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Old 10-09-2006   #1
NewKidOnTheBlock
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How much HTML do I need to know first for SEO?

Hello. I'm looking to get started in SEM/SEO. I have no programming skills, yet (but will start very soon). I assume for a beginner's website learning the basics of HTML should be enough to put together my first site. How much time should I invest into learning HTML before I can put a website together, which will allow me to practice my SEO/SEM techniques? (I assume in his book there's nothing about HTML?)

Is SEObook.com really as good as anyone says? One thing, that sparked my attention is that the author shows his rankings on the major search engines, which are of course very impressing. However I'm wondering if his domainename SEObook.com doesn't do him a HUGE favor to get those rankings for SEO + book It really sounds like it's a good book after everything I've read but I'm wondering a) what's up with that and b) do I really need the book or can I find out almost all of that on the internet anyways?

thx!
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Old 10-09-2006   #2
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html is the foundation to SEO. The first thing I do when I work on a site is go through and make sure the html is solid and that the site is accessable to the SE's.

Like a bad foundation for a house, if it's cracked or shifting you cannot build anything stable on top of it.


I haven't read seo book. I've heard some pretty good reviews about it though. I'll let other that have read it comment on it.
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Old 10-09-2006   #3
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html oder xhtml?!

I talked to a friend of mine who majors in computer science and he told me I should learn xhtml right away instead of learning html (got 2 books on it at the library today). He also explained to me, that if I know xhtml I'll automatically know html...

is this true? or is the slight little problem, that he has no clue of seo (he admitted he didnt) and html code is more search engine friendly that xhtml?
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Old 10-09-2006   #4
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No, there are differences between the two and if a total newbie (unless it's a school class assignment that requires it) has to validate for strict they'll have far too little hair far too young from pulling it out.

IMHO HTML is much easier to learn, and is still what's mostly used.
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Old 10-09-2006   #5
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HTML, XHTML & CSS

Hi

I am happy you are asking this question BEFORE you start your SEM career. I want you to be assured that if you take the advice of people here, especially the experts, soon you'll become one.

I would suggest that you become very hungry to learn html, xhtml and CSS, once you can grasp these, pick up some copywriting elements; these will insure your abilities for creating usable and accessibile websites, which the SEs LOVE.

I wish you fantastic SEM career,
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Old 10-09-2006   #6
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thank you for the advice...but why learn html and xhtml? Does that offer any advantages? (just curious)

What are copywriting elements though? You mean any specific programs or generally learning about copywriting?

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Old 10-09-2006   #7
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In my experience, about 60% of all difficulties in rankings are due to technical issues with coding or hosting/DNS.

Therefore, if you do not know enough to troubleshoot these two areas, you are only able to do about 40% of your job.

You don't have to be an expert, but you need to know what code is supposed to look like and what bad code looks like. How else would you tell someone to fix it?

For example, if you can't tell a link has been nofollowed, or that popups were made with unspiderable javascript, or that the CSS layout system has placed your links with bad anchor text under links with good anchor text, or that the headings in the code were made with text sizing rather than H1 tags, you would not be able to detect and fix those issues.

The examples are numerous - bottomline, it's like trying to become a translator without learning linguistics, or trying to be a programmer without knowing anything about computer hardware or the operating system. Sure, it's possible at a high level and for minor issues, but you'll never be really good unless you know the WHY as well as the HOW.

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Old 10-10-2006   #8
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So as a SEO or SEM I should learn HTML not only XHTML, as I should be able to check other people's websites, too, which are still mostly coded in HTML (whereas XHTML is still taking time to get established)?

However in rankings (for all the major engines?) it won't play a role whether I learn HTML or XHTML?

Is XHTML really harder to code than HTML? A friend of mine told me they were both pretty equal and he suggested, I start with XHTML right away. And now I'm wondering if maybe he's right, as right now it's all about learning to create and optimize my own websites (and I'll still be in college for 3-4 years ;-)).

I figure I also have to learn CSS and PHP to create proper websites. So say I learn HTML for now, then learn CSS and PHP...and I'll realize later that it'll be important to move to XHTML, will I still be able to apply CSS and PHP to XHTML the same way?

Is the transition from (strict?) HTML to XHTML fairly quick?

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Old 10-10-2006   #9
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Sometimes when I write I forget to realise that I might lose my reader if I don't break things down to the barest minimum, on the other hand, I don't want to write and belittle other people's intelligence. You have done a good job in breaking things down for NewKidOnTheBlock, thanks Ian.

