Google’s John Mueller answered a question about the impact of poor HTML, spelling and grammar on search rankings. He gave two answers because HTML is a technical issue and spelling and grammar are quality issues that can impact the user experience.
“Do Google’s search algos check the broken HTML or spelling mistakes or grammatical mistakes, taking into account the search ranking?”
Some questions have a clear answer and John Mueller will typically answer right away.
For this question John Mueller paused to think a moment before answering.
Impact of Broken HTML on Search Rankings
He answered first about broken HTML, explaining that HTML has to be so broken that Google can’t make sense of it.
“Those are kind of different situations. Uh… for the most part we don’t care about HTML if it’s broken or not.
Most of the web does not have valid HTML and we have to live with it.
The main exceptions that I know of with regard broken HTML is if it’s really broken in a very bad way in the sense that if we can’t recognize that a page is mobile friendly.
Or if we can’t recognize that this is a title or a heading then obviously we can’t do a lot of things with the HTML.
That’s …kind of the one case there and usually those kinds of broken pages are very broken in the browser too.
So if you look at the page and they don’t even load properly then probably you need to fix that.
However if you look at the page and it looks normally in the browser, then even if there’s broken HTML probably that’s okay.”
Poor Spelling and Grammar are Quality Issues
Next John Mueller answered the second part of the question that dealt with poor spelling and grammar in the context of search performance.
He notes that poor spelling grammar is something that users see and thus becomes a quality issue.
“With regard to spelling errors, grammatical errors, I think that’s something that’s a bit more of almost like a gray zone in that on the one hand we have to be able to recognize what a page is about.
And if we can’t recognize that because there’s so many errors on the page in the text, then that makes it harder.
The other aspect is also that we try to find really high quality content on the web and sometimes it can appear that a page is lower quality content because it has a lot of …kind of… grammatical and technical mistakes in the text.
So that’s something where from my point of view if you’re aware of these kinds of issues I would just fix that.
I would almost say …like… spelling and grammar is probably for most websites a higher priority than broken HTML.
But it’s …I mean…it’s really hard to compare because they’re very different things in that one is more of a technical issue (the HTML side) and the other is more almost like a quality issue and something that users tend to see so it’s like kind of different things.”
Ranking Impact of Broken HTML, Bad Spelling and Poor Grammar
HTML has to be very bad before it impacts rankings because it makes it difficult for Google to make sense of the web page because it can’t identify page elements like titles and headings or even to identify where the content is.
Some HTML is so poor that page elements like <div> bleed into the visible part of the web page. Something like that could make it difficult for Google to understand the web page.
HTML that doesn’t conform to web standards is normal and Google (and web browsers) can make sense of that.
John Mueller provided a rule of thumb test that if a web page can’t be rendered well in a web browser then it’s probably needs fixing.
Next Mueller explained that bad spelling and poor grammar can impact rankings because it impacts users and is thus a quality issue.
That’s kind of similar to his answer in another Office Hours hangout about auto-translated content that results in awkward grammar and would probably have a tough time ranking because of quality issues.
Watch John Mueller answer question about broken HTML, bad spelling and poor grammar at about the 15 minute mark
Roger Montti is a search marketer with 20 years experience.
I offer site audits and link building strategies.