Why HTML Tables Are Bad For SEO

There is a raging debate…ok, there are a few geeks out there online arguing about the virtues of div based websites for SEO vs. websites that make use of tables. Some people say using tables makes websites load slower. Perhaps that’s technically true, but is it a huge factor? I think not. Some people say Google can’t read content in nested tables. That simply doesn’t make any sense to me. I think Google is able enough to read content whether it’s in a table or not. In fact, Google can even read content in *gasp* frames! But there are reasons for not using frames (see the previous link) and there are reasons for not using tables. Gary Eckstein has done an excellent job summing up most of the technical reasons for not using tables on your website, but I’d like to offer a slightly different perspective on why HTML tables are bad for SEO. Here are two reasons:

1. They’re not responsive. Ok, ok, you can probably get away with having a table here or there even on a responsive website. But a website that is done entirely in tables is not going to be mobile friendly. If your site isn’t mobile friendly, you’re going to have a higher click back rate (let’s not talk about bounce rate) as mobile visitors get turned off and go back to the search engine for the next result. Let’s not get too technical here, but if Google can see that desktop users behave one way on your website, and mobile users behave differently, and it’s easy to discern that the desktop users like your site whereas the mobile users don’t, how is Google going to rank your website vs. one that pleases both desktop and mobile users?

2. They’re harder to update.¬†All other things being equal, using CSS instead of tables makes it easier to make changes on a website. Easier changes means you’re more likely to make necessary changes, and you can get more done faster. Since SEO involves making changes to a website, it stands to reason that you’re going to get more SEO faster if you’re working on a website without tables.

Add to this the fact that there is little to no reason to use tables, and why would you? No, seriously, if you have a good reason let me know in the comments.

That said, there is one table that is great for SEO.

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Written by

Hi! I'm Josh Steimle, and I started MWI from my apartment while a college student in 1999. I'm based in Shenzhen, China and responsible for MWI's overall strategy and marketing. I've written over 200 articles for publications like Forbes, Mashable, TechCrunch, and Time, and I'm the author of Chief Marketing Officers at Work. I love speaking to corporations and at marketing industry events. I was recently recognized by Entrepreneur magazine as one of 50 Online Marketing Influencers To Watch in 2016. Read more of what I'm writing on my blog.

  • Waz

    One reason to still be knowledgeable with table-based web development is that there will come a day when a client will ask you to design a mail marketing campaign template for them. Email clients (the important ones, anyway, like Outlook) can read tables…not so good with CSS. Admittedly not web based but email based, but still reason enough to keep up the table skills. Other than that, CSS is way to go web-wise. Haven’t built a table website in years.

    Then, the other reason to keep/develop your table skills is that, despite all the good that CSS does for sites and despite all the good-intentioned talks you have with your clients on why they should upgrade the code on their sites, you will still get many, many clients who come to you with a table-based site to have something fixed or tweaked but who don’t want to change or who is not financially able to afford changing it. Like a mechanic who still has many 1970’s era cars come in through the garage doors, it’s always good to keep up with the legacy ways, until they eventually evolve.

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