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Academics vs Practitioners

One of my post graduate students produced her UG computing degree lecture notes to prove that her 'web design' lecturer had told the class that 'tables add unnecessary HTML code to the web page making it more difficult for search engines to read'.

Now I always thought the opposite was true, so went seeking other opinions. One I came across was Jill Whalen of, who had written a newsletter which addressed the issue.

Her response to a similar statement [about tables hindering SEO] was - 'that's the most ridiculous thing I've read today! Tables have never been, and will never be a problem for search engines.'

Now, one of the problems with any new industry - and particularly such a dynamic one as the Internet - is that opinions differ about the rights and wrongs and the dos and don'ts of good practice.

The decision is yours, but I for one would rather heed the advice of someone who makes a living actually practicing in the [very competitive] search engine arena than a computer scientist who teaches web design - and who is unlikely to have had professional experience of putting a website at the top of a search engine returns page.

And that's why I spend more time reading the work of practitioners rather than academics. Problem is, of course, that some of my books are academic - but at least they are partially based on my experiences.

Sadly, this subject creates a significant problem for students - and, indeed, lecturers. In an academic piece of work, are references from a 'practitioner' acceptable? Tricky one. I say that if the practitioner has validity [Jacob Nielsen, for example] then it is OK. Lecturers - make your mind up and let the students know before they submit. Students - ask whoever is marking your work before you submit. My view? In most cases, I prefer practitioners to academics [see example above]- however I check the validity of practitioners before accepting their views [don't get me started on wikipedia, it's OK as a start point for research, but it should never be a reference].

Footnote I: I must confess to a bias on this example - I agree with the practitioner. I was even taught that not only do tables not hinder search, they help the indexing procedure by making the pages easier for the spiders to read - breaking the content up in much the same way as a the paragraphs on this page make it easier for you to read. I have my doubts as to the accuracy of this - but it makes sense to my non-tech mind, so I will choose to continue believing it.

FOOTNOTE II [January 09] - a number of commentators are predicting that the major search engines will start to 'segment' page content for the SERPs - and one way they will recognize subject breaks is by ... looking at the tables within the page coding.

How to cite this article:
Charlesworth, A. (2007). Academics vs Practitioners. Retrieved [insert date] from

This page was first published around 2007 but may have been updated since then
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