I mentioned copywriting "elements" just for the sake of structuring the layout of your content so that it won't just be for SE robots, but for people (potential buyers) as well. Knowing how to strike a balance between writing for SE robots and visitors could be priceless. Having some copywriting skills will help you on what to do to achieve that balance.

One of the reasons why I suggested the combination of the three web design "coding languages" is for the structural composition of a website as a SEO. If I may add to what Ian wrote, it is that you need to understand WHAT is needed to be done in optimizing a website. This will take you far, because even if you don't have a clue as to how the code should be written, you can project manage the expert in that field because you know precisely what needs to be done. The HOW really comes into play when there is no one capable of effecting what needs to be done.

In essence, if you have time on your hands learn the WHY, WHAT & HOW of SEO, and to do that you need to have a good grasp of html, xhtml and css.
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Old 10-10-2006   #10
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Oops, now I edited my old post to make it a bit less complicated and you answered in the meantime ;-).

I think I understand that you guys tell me I need to learn coding in general to be able to understand the WHY's and the HOW's, but is this really a reason to learn both HTML and XHTML? I thought they were basically the same just with some differences? Will learning both of them really help then?

thx
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Old 10-10-2006   #11
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E-commerce?

If you are after an e-commerce job, then you may not need to know how these coding languages are written. But you you will need to know what, where and when it is needed. This is vital as an e-commerce manager.

More than coding skills, you will need your business sense. For example, when to make a press release, when to use other forms internet marketing.... basically, you need a good business sense and these SEM stuff would only give you the extra above the ordinary and make your management extraordinary because you will know what and when to take action in a particular direction.

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Old 10-10-2006   #12
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Right now I'm mostly into SEM in general, I guess....but I've also thought about e-commerce in general as a future career....I know that's a lot more about business, but I'm studying business management (with marketing as a focus) so I guess its alright :-)..but anyways I digressed..that's why I edited my post...that was just pretty bad timing as you answered right when I was editing it and now it's starting to get confusing, I guess :-D forget about what I said about e-commerce strictly SEM/SEO for now
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Old 10-10-2006   #13
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If you want some straight guidance, here it is: Learn XHTML.

I'd like to say that's all you'll need to know, but it isn't. Most sites are not coded in XHTML, so once you learn it, you should also make sure you can edit and understand standard HTML.

One thing I want you to keep in mind during this is that as long as a browser can understand it, and a search engine can read it in text only mode, you'll probably find a site coded in it somewhere.

Many sites are upgraded slowly, some sometimes you will have HTML v 3.01 mixed with XHTML Strict with a dollop of HTML 4.01 loose just for fun. This is particularly true when a site was built by grabbing code from other sites.

A page built like this will not validate to W3C standards, but it's a perfectly usable page. The browser can display it, and the search engines can see it.

My concern is that if you only learn a very strict, standards-enforced system like XHTML, you will be lost when you come across the franken-code many websites use.

So, learn XHTML. Then immediately do handcoding in a couple of other versions of HTML, just so you can get a feel for what's workable and what's not. You can't always tell a client to have perfect coding - sometimes you have to work with what you are given.

BTW, you can't consider yourself to know coding unless you can do it by hand. That doesn't mean you should do it by hand all the time (it would take forever) but you should be able to when necessary.

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Old 10-10-2006   #14
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First of all, thanks for the answer. The book I borrowed from the library teaches how to code in HTML 4.01...and shows how to transform HTML 4.01 into a XHTML 1.0 document (and shows so in every chapter). I asked my 'computer science friend' and he said with that I should be fine (though he was the one who first told me learn xhtml learn xhtml learn xhtml not html).

But, well if I learn coding like this I should be able to code in HTML 4.01 and XHTML 1.0 which I assume should do for me at the moment (during the next 4 years (unless maybe during an internship) all I'll do is try to create my own websites and the try to optimize them for SE's. However I really do wanna learn how to code so I can create and later hopefully run my own pages, too. So I guess the understanding coding only if one can do it oneself part really wont be a problem for me as im really looking forward to learning it).

However..if I just learn HTML 4.01 and XHTML 1.0 I should be able to create my own pages without having any disadvantage (right?!) and if I should become a SEO and work for other people later, I can still learn about older HTML versions and newer XHTML versions.

