge Is Power

.htaccess is (in my opinion) a tricky language to learn but reasonably easy to understand how to use it.

Simply learning about the benefits of .htaccess and what it’s useful for, and then how to add it to a file can generally take a person far.

For example, you can use a plugin to redirect HTTP to HTTPS, a plugin to redirect specific pages that changed, and a plugin to fix broken URLs to the correct URL.

But all that can be accomplished with a .htaccess file.

Taking the time to educate oneself on .htaccess can help understand how to improve a website without resorting to another plugin.

A .htaccess file can also be used to prevent other sites from linking to your images and other media files (hotlinking).

The use of a .htaccess file can even be used to stop rogue bots from copying your content by blocking the IP address ranges of bad bots that repeatedly access a website.

Doing something like that with a .htaccess file is significantly better than using a plugin or mod that writes the IP addresses to a database because adding tens of thousands to millions of IP addresses to a database will dramatically slow your site down.

5. Diagnose Hidden Problems

In general, coding-related problems are tucked away from view in the HTML code.

Because most sites are templated, the errors will be multiplied across every page that shares the templated structure. Learning how to use an HTML validator is straightforward, but understanding HTML is important for interpreting the results.

Coding errors can be glaring and obvious, like omitting a closing bracket (>).

Or it could be subtle, like the use of a non-standard character in the code, like a smart quote, the curly type of quotation mark (“ ”) instead of the expected straight form of quotation mark (” “).

This error commonly occurs when someone copies code from a software device that inserts smart quotes as a default feature.

The curly quotes issue can dramatically disrupt how a webpage is indexed and parsed.

That means that if you use something like this in the HTML code:

<meta name=robots content=noindex>

Google will not see it because the curly quotes (smart quotes) stop it from seeing it as a meta robots tag and will therefore proceed to index the content.

Here’s another example.

If you code a link in this manner:

<a href="https://www.searchenginejournal.com/10-ways-coding-can-help-your-seo/45402/example.com/test.htm">example</a>

The link will be interpreted like this:

https://example.com/test.htm

If, however, you use curly quotes for the same code:

<a href=“example.com/test.htm”>example</a>

The link will be interpreted like this:

https://%E2%80%9Cexample.com/test.htm%E2%80%9D

These kinds of errors are not the kind of thing that an auditing tool is going to automatically find and conveniently add to a list.

You need to know how to code to recognize broken code on a visual inspection or at scale if it shows up as an anomaly on a Screaming Frog scan.

Otherwise, the source of a crawling error will stay hidden until someone who can read HTML or understands the output from an HTML validator can inspect the site.

6. Coding Can Help Break SEO Stalemates

The word stalemate is from the game of chess. It describes a situation where the gameplay is brought to a standstill in which neither side can move to win. It’s essentially a state that counts as a tie.

The same situation happens in competitive industries where everyone uses the same publishing platforms, the same optimization plugins, the same content strategies, and the same link promotion strategies.

The competition between the sites is largely equal, with no site having a clear advantage over the other.

An SEO with coding skills can break that kind of stalemate.

Coding skills allow an SEO to implement solutions that improve templates, CSS, and JavaScript.

For example, many templates ship with liberal use of headings for things that don’t require a heading element, like the navigation on the side panel.

With coding skills, it’s easy to create a child theme and fix the rogue heading elements so that they use CSS and not headings for styling on-page elements.

I’ve used my coding skill to completely change sections of a template so that it’s more user-friendly, change the colors of various on-page elements so that they’re more accessible for color-blind visitors, and add dynamic bits of content using PHP to custom-make title tags as well as to remove superfluous parts of a webpage.

Coding skills help provide a ranking edge to any site and can be used to improve the user experience beyond what a template offers.

It is especially important in competitive niches where competitors are optimized to the highest degree and where squeezing out advantage is at a premium.

7. Troubleshoot A Hacked Site

Website security doesn’t seem something an SEO should be concerned about.

But it becomes very clear that website security is indeed an SEO problem when the search rankings of a hacked site start to disappear.

Knowing how to code, particularly with gaining a general understanding of how PHP files work within a given content management system (CMS), can help demystify a hacking event.

