Another myth, created and maintained by proponents of CSS-based layouts, is that Web site layouts that that use tables are inferior to CSS-based layouts as far as Search Engine Optimization (SEO) is concerned.
In arguing this case, the proponents of CSS-layouts site a long list of what they refer to as problems with table-based layouts, often mixing into it a number of things that have nothing to do with the choice of layout and things that have nothing to do with SEO.
One thing they often argue is that CSS layouts are cleaner, less cluttered with code, and therefore better for SEO (see Myth 1). However, table-based layouts using CSS to format the tables can be just as clean as CSS-layouts. And CSS-based layouts can be just as messy and cluttered with code as those based on tables – a layout with lots of nested DIV’s is no less messy than one full of nested tables. The extent to which a site has messy code seems to me to depend more on the HTML and CSS skills of the person who created the site than with the type of layout.
Another line of argument is that CSS is preferable for layouts because tables are “meant” to be used for display of data. This too is flawed, I think. First, table based designs were at one time the only designs available. Even though it doesn’t matter much today, I think one of the reasons for introducing tables in HTML was to make it easier to create HTML layouts.
But who cares what a statement is meant for? Coding is not philosophy – I hope we can agree that you should not need to be skilled in phenomenology or hermeneutics in order to code? The “meaning” of “li”, “table”, “div” and “ol” is not the issue, rather it is what they do. Furthermore, bots do not care whether they encounter a “div” or a “table” – to the bots these are both HTML-statements devoid of “meaning”.
I say these things because I think people should use CSS for the right reasons. Personally I use CSS a lot and prefer CSS to tables. I use CSS because I want my pages to load fast, because I want them to have as little code as possible, and because I want them to be easier to maintain over time. For me those are sufficient reasons to prefer CSS. However, I do not think using CSS affects the search engine ranking of my pages at all.
Furthermore, I have not to date seen anything online or elsewhere that delivers solid empirical evidence that basing a layout on CSS gives better search engine ranking than using tables when everything else is equal.
So I think we should get rid of this myth, and I think people should design with whichever tools they prefer, and that CSS experts – many of which I otherwise admire – should stop “scaring” people with negative consequences for SEO if they do not use CSS-based layouts.