HTML is to SEO as Anatomy is to Doctor – Big Requirement for SEOs

April 14, 2009 - Written by Gyutae Park  

html codeWhat does it take to be an SEO? What do you need to know and be good at? Last week, Edward Lewis aka PageOneResults wrote an article called HTML 4 SEO that listed out 50 or so HTML elements related to SEO. Does one actually need to know how to use all of these tags and attributes in order to be an effective SEO? You can see that the topic generated heated debate on Sphinn where some claim that you’re not an SEO if you don’t know these by heart while others argue that SEOs can leave this sort of information to web developers. So who’s right?

My take on the issue is this: SEOs absolutely need to know about HTML tags and how they work – even the advanced “unnecessary” ones. In fact, having a firm grasp on HTML, CSS, and maybe even some coding/scripting languages should be a requirement before anyone is given the title SEO. I even included it as step one in the 14 steps to transforming your career path to super SEO status.

SEOs are like Medical Doctors?

brain anatomyAn SEO who isn’t at least an HTML expert is like a doctor who doesn’t know basic anatomy. Do you think that analogy is a bit too extreme? Maybe, but that’s because doctors are responsible for the lives of others. At the core, they’re essentially the same. Doctors and SEOs both need to fully understand their subject matters, be it human bodies or web pages, to properly do their jobs. In order to achieve good health or high rankings, they need to know the system in and out.

As it stands now, just about anyone with a blog or website can call himself an SEO and get away with it. On the other hand, if a “doctor” tried doing the same thing, he’d probably end up in jail. Maybe it’s time we enact some qualifications and standards for the industry. The HTML coding requirement is a good first step.

Think about it. How would you feel if you were going under the knife and your surgeon told you that he didn’t know ALL parts of the body but that he would learn them along the way as they applied? Comforting to hear? Again, I know this is an extreme example, but it’s 100% relevant. Your SEO clients do not want to know that there are HTML components on their sites that you don’t quite understand. How can you optimize something that you don’t fully comprehend?

As SEOs, we put ourselves in the shoes of search engines and users and think creatively to maximize rankings and exposure. The more skills and knowledge you have, the more you can do with better insights. It doesn’t matter if you’re a master marketer, as an SEO you’re only as good as your technical knowledge and limitations allow.

Now don’t get me wrong. SEO can still work without super coding skills – although not to its maximum potential. I often see people breaking SEO down to a set of do’s and don’ts without really knowing why. They select keywords, optimize titles and content, build links – and voila 1st page rankings, right? Not really. As the online space becomes more competitive, you’ll need a better understanding of web technology to get ahead. Having expert knowledge about how HTML code interacts will open up new opportunities for optimization and will help you to dig in and innovate rather than merely follow a list of accepted SEO rules. If you don’t know advanced HTML at the very least, you’re at a huge disadvantage.

Some of you will inevitably disagree with my views and the only advice I can give you is this – rather than expressing your distaste here, take a moment of your time and go through the tags listed in the above article I mentioned. Buy an advanced book on HTML and CSS and if you’re feeling really adventurous, read through Larry Page and Sergey Brin’s Stanford paper on the anatomy of a search engine. The more you know technology-wise, the better you can read trends and become a top SEO. How do you know what you’re missing unless you learn it? Understand the language of search engines before you say you know search engine optimization. It only makes sense and it will only help you.

Are you an SEO yet?

If you consider yourself an SEO, how well do you know HTML and programming languages?

View Results

Loading ... Loading ...
If you like this post, subscribe to the RSS feed. Get the latest updates delivered straight to your email or news reader.
Posted in Articles, SEO
Winners Circle - Internet Marketing Case Studies
Related Posts:


35 Responses to “HTML is to SEO as Anatomy is to Doctor – Big Requirement for SEOs”

wisdom teeth removal on April 14th, 2009

good advice, I know some HTML but am not an expert yet


I agreement with above opinion, to claim our self to understanded seo, we must comprehend it all, among others HTML and CSS

pageoneresults on April 15th, 2009 Subscribed to comments via email

“Guess I’m not an SEO then because I don’t see how most of those have anything to do with SEO.”

