Apparently, a lot of people find w3schools website useful. But with everything we know about SEO and web development best practices, w3schools’ ability to remain at the top of search results, and also be in the top 200 of the most-visited websites in the world (even after Google’s made so many updates in their ranking algorithms), tends to baffle all of us.
This article is an attempt to analyze a number of things about the w3schools.com website to see if we can learn a few things and draw some conclusions about why this is happening.
Script Tag Madness
The code from their pages loads at least 15 different script tags, and only two load at the bottom.
Too many Scripts
Having too many scripts load in the head without combining them or minifying them goes against the relatively commonly known advice that you should reduce HTTP requests and put scripts at the bottom.
There are lots and lots of elements on w3schools that have inline styles, and those same elements will often have classes and IDs that apply CSS from external style sheets. Mixing and matching styles for such a large website would be difficult for them to maintain, even if they were using good code.
Ancient Float-Clearing Methods
Ancient float clearing methods are littered in their code. All of which could be corrected with a simple and reusable clearfix.
Tables for Layout
They use these in all kinds of unnecessary places. It’s not as bad as it used to be, but they still primarily use full table-based layouts for just about everything.
This is something bizarre. Why do they do this? They have duplicate content under different subdomains. For SEO, duplicate content should be kept to a minimum. It doesn’t seem to affect their rankings, but if anything, it seems to help for some reason.
It’s hard to believe a tutorial website as popular as w3schools would post poorly formatted code embedded code. But not only is it poorly formatted, it’s not even using syntax highlighting, and that happens with just the on-page code examples in their lessons.
CSS3 is not Part of HTML5
Anyone who teaches web design should know that PNG, JPEG, or even SVG is more appropriate than ragged HTML5 in GIF format.
BR tag Use
The <br> tag has its place, but if you are going to use it to create margin or padding-like space inside elements, then you’re using it poorly.
All of their pages use the exact same keywords, and so it seems to be part of their basic site template that they’ve never removed. It might be a “Just in case”
Website not Responsive
This should definitely be high on their to-do list, if they wanted to increase
Not Mobile Friendly
This should not reduce their search rankings, but they would be much more respectable with a site that’s more properly mobile-friendly.
No Major Accessibility Errors
Here we start with some of the things w3schools seems to be doing right. While they do have 56 ‘contrast errors’ when testing their pages using WebAIM’s accessibility checker, they actually score relatively high, with no major errors.
Good WAVE results
By comparison, CSS-Tricks shows 3 errors and 70 contrast errors; the Smashing Magazine site shows 4 errors and 0 contrast errors; the A List Apart site had 2 errors and 12 contrast errors; the SitePoint website had 7 errors and 42 contrast errors; and MDN’s reference turned up with 1 error and 57 contrast errors.
Page Speed Tests
Amazingly, despite all the extra script tags in the head, every one of w3schools.com pages tests with an “A” grade using YSlow, which is pretty amazing. This is true even on the page above that loads a full 25 scripts.
Strong PageSpeed Insights Score
They also get a strong score for their home page and inner pages on Google’s PageSpeed Insights, for both mobile and for desktop.
w3schools’ strong rankings are perplexing. But perhaps some of the issues above might have something to do with their ability to maintain this high rank. Of course, the age of their website and the number of inbound links that they have play a major factor in their ranking.
However, consider the following:
Almost all of their pages seem to load fast, which is, of course, relevant to SEO. They use a lot of inline CSS, that, according to recent research, could actually be a good thing for performance. They don’t overuse the various CSS3 and HTML5 effects, which may again keep their pages slim and fast.
They continue to use alt text for images and, generally speaking, seem to have robot-friendly pages. Even after a redesign, their website still looks like it fell out of the a 20th Century tree, hitting almost every branch on the way down. And it’s been shown that they have many technical inaccuracies in their content.
But things like that don’t matter to Google’s ranking algorithm. Nor does Google penalize them for their “old school” practices, which could be detrimental to the integrity of the search algorithm since it contradict giving higher rankings to older more established sites, and it might also go against the web’s friendliness toward being backward compatible.
The fact is that w3schools has good search rankings in spite of a lot of things that would indicate they shouldn’t. Perplexing, perhaps, but somewhere inside the items mentioned above is one or perhaps more than one KEY to their incredible string of continual high rankings.