Just knowing the broad outlines of how PHP works and how all the parts of the CMS work together goes a long way to understanding what went wrong and how to fix the problems.

Knowledge of JavaScript is also helpful. Many hacks are based on uploading JavaScript files or injecting JavaScript into other files.

Analyzing recently modified JavaScript files can help confirm that a site has been hacked. More to the point, it can help pinpoint if a specific plugin or WordPress itself is responsible for the hacking.

Some vulnerabilities can lay hidden for months or years before they are discovered. WordPress 5.9.2 was released to address cross-site scripting vulnerabilities that were in the WordPress core itself.

In the case of the WordPress vulnerability, the problem arose due to an arcane coding mistake where the order in which security processes were coded created the situation where a hacker could bypass those same security measures.

It illustrates how mistakes can sneak in through legitimate software and not necessarily be caught in time to prevent a hacking event.

Google might notify the site owner through Google Search Console about a hacked site, but Google Search Console won’t fix it for you.

Some knowledge of how HTML, JavaScript, and/or PHP works can go a long way toward confidently troubleshooting a hacked site.

8. Knowing How To Code Provides Control

When working in a corporate or educational environment where the templates are locked in, and one can’t plug in their way out of a predicament, knowing how to code can speed up the otherwise painful process of publishing webpages.

Whether one works in a Drupal or WordPress environment, having the ability to keep a cheat sheet of code snippets saves so much time, even with something trivial like changing a link without having to go through 10 steps using the native WYSIWYG interface and dealing with idiosyncratic code.

9. Optimize For Page Speed

The suggestions for improving page speed that Google’s PageSpeed Insights provides will no longer be cryptic once one learns how to code.

It’s not like one has to learn how to code an entire website from scratch, either.

All it takes is a general understanding of JavaScript, CSS, and HTML to make sense of what one is supposed to do to make a website work faster.

Concepts like inlining CSS, combining JavaScript, and minifying JavaScript makes more sense when one understands how servers deliver webpages and browsers render the data for site visitors.

10. Master Python

Python is a programming language that can be used to automate a wide range of SEO tasks from crawling, data analysis, natural language processing (NLP), and much more.

One of the great things about Python is that there might not be a need to code a tool from scratch because there are many Python SEO scripts that can be downloaded online.

A great thing about Python is that one doesn’t have to code scripts for all the different SEO tasks that are needed. Many of those scripts are available as downloadable Python libraries containing the relevant modules.

A Python library is a collection of modules. Python modules are the files themselves.

According to Ruth Everett in her Introduction to Python, these are some useful Python libraries:

  • “Pandas: Used for data manipulation and analysis.
  • NumPy: Useful for scientific computing.
  • SciPy: Used for scientific and technical computing.
  • SciKit Learn: Machine learning for data mining and analysis.
  • SpaCy: A great natural language processing library.
  • Requests: A library for making HTTP requests.
  • Beautiful Soup: Used to extract data from HTML and XML files.
  • Matplotlib: For creating visualizations from data.”

Another important Python library is TensorFlow, a free and open source library that can be used for creating machine learning applications.

With TensorFlow, a search marketer can build a neural network or a recommender system.

Directly related to SEO, TensorFlow can be used to automate the process of creating title tags at scale.

A skilled SEO who learns how to use Python will be able to scale their existing skills to new levels.

Learn How To Code

Gaining the ability to code is (arguably) optional, and one can still be a competent SEO without that knowledge.

A person who can code is not necessarily a better search marketer than one who doesn’t know how to code.

But learning how to code can make a good SEO an even better one because knowledge provides advantages.

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Gen Z Ditches Google, Turns To Reddit For Product Searches

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In this photo illustration, the Reddit logo is displayed on a smartphone screen.

A new report from Reddit, in collaboration with GWI and AmbassCo, sheds light on the evolving search behaviors of Generation Z consumers.

The study surveyed over 3,000 internet users across the UK, US, and Germany, highlighting significant changes in how young people discover and research products online.

Here’s an overview of key findings and the implications for marketers.

Decline In Traditional Search

The study found that Gen Z uses search engines to find new brands and products less often.

That’s because they shop online differently. They’re less interested in looking for expert reviews or spending much time searching for products.

