The Importance of Simplicity
Since I have been doing a lot of coding lately, I have also been doing a lot of reading. I get inspiration from other web pages and web sites, so I look at the code, see how different they do it to how I do it (not very much) but occasionally I'll come across the coder who really goes crazy with weird things.
Take the use of BOLD for example. It used to be that you could simply use the <b> tag but that was phased out by the use of <strong>. A lot of coders still use b but it would be the wrong approach, but I am also betting the search engines lend it the same weight as strong. Another way to achieve the same effect, but it is debatable as to whether it has the same strength in search engine terms is to use css: <span style="font-weight:bold;">.
The same thing can be done with <em> and the <h1/h2/h3/h...> tags, the effect can be achieved by manipulating css attributes and the <span> tag, but in terms of search engine optimization it might not achieve the same level of importance. So why use the normal HTML tags?
Well the answer is the most common denominator! HTML has been around for many years now, and is likely to be the basest level of the web for many years to come. Even XHTML is an extension of HTML, incorporating it in its design and hierarchy, with only a few extra additions. This shows you the importance of the base tags.
The search engines used to use the amount of links in a page to determine how "popular" it is, and where to position it in the search results. Let's say I make a page about earthenware pots. If I have 100 links linking to my page, then it might be popular. People took advantage of that so then the search engines changed their algorithms, now those incoming links have more importance if they are from a related subject. But even that can be circumvented, so now the search engines look at the page code. If for example, the words "earthenware", "pottery", "pot" are bolded, or italicized, then they must be stressing something important and relevant, thus the page/site gets a higher ranking. The coder has clearly spent time on the page, it's not just some kid ripping a copy and slapping it up on potsrus1987.com.
This is why designers need to be careful when they construct web pages, and understand the relevancy to other sites, and why webmasters are very prudent over who they link to, or exchange links with. Their page ranking can significantly decrease or be damaged by linking to the wrong place and sometimes, other sites may benefit but not them. Constructing the pages correctly from the beginning using these simple, yet elegant tags, can have dividends that pay out for years to come.