Nice follow up Gyutae. I had to add the above quote from Jill just for posterity. She was kind enough to set the tone for that Story moving forward. And, Harith surely did it some justice using my Twitter title instead of the article title. He knows how to phan the phlames. πŸ™‚

Bill Cook on April 15th, 2009 Subscribed to comments via email

Having done SEO work for over 6 years, I agree that knowing and understanding the broad/basic structure of a website and the concepts of how a website functions is crucial in developing effective SEO techniques. That being said, it isn’t necessary to have ‘super coding skills’.

Just as doctors are specialized, so too are web professionals.

Gyutae Park on April 22nd, 2009

Hey Bill,
I’m glad that someone experienced in the SEO field is able to confirm what I laid out in this post. HTML does not require super coding skills and it’s something that every SEO should have mastered. Doctors can be specialized, but they still all know basic anatomy.

Sebastian on April 15th, 2009 Subscribed to comments via email

Since I can write books on single HTML elements, I voted for “expert”. Having said this patted my back enough, I do think that SEOs should be experts able to educate developers, webmasters and alike. That does not mean that SEOs should tidy up the client’s code bloat themselves. Kudos to Edward for a great resource.

Gyutae Park on April 22nd, 2009

Great point, Sebastian. SEOs who consult with larger companies and IT departments need to be able to speak the languages of developers… another reason why HTML is an absolute must for every SEO.

simon on April 15th, 2009

Sorry, i know you don’t want to hear people’s distaste with your arguments, but i’ve read the HTML & CSS books, and Larry and Sergey’s paper on the Large Scale anatomy of a hypertextual search engine (and Javascript, XML, Apache, IIS, AJAX, Flash, Microformat, Java, and Algorithm books) and I still disagree with this – “SEOs absolutely need to know about HTML tags and how they work – even the advanced ‘unnecessary’ ones.”

I’ve never used half the HTML elements in Edward Lewis’ list. There were even a few that i’ve never even seen or heard of before (example: bdo, kbd, samp). And i’ve done successful SEO work for some of the biggest companies and brands in the world in some of the most competitive (SEO-wise) industries. So you’re saying that I can’t call myself an SEO because I don’t know about these rarely used HTML elements? Maybe, i’m not an SEO then, but I’d love to see an example or test where the bdo element caused a site to move up from position 2 to 1 for any given keyword. I’d love to see one of my current company’s competitors implement a bdo, kbd, or samp element and out rank us for our top terms.

Additionally, I think comparing an SEO to a Medical Dr is a poor analogy. SEO’s can mess up all they want and still get a site re-included in the SERPs if they “kill it”(banned/penalized). Surgeon’s have such strict standards because there’s no coming back from the dead if they mess up and actually kill a patient (at least not yet).

Don’t get me wrong, I completely agree that knowing HTML is important for SEO’s. I just don’t think it’s necessary to know every single HTML element ever created in order to be an SEO. I don’t think i need to fumble around in the dark and waste mine and my client’s time with the bdo, kbd, and samp elements when I know (through experience) that only half the elements on that list are going to make up 90% (or more) of my SE ranking score and the rest might only make up less than 1%.

pageoneresults on April 15th, 2009 Subscribed to comments via email

Gyutae, if you allow me the honors, I’d be happy to assist in edumacating those who have done work for some of the BIGGEST brands in the world. Funny, most of the BIG brands are FAILING online. You wouldn’t happen to be responsible for that, would you? πŸ˜‰

If I were to get involved here with this I need to make sure this commenting system is up to snuff. I can whip out 120 WPM and I’ve got this HUGE library of references that I’ve collected over 14 years.

I also need to make sure that ya’ll have some thick freakin’ skin cause’ I ain’t going to put no damn sugar anything. I don’t care who it is commenting, if you say something I think is incorrect, I’ll be more than happy to let you know that.

My response will contain links to AUTHORITY references on anything you may wish to bring up. I see you too focused on a few .25 point elements and that appears to be the common response from those who don’t know. Oh, HTML SEO Point Values, you’ll want to get in on those too as they tie in with this entire series of articles. Gyutae only nipped the surface. πŸ™‚

HTML: SEO Point Values

Can I be myself about this? Please? πŸ˜‰

simon on April 16th, 2009

the second sentence of your linked article says it all… “gut instinct SEO” which to me means that you have “theorized” or guessed that: a)SE’s specifically target those HTML elements in their ranking algorithms (i’d love to see you prove that), b)those HTML elements are of any value at all and/or c)have a specific value. Do you have any factual evidence to those claims?