There are also frustrations with mobile-friendliness and complex interfaces on traditional search platforms.

Because of this, traditional SEO strategies might not work well for reaching younger customers.

Takeaway

Companies trying to reach Gen Z might need to try new methods instead of just focusing on being visible on Google and other search engines.

Rise Of Social Media Discovery

Screenshot from Reddit study titled: “From search to research: How search marketers can keep up with Gen Z.”, June 2024.

Gen Z is increasingly using social media to find new brands and products.

The study shows that Gen Z has used social media for product discovery 36% more frequently since 2018.

This change is affecting how young people shop online. Instead of searching for products, they expect brands to appear in their social media feeds.

1719123963 547 Gen Z Ditches Google Turns To Reddit For Product SearchesScreenshot from Reddit study titled: “From search to research: How search marketers can keep up with Gen Z.”, June 2024.

Because of this, companies trying to reach young customers need to pay more attention to how they present themselves on social media.

Takeaway

To succeed at marketing to Gen Z, businesses will likely need to focus on two main things:

  1. Ensure that your content appears more often in social media feeds.
  2. Create posts people want to share and interact with.

Trust Issues With Influencer Marketing

Even though more people are finding products through social media, the report shows that Gen Z is less likely to trust what social media influencers recommend.

These young shoppers often don’t believe in posts that influencers are paid to make or products they promote.

Instead, they prefer to get information from sources that feel more real and are driven by regular people in online communities.

Takeaway

Because of this lack of trust, companies must focus on being genuine and building trust when they try to get their websites to appear in search results or create ads.

Some good ways to connect with these young consumers might be to use content created by regular users, encourage honest product reviews, and create authentic conversations within online communities.

Challenges With Current Search Experiences

The research shows that many people are unhappy with how search engines work right now.

More than 60% of those surveyed want search results to be more trustworthy. Almost half of users don’t like looking through many search result pages.

Gen Z is particularly bothered by inaccurate information and unreliable reviews.

1719123963 785 Gen Z Ditches Google Turns To Reddit For Product SearchesScreenshot from Reddit study titled: “From search to research: How search marketers can keep up with Gen Z.”, June 2024.

Takeaway

Given the frustration with search quality, marketers should prioritize creating accurate, trustworthy content.

This can help build brand credibility, leading to more direct visits.

Reddit: A Trusted Alternative

The report suggests that Gen Z trusts Reddit when looking up products—it’s their third most trusted source, after friends and family and review websites.

1719123963 403 Gen Z Ditches Google Turns To Reddit For Product SearchesScreenshot from Reddit study titled: “From search to research: How search marketers can keep up with Gen Z.”, June 2024.

Young users like Reddit because it’s community-based and provides specific answers to users’ questions, making it feel more real.

It’s worth noting that this report comes from Reddit itself, which probably influenced why it’s suggesting its own platform.

Takeaway

Companies should focus more on being part of smaller, specific online groups frequented by Gen Z.

That could include Reddit or any other forum.

Why SEJ Cares

As young people change how they look for information online, this study gives businesses important clues about connecting with future customers.

Here’s what to remember:

  • Traditional search engine use is declining among Gen Z.
  • Social media is increasingly vital for product discovery.
  • There’s growing skepticism towards influencer marketing.
  • Current search experiences often fail to meet user expectations.
  • Community-based platforms like Reddit are gaining trust.

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Google Clarifies Organization Merchant Returns Structured Data

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Google updates organization structured data for merchant returns

Google quietly updated their organization structured data documentation in order to clarify two points about merchant returns in response to feedback about an ambiguity in the previous version.

Organization Structured Data and Merchant Returns

Google recently expanded their Organization structured data so that it could now accommodate a merchant return policy. The change added support for adding a sitewide merchant return policy.

The original reason for adding this support:

“Adding support for Organization-level return policies

What: Added documentation on how to specify a general return policy for an Organization as a whole.

Why: This makes it easier to define and maintain general return policies for an entire site.”

However that change left unanswered about what will happen if a site has a sitewide return policy but also has a different policy for individual products.

The clarification applies for the specific scenario of when a site uses both a sitewide return policy in their structured data and another one for specific products.

What Takes Precedence?