So I assume learning HTML 4.0 / XHTML 1.0 + CSS + PHP should be a good way to go, right now? (if you disagree tell me upfront please)
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Old 10-10-2006   #15
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I started out handcoding with HTML 1.1, then 3.01, then 4 .1 Strict, and finally XHTML - honestly, I never had a problem switching, with the exception of needing to figure out some different methods to do certain things.

I think trying to do tableless design was probably the part that gave me the most grey hair...

I honestly think that you can learn almost any version of HTML and then pick up the rest. If you can code in HTML 4 Strict and XHTML, then you can handle pretty much anything at this point.

XHTML is the one most likely to carry you forward, which is why I recommended it, but knowing HTML 4 will help you be backwards compatible. The differences between all the flavours are huge, looking at them one way, and almost nothing, looking at them another. It's all just markup, at the end of the day.

If I were to create a training manual for an SEO, it would probably include this list:

Technology

1. Redirection methods and theory - 301, 302, and 200 response codes
2. Basic understanding of DNS and website hosting issues and jargon.
3. Enough javascript and PHP to tweak existing code and to understand how the script is supposed to work.
4. Header and meta information standards - metatags, http-equiv, title, etc
5. How server side includes work and how to troubleshoot them
6. Robots control methods (meta, robots.txt)

Web Design

1. Basic knowledge of HTML 4, XHTML and CSS
2. Knowledge of W3C compliance testing, and when you can make intelligent exceptions.
3. Knowledge of 501 Usability standards, especially related to alt attributes
4. Common standards and expectations for interface design

Marketing

1. How to make a business plan
2. How to create interesting content that converts
3. How to fit keywords into content naturally and easily
4. How to measure ROI, conversions and other web metrics
5. How to implement, understand and react to website analytics reporting
6. Understand international and language issues in marketing and search

Information Retrieval Science

1. How a search engine spider operates, as well as it's limitations and abilities
2. How information is stored - compression, tokenization, indexing, etc
3. Advanced query building and special searches and commands
4. Read every Google patent, as well as search related patents by Yahoo, MS, IBM, etc
5. Understand concepts such as term vector theory, semantic co-location, etc
6. Understand and know the guidelines and issues search engines have. This is more art than science, since they are intentionally vague.
7. Understand the key elements that search engines look at while analyzing a page and why they look at them.

SEO

1. Know how to analyze a site for key factors - links, anchor text, content, etc.
2. Know how to tweak a site to effectively present itself as a good candidate for ranking on a specific term.
3. Know the basics of link building - neighbourhoods, anchor text, etc
4. Know the basics of organizing links and content to be helpful to both people and search engines.
5. Know how to make the content in non-spiderable media like images, sounds, flash, AJAX and so forth available, or to be able to compensate for it.
6. Know how to tweak content and structure (headers, etc) to best present a site to a search engine and a visitor.
7. Be aware of all the major search engines, their demographics and idiosyncrasies. Also be aware of what they have to offer outside of search, and what the connections between the two are.

SEM

1. Know how to set up basic Adwords, Yahoo, and MSN search accounts
2. Know how to create and test ad copy and landing pages
3. Know how to analyze the reports and to optimize the results.
4. Know the basics of advertising purchases, including links, banners and other advertising channels
5. Know how to optimize for local search for the major engines

If you can do all this, then you are on your way good luck!

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Old 10-11-2006   #16
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Hehe, thx for tho help mcanerin,

I'm glad you confirmed what I was thinking..and that being able to code in strict HTML 4.0 and XHTML (1.0) should be a good start.

I'll try to get all of those other skills down along the way, but for now, I'll focus on learning HTML / XHTML (and then CSS and PHP) so I can start designing my own personal websites.

I think I already know quite a bit about marketing. I've only had one marketing exam so far, but marketing was definetly the most interesting subject to me (and statistics, which should help me for web analytics) and I already saw how it should really help me with online marketing and made me realize why so many people who I know who try to open a small business or a website fail (due to a lack of marketing knowledge).

But anyways, I try to take one step at a time and the first is learning some decent web designing/coding skills (i have to create a website before I can try to tweak it for the SEs after all).