I’d love to see some specific case studies, SERPs, examples, etc that show/prove that some of those HTML elements, specifically the lesser known ones that I simply must know to be an SEO, have contributed to increased rankings. Or… maybe more simply, just explain to me why I should spend time learning those necessary elements if they are of such little value when i could be focusing my time on more important elements?

pageoneresults on April 16th, 2009 Subscribed to comments via email

“Which to me means that you have ‘theorized’ or guessed that: a) SE’s specifically target those HTML elements in their ranking algorithms (i’d love to see you prove that).”

Simon, slow down. How about you read some of the linked references first, maybe then you’ll have a better understanding and will have the knowledge to effectively debate this topic with us.

What type of proof would you like? Do you want me to show you specific client references? I have some killer .edu stuff that would knock your socks off. But, I ain’t showin’ ya. πŸ™‚

Also, it is VERY BAD KARMA to show any proof in today’s environment. You need to find the proof yourself, I ain’t holdin’ your damn hand.

“b) those HTML elements are of any value at all and/or”

I’m literally sitting here talking to myself wondering if you’ve even read more than a few paragraphs from the destination links which are the authorities on the subject? No, not the links to my site but, the ones that lead to the W3 and other similar resources?

“c) have a specific value. Do you have any factual evidence to those claims?”

Do you have any “factual evidence” for much in this industry? Probably not much when it comes to Organic SEO. And, if I did have “factual evidence” I surely wouldn’t expose it publicly. P.S. I do have some by the way. πŸ™‚

“I’d love to see some specific case studies, SERPs, examples, etc that show/prove that some of those HTML elements, specifically the lesser known ones that I simply must know to be an SEO, have contributed to increased rankings.”

Simon, I’m sure you would. Ever hear the term self-motivation? How about getting off your duff and doing the research I have for the past who knows how many years and figure it out for yourself. Put it to the test. You’ll never be able to definitely prove anything about most single elements other than the title, anchors and a handful of others. You know why? Because that is all the surface SEOs look at. They don’t know there are 50+ other Elements and Attributes they can work with. I’d like to keep it that way. I think this stuff in the hands of someone like yourself would be dangerous and not a benefit.

“Or maybe more simply, just explain to me why I should spend time learning those necessary elements if they are of such little value when i could be focusing my time on more important elements?”

Simon, go right and and continue to stuff those 5 or 6 elements that you’ve worked with all this time. It will work just fine with those BIG BRAND sites, just look at how the BIG BRANDS are doing now. Google had to help them. I think that shows you just how well they were doing, don’t you think? πŸ™‚

(Comments wont nest below this level)
Jim Gaudet on April 16th, 2009 Subscribed to comments via email

Well, I have to think that Google has geeks working for them. They fine tune this beast algorithm all the time and I am sure that they are not forgetting “little” elements. They all have their place.

I think we need to start studying HTML5. And start getting case studies on the pros/cons of the new elements like .

I think that the guys at Google are picking every piece apart, and we should too. Plus, “how can you optimize code if you don’t what it is?”

Jim Gaudet on April 15th, 2009 Subscribed to comments via email

How can you optimize something that you don’t fully comprehend?

Nothing more needs to be said

Gyutae Park on April 22nd, 2009

Amen to that. πŸ™‚

Interview Questions on April 16th, 2009

brilliant article Gyutae, I loved the comparisons with being a doctor, very creative and makes it easier to understand πŸ™‚

Jeff Scott on April 16th, 2009

I am fairly new to internet marketing, but I must say your article surprises me.
I have been given the impression by a lot of those who should know, that in order to succeed in this business it is not necessary to know huge amounts of HTML. I get the impression it is a thing of the past.
Obviously not!

Gyutae Park on April 22nd, 2009

A lot of people want to take the easy way out. Not knowing HTML at the very least is a huge limitation and you’ll regret not spending the time to attaining the skill. If you’re new to Internet marketing, my suggestion to you is to start off by learning the basics of the Internet, HTML, and business.

Nick Stamoulis on April 16th, 2009 Subscribed to comments via email

A good SEO person will take a comprehensive and multi angled approach when it comes to SEO and link building.

Kai Lo on April 16th, 2009

Your focus can be on SEO but there is nothing wrong with learning a little bit of everything that is related to SEO. For example, the best point guard in professional basketball can also practice being great in defense and rebounds.

Gyutae Park on April 22nd, 2009

Hey Kai,
I’m not sure that that’s a good analogy. In my opinion, HTML isn’t just related to SEO, it’s the foundation. It’s like a point guard who needs to learn how to dribble and pass.