What happens if a merchant uses both a sitewide and product return structured data? Google’s new documentation states that Google will ignore the sitewide product return policy in favor of a more granular product-level policy in the structured data.

The clarification states:

“If you choose to provide both organization-level and product-level return policy markup, Google defaults to the product-level return policy markup.”

Change Reflected Elsewhere

Google also updated the documentation to reflect the scenario of the use of two levels of merchant return policies in another section that discusses whether structured data or merchant feed data takes precedence. There is no change to the policy, merchant center data still takes precedence.

This is the old documentation:

“If you choose to use both markup and settings in Merchant Center, Google will only use the information provided in Merchant Center for any products submitted in your Merchant Center product feeds, including automated feeds.”

This is the same section but updated with additional wording:

“If you choose to use both markup (whether at the organization-level or product-level, or both) and settings in Merchant Center, Google will only use the information provided in Merchant Center for any products submitted in your Merchant Center product feeds, including automated feeds.”

Read the newly updated Organization structured data documentation:

Organization (Organization) structured data – MerchantReturnPolicy

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What Is It & How To Write It

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What Is It & How To Write It

In this guide, you will learn about alternative text (known as alt text): what it is, why it is important for on-page SEO, how to use it correctly, and more.

It’s often overlooked, but every image on your website should have alt text. More information is better, and translating visual information into text is important for search engine bots attempting to understand your website and users with screen readers.

Alt text is one more source of information that relates ideas and content together on your website.

This practical and to-the-point guide contains tips and advice you can immediately use to improve your website’s image SEO and accessibility.

What Is Alt Text?

Alternative text (or alt text) – also known as the alt attribute or the alt tag (which is not technically correct because it is not a tag) – is simply a piece of text that describes the image in the HTML code.

What Are The Uses Of Alt Text?

The original function of alt text was simply to describe an image that could not be loaded.

Many years ago, when the internet was much slower, alt text would help you know the content of an image that was too heavy to be loaded in your browser.

Today, images rarely fail to load – but if they do, then it is the alt text you will see in place of an image.

Screenshot from Search Engine Journal, May 2024

Alt text also helps search engine bots understand the image’s content and context.

More importantly, alt text is critical for accessibility and for people using screen readers:

  • Alt text helps people with disabilities (for example, using screen readers) learn about the image’s content.

Of course, like every element of SEO, it is often misused or, in some cases, even abused.

Let’s now take a closer look at why alt text is important.

Why Alt Text Is Important

The web and websites are a very visual experience. It is hard to find a website without images or graphic elements.

That’s why alt text is very important.

Alt text helps translate the image’s content into words, thus making the image accessible to a wider audience, including people with disabilities and search engine bots that are not clever enough yet to fully understand every image, its context, and its meaning.

Why Alt Text Is Important For SEO

Alt text is an important element of on-page SEO optimization.

Proper alt text optimization makes your website stand a better chance of ranking in Google image searches.

Yes, alt text is a ranking factor for Google image search.

Depending on your website’s niche and specificity, Google image search traffic may play a huge role in your website’s overall success.

For example, in the case of ecommerce websites, users very often start their search for products with a Google image search instead of typing the product name into the standard Google search.

Screenshot from search for [Garmin forerunner]Screenshot from search for [Garmin forerunner], May 2024

Google and other search engines may display fewer product images (or not display them at all) if you fail to take care of their alt text optimization.

Without proper image optimization, you may lose a lot of potential traffic and customers.

Why Alt Text Is Important For Accessibility

Visibility in Google image search is very important, but there is an even more important consideration: Accessibility.

Fortunately, in recent years, more focus has been placed on accessibility (i.e., making the web accessible to everyone, including people with disabilities and/or using screen readers).

Suppose the alt text of your images actually describes their content instead of, for example, stuffing keywords. In that case, you are helping people who cannot see this image better understand it and the content of the entire web page.

Let’s say one of your web pages is an SEO audit guide that contains screenshots from various crawling tools.

Would it not be better to describe the content of each screenshot instead of placing the same alt text of “SEO audit” into every image?

Let’s take a look at a few examples.

Alt Text Examples

Finding many good and bad examples of alt text is not difficult. Let me show you a few, sticking to the above example with an SEO audit guide.

