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Why you need to know HTML and CSS

I was commenting on a blog about HTML (the poster recommended looking at what was rendered by Frontpage in order to learn HTML) and I got kinda of carried away with tips and suggestions for new domainers. Here are the essentially the comments I made:

1. HTML stands for Hypertext Markup Language. It's what allows browsers to take plain text and display it all pretty like. It does that by special codes added around your text to let the browser know what to do with the text.

Example: <a href="http://UtterDomain.com">This is a link</a>
In a browser looks like: This is a link

CSS standard for Cascading Style Sheet. It's a way to tell the browser the specific style, color, font, position, background image and more all without dirtying up your content. The CSS can even reside in a completely different file from your HTML page and that means you can reuse the CSS between web pages.

2. HTML is not difficult to learn but it's essential to master for anyone in the domain game. It's not hard because, you can right click on any page and View Source to see the HTML used on that web page which means you can see how someone implemented something cool. You have the entire internet to guide you.

But it's important to understand that HTML is not complicated and is simply marking up your text with special codes so a browser can render it properly. Don't fear it - embrace it, learn it, love it. The codes are usually very clear or easy enough to remember once you've written a couple of pages. The trick is not to use the crutch of Frontpage or Word to write your web pages because you don't learn anything of value that way. These do nothing but generate horrendous HTML that isn't human readable in the least and difficult for search engines to decipher, which is obviously not a good idea. Look up a tutorial or two online, write a couple of pages from scratch in notepad and you'll be all set to step up to more sophisticated tools to help you write clean, valid HTML more efficient (I'll go over those in a future post). And once you know HTML, you will not want to go back to Frontpage or Word to generate html for you.

3. Learn the W3C standards and validate your pages - the fewer "errors" you have in your CSS and HTML the higher you will rank with search engines. Generate clean, readable, SEO optimized html and your pages will jump to the top. It's really as simple as that. If the tools you use spit out bad HTML, change your tools. If your wordpress theme is invalid, fix it or change it to one that's valid. Frontpage and Word are horrible at generating valid HTML so just don't even bother going there unless you save the text out to a plain text file when you are done.

4. Use CSS and use it everywhere. It allows you to separate your design from your content. Why is that important? Because it makes it easier for search engines to find your content. Read up on SEO "tricks" and CSS so you know what search engines like. CSS is a little harder to learn than HTML as browsers have had a harder time standardizing on what all is implemented (especially ie6) and how it should render, but it's also time well spent. The more you utilize CSS, the faster your pages will load, the prettier your pages will be, the better your user experience is and you'll rank higher on search engines. How can not want to know it?

Okay, so that's my perspective. It comes from having taught myself HTML back in 1994/95 when the word "browser" wasn't a household term and Internet Explorer hadn't even been released yet... back before "tables" were the cool new feature of Netscape 1.1's beta and the best place to find info was at this directory at http://akebono.stanford.edu/yahoo (we didn't call them search engines back then). I also taught myself how to write c shell scripts (known as cgi scripts) on a Unix server to generate HTML pages dynamically back around that same time. But that's a different story! :)

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