Melody on April 18th, 2009

This is an important analogy for bloggers..and just like marketing experts, bloggers have to be willing to always research to adapt to the industry..

Koh Samui Hotels on April 19th, 2009

I use HTML to creat my site too.It very good to increase pr and high result in SE with seo.

Adam on April 19th, 2009 Subscribed to comments via email

I think that having a analytical brain that understands how equations work (i.e., Google) is probably more important than technical knowledge of HTML. Sure, HTML helps, but if you “get” multi-level / multi-variate equations (like matrix algebra), then you are most of the way there. You just need to know read about what the SEO community sees as the most important factors (i.e., things with the highest weights).

Gyutae Park on April 22nd, 2009

Hey Adam,
I’m not sure that I agree with that. While an analytical brain is important, it doesn’t replace the need to know HTML. Furthermore, I’m not sure how matrix algebra relates to SEO. I think that’s a little too technical for our purposes.

Smart Boy Designs on April 21st, 2009

Excellent thoughts. I agree that at least basic knowledge of HTML is definately needed to become sufficient at managing seo campaigns. The more you know – the broader your basket of tools becomes.

Gyutae Park on April 22nd, 2009

Definitely. SEO is essentially a mix of marketing and technical skills. The more you know and can apply to campaigns, the better SEO you can be.

Kaj R. on April 23rd, 2009 Subscribed to comments via email

Thanks Guytae, for an interesting take on SEO.

I’m an application and web developer, and I started in -94 coding websites manually in notepad. I’ve been programming in several languages for about 20 years now. And when it comes to programming, you definitely need to know your language – no doubt about it.

But when it comes to SEO, I feel that we are entering a field where we don’t have a clear view of exactly how the system (Google) responds to our manipulation. When you are a doctor you know what happens if you give a shot of noradrenalin – the pulse goes up and lots of stuff happens through the body. You get a direct response.

But when it comes to manipulating SERP, we just dont know exactly how the Google algorithm works. We just don’t know it all, even if we know some of the important pieces of the puzzle. Who can say exactly what impact all the different HTML-tags have? Nobody outside of Google can. We can make a qualified guess on the importance of some, like the TITLE-tag, based on observation. But still there could be happening things in the background, like some extra backlinks coming up, that complicates the picture.

I feel it is useless trying to back-engineer the Google algorithm, who’s got time for that? And if you do it, when you’re done, they’ve changed it again – so back to zero.

I believe in a few important tags, good quality content which is constantly updated, and tons of backlinks preferrably from the same field as your site. My point is that this is not an exact science, and neither is the human body (really). We are all trying to make qualified guesswork, and I believe that goes for any field whatsoever…as it is all a matter of perception, and perception is subjective by nature.

CSSJockey on April 29th, 2009 Subscribed to comments via email

Are you sure you meant to write this post?
Even the validation results for your own website don’t back your post up?

Gyutae Park on April 30th, 2009

Hi CSSJockey,
As I write this post, I’m not taking a stance of “holier than thou”. These are definitely aspects that as an SEO, I need to work on as well. Something for the entire community (including myself) to consider…

That being said, I do know most of the HTML tags and some CSS as well. In fact, I know enough about them to understand that the validation results you linked to don’t have much of an impact on the site’s SEO. I need to focus on what will have the greatest impact on the site. Of course I’m no designer or coder by any means, so I leave that stuff to guys like you. πŸ™‚

The design on this site is actually from a third party theme (Revolution Theme) so I’d rather not spend the time and resources customizing it just to make it XHTML friendly.

Hope that makes sense! Thanks for stopping by.

Cyndi on May 20th, 2009 Subscribed to comments via email

WOW – so much to learn. I have a message that I am passionate about and a website to share it. I recently came to the conclusion that to share effectively I am going to have to learn much more about how SEO works…

I will take a look at the article you recommend – but in the meantime – got any easy “tips” for a really nice – and very green – newbie?



gerald | link company on December 15th, 2009

SEOs are the ones that usually make an effort for them to be on top and to increase traffic, furthermore improve rankings. Thanks for sharing. I’ve learned well.

Name (required)
E-mail (required - never shown publicly)
Your Comment (smaller size | larger size)

Trackback responses to this post

Gyutae's Top Picks

Recent Readers


Connect with me