Good Alt Text Examples

So, our example SEO guide contains screenshots from tools such as Google Search Console and Screaming Frog.

Some good examples of alt text may include:

”The
”Google
”List
”Screaming

Tip: It is also a good idea to take care of the name of your file. Using descriptive file names is not a ranking factor, but I recommend this as a good SEO practice.

Bad And/Or Spammy Alt Text Examples

I’ve also seen many examples of bad alt text use, including keyword stuffing or spamming.

Here is how you can turn the above good examples into bad examples:

”google search console coverage report
”google
”seo
”seo

As you can see, the above examples do not provide any information on what these images actually show.

You can also find examples and even more image SEO tips on Google Search Central.

Common Alt Text Mistakes

Stuffing keywords in the alt text is not the only mistake you can make.

Here are a few examples of common alt text mistakes:

  • Failure to use the alt text or using empty alt text.
  • Using the same alt text for different images.
  • Using very general alt text that does not actually describe the image. For example, using the alt text of “dog” on the photo of a dog instead of describing the dog in more detail, its color, what it is doing, what breed it is, etc.
  • Automatically using the name of the file as the alt text – which may lead to very unfriendly alt text, such as “googlesearchconsole,” “google-search-console,” or “photo2323,” depending on the name of the file.

Alt Text Writing Tips

And finally, here are the tips on how to write correct alt text so that it actually fulfills its purpose:

  • Do not stuff keywords into the alt text. Doing so will not help your web page rank for these keywords.
  • Describe the image in detail, but still keep it relatively short. Avoid adding multiple sentences to the alt text.
  • Use your target keywords, but in a natural way, as part of the image’s description. If your target keyword does not fit into the image’s description, don’t use it.
  • Don’t use text on images. All text should be added in the form of HTML code.
  • Don’t write, “this is an image of.” Google and users know that this is an image. Just describe its content.
  • Make sure you can visualize the image’s content by just reading its alt text. That is the best exercise to make sure your alt text is OK.

How To Troubleshoot Image Alt Text

Now you know all the best practices and common mistakes of alt text. But how do you check what’s in the alt text of the images of a website?

You can analyze the alt text in the following ways:

Inspecting an element (right-click and select Inspect when hovering over an image) is a good way to check if a given image has alt text.

However, if you want to check that in bulk, I recommend one of the below two methods.

Install Web Developer Chrome extension.

Screenshot of Web Developer Extension in Chrome by authorScreenshot from Web Developer Extension, Chrome by author, May 2024

Next, open the page whose images you want to audit.

Click on Web Developer and navigate to Images > Display Alt Attributes. This way, you can see the content of the alt text of all images on a given web page.

The alt text of images is shown on the page.Screenshot from Web Developer Extension, Chrome by author, May 2024

How To Find And Fix Missing Alt Text

To check the alt text of the images of the entire website, use a crawler like Screaming Frog or Sitebulb.

Crawl the site, navigate to the image report, and review the alt text of all website images, as shown in the video guide below.

You can also export only images that have missing alt text and start fixing those issues.

Alt Text May Not Seem Like A Priority, But It’s Important

Every source of information about your content has value. Whether it’s for vision-impaired users or bots, alt text helps contextualize the images on your website.

While it’s only a ranking factor for image search, everything you do to help search engines understand your website can potentially help deliver more accurate results. Demonstrating a commitment to accessibility is also a critical component of modern digital marketing.

FAQ

What is the purpose of alt text in HTML?

Alternative text, or alt text, serves two main purposes in HTML. Its primary function is to provide a textual description of an image if it cannot be displayed. This text can help users understand the image content when technical issues prevent it from loading or if they use a screen reader due to visual impairments. Additionally, alt text aids search engine bots in understanding the image’s subject matter, which is critical for SEO, as indexing images correctly can enhance a website’s visibility in search results.

Can alt text improve website accessibility?

Yes, alt text is vital for website accessibility. It translates visual information into descriptive text that can be read by screen readers used by users with visual impairments. By accurately describing images, alt text ensures that all users, regardless of disability, can understand the content of a web page, making the web more inclusive and accessible to everyone.

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