Does clean code help SEO? This is a no-brainer yes, yet I’ve seen very few efforts being put into actually cleaning up the code. Practically speaking, it can become a very unwieldy task to make a case for investing in cleaning up a site’s code, and the time spent to potential ROI can seem to be very low.
So what ends up happening here is that the so called bad code keeps piling up, or sometimes a little bit gets cleaned when there are new features or functionalities put in place, or in other cases, it’s just border-line acceptable programming and logic. For instance, something that could be done with 2 lines of codes takes 10 lines. That’s not efficient at all.
Strictly speaking from an SEO perspective, it’s not a regular discussion point because a clean code is the expected norm (although, far from reality).
What Does a Clean Code Look Like — From an SEO Lens?
The definition of a clean code can vary, but when it comes to SEO, in my mind, a clean code has the following traits:
- You can easily find, update, and understand all the basic SEO meta tags, canonicals, heading tags, title tags, etc. On the same note, the search engines can understand all your sites’ metadata, URLs, redirects, and data sets the way you want it to.
- Your code follows a certain logic for the same SEO elements mentioned above, versus you having to dictate them individually. Nevertheless though, make sure you have the option to override the default settings/logic.
- All your structured data, scripts, etc. are within the <head></head> section as recommended, and that they’re firing correctly.
- There isn’t any unnecessary use of special characters, symbols, and spaces.
- Code is easy to QA, even when automation scripts are used. Basically, your QA engineer doesn’t have to work extra hard for something that he or she shouldn’t be.
- There aren’t unnecessary redirect chains, and your site is adhering to best practices with respect to caching, compression, and CDNs.
- While ensuring all of the above, it’s also indispensable to not be using any lousy coding practices, such as using meta redirects, or deprecated HTML code.
- More, contingent on your needs, but these 7 items should undoubtedly steer you in the right direction.
Side Note: Ideally, your site is running a responsive code, with all the characteristics stated above.
How to Know if Your Site Is Running a Clean Code?
The most accurate way to know is to have your programmers, QA, and SEO have regular meetings, and investigate each line one by one. Obviously, this is not the best use of anyone’s time. So, you have to take a few shortcuts.
From an SEO point of view, if you need to know if your site’s code is clean enough, you can run the following checks:
- Site Speed: Google recently launched Core Web Vitals. To measure how your website performs against its standards, as well as other speed metrics, run a speed check of your site on Google PageSpeed Insights. Aim for a score of 90+. And if you’re also running a WordPress site as I do, my post on achieving this score can help!
- Crawlability, indexability, and render-ability checks: In your Google Search Console, and other crawlers, make sure you do not have too many crazy crawl errors. Also, make sure that the pages you want are indexed, and being rendered properly. While you’re at it, ensure your site is mobile-friendly. In fact, running a mobile-friendly test can also help you figure out if any of your resources are blocked to search engines. Also take account of how your robots.txt behavior is, and if you or your organization are deliberately disallowing any of the other resources. If you are unaware of it, ask why, and if it’s essential to do so.
The post on a structured SEO plan may help you get more context.
- Code Validation: If you’re also big into compliance, web accessibility, and others, you can run your code through various validators that are available. Although, if you’re only looking at this from an SEO lens, it might be not that critical. However, by nature of your code passing all the web standards, you’re automatically aspiring towards a clean code. On the contrary, if your code is actually bad, I am quite confident that it will also be failing a lot of the standards and validations. So while not a direct correlation, it’s important for your code to adhere to all the best practices. In my mind, the biggest advantage of passing all the validations is that when things coding paradigms, requirements, and specifications change in the future, your site will be quick to adapt to it.
Generally speaking though, a typical website will fail a lot of the tests. This is why I stated it need not be an absolute necessity for SEO.
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Having a clean code on a website is something that I believe is taken for granted a lot of the times. Its significance is not felt until something goes awry, and you’re running helter-skelter to get that fixed.
And while it’s not blatantly mentioned as a ranking factor, isn’t your code the entire governing force — of how your website functions, and how good or bad it can be for SEO?