And even though I'm taking one step at a time, there's something I'm wondering: Do you guys think it should be possible for me to run my first own personal site(s) after being into SEO for say 4-6 months and earn some 'pocket money' on the side that way, if I don't suck at it? I'm really not talking about making lots of money (I know I still have so much to learn, which will probably take a few years rather than a half a year) but about being able to drive some decent traffic to my site using the basic principles and working on my site(s) every day (say 100 hours a month) and earn...say 50-100$ a month? I mean like I said I really expect to take at least a few years before I can say I'm really good at it, but something like that would be a great motivation, you know?;-)

Would this be a good goal/benchmark for a beginner (after 4-6 months) or is this too high as a goal for a beginner?
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Old 10-11-2006   #17
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Quote:
HTML / XHTML (and then CSS and PHP)
Learn CSS at the same time as HTML/XHTML. Trust me, you'll know why as soon as you start.

Quote:
Do you guys think it should be possible for me to run my first own personal site(s) after being into SEO for say 4-6 months and earn some 'pocket money' on the side that way, if I don't suck at it?
You can probably even start sooner than that - it takes a while for the spiders to fully index your site (traditionally 1-3 months), so there is no real issue with starting early.

I *do* suggest you plan it on paper first. Some of the biggest mistakes in web design have been made because someone sat down in front of a computer "to make a website".

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Old 10-11-2006   #18
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Quote:
Originally Posted by NewKidOnTheBlock
Would this be a good goal/benchmark for a beginner (after 4-6 months) or is this too high as a goal for a beginner?
If you follow mcanerin's post three above this you wont go far wrong, theres stuff in there I bet a lot of SEO's dont know.

4-6 Months should be more than enough time (depending on your target market), in order to understand the market and some of the niches within it, what works and what doesn't. If your enthusiasm thus far is anything to go by, I doubt you will have any problems.
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Old 10-11-2006   #19
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Cool, thx guys.

Actually, I do plan on learning CSS at the same time...didn't make myself clear enough I guess (or rather didn't think it'd matter much)..I'm gonna learn HTML/XHTML from this book at first and in that book 2 of 10 or so chapters are about CSS, so I hope this will get me started with CSS, too. Probably the authors realize it's better to learn CSS at the same time, too.

and..yeah I doubt my enthusiasm will fade away, usually if I like doing something and get into it (which I think is happening right now ;-)) I kinda obsess over it (though I feel like it's in a positive way). But I'm also rather 'humble' when it comes to my own goals, because in the past I've often set goals for myself, which I didn't end up reaching anyways, plus you learn to become more patient as you mature ;-)..and I think the goal I have for the first 4-6 months should be absolutely enough considering I'll still have to learn so many more things in order to reach a level close to that of a professional SEM/SEO.

Btw, one of the websites I'd like to do would be a travel website. I'll start with a website about Paris..have been there once for a weekend half a year ago and am going back in 3 weeks for a week or so..hopefully I'll be able to take photos of most of the sights and put together a page with useful information about it (to a certain extent I could do that already as I had done a lot of research before I went there). I know a website about Paris and maybe a website about travelling in general might not exactly be a niche market (that's why I think I'll probably start with a more niche type of thing), but I think if I do it in german it'll be a lot less competitive (have hardly found any quality websites about Paris, though it's popular with germans as it's close), plus I think a travel website should allow for a fairly high conversion rate. If I go to a site packed with party photos and just want to check out the photos from last night, I'll hardly feel tempted to click on any ad, but if I go to a travel website and there's ads for the place I wanna travel to, I'd click those ads quite a lot (speaking from experience ;-))...however I assume travel websites in general are a fairly competitive market, right? If we're speaking of a city like Paris or a general travel site to many different places...?

thx again guys
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Old 10-11-2006   #20
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Travel is a very tough market. One of my clients is the Canadian Tourism Commission, and I've also done work for the China National Tourist Office. I'm lucky to do a lot of work on authority sites, and I still have problems due to the competitiveness of the market.

One of the issues is content - there is only one Paris, for example, and a lot of travel sites end up talking about the same things that most tourists want to know about and see (Eiffel Tower, Louvre, etc) over and over again. Even when the content is custom written, it's all about the same topic, so getting rankings on content can be difficult. Therefore, link-building is a pretty popular sport in the industry

What you may find interesting and profitable is writing search friendly copy about the locations, then selling/renting the copy to existing travel portals. They are always looking for good content. I've done some speaking on SEO at SATW (Society of American Travel Writers) and they manage to keep quite busy while getting to travel a lot. It's a good gig if you are interested - most know nothing about SEO (they are just writers) so although their content is in demand for magazines, it's not as in demand for web portals.

Just thinking out loud.

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