Un-table Your Website

by on July 9th, 2007

Here are major benefits of creating tableless websites. These are only in the order that I feel they should go in, some things are more important to other people, so rank them as you will.

Forces You To Write Well-Formed Code

You cannot have a properly made tableless layout, and use improper and non-standard code. Well, let me correct that – you can (technically you can do it) but it defeats the whole purpose. When you are creating a tableless design, you should be using standards compliant code. I think that anything that makes you get into the habit of always writing clean code is a good thing.

Faster Loading Time

This is absolutely a benfit of a tableless layout, and for several reasons. First, on a fundamental level – tables load slowly. For the most part, unless you set the height and width of your table elements, all the text has to be loaded and rendered BEFORE the table sizes itself to the page. Of course, this is what so many people loved about tables isn’t it? The fact that they were so easily sizeable. The downside is how much more time they take to load.

Okay, so the solution to that loading time is to set all the values explicitly, right? So now we see another downside. Code clutter that increases loading time. First of all, just by themselves, tables take alot of code. How many td open and close tags does your average table based layout have? Tons. Having to set all the values explicitly only adds to the page size and loading time. There are many experiments that have been done on this topic, I’ll point you toward this one that StopDesign did on a remake of the Microsoft website from a tablebased site to a tableless layout. That remake showed a 62% file size reduction of the site, and using their average hits per month for the Microsoft site, calculated that Microsoft would be saving 924 GIGS in bandwidth per day, and 329 Terabytes of bandwidth per year. For any company that pays for bandwidth, these things are important.

Easier to Read Code

If you are using standard code, semantic document conventions, and a tableless layout, your code can be so clean that it looks practically like just regular text with a few extra symbols.

That is a great benefit because it not only makes it easier for you to update, but it makes it easier for a non-technical user to make small alterations to. Additionally, if you work as a web developer in a more freelance capacity, it is common for there to be a full-time web developer who has to maintain that site. Clean and simple to read code makes that a easy transition. We like it when people leave us easy to understand code, right? Let’s return the favor.

Search Engine Optimization

Due to the fact that you can organize your most important content at the top of your page, without affecting the layout, your page can be better optimized for search engines. For instance, say that I have a navigation bar on the left side of the page that lists tons of parts of the site that are actually great keywords. I could move that navigation bar code higher up in my actual HTML, without changing the layout, because I’m using the CSS to position the navigation where I want it.

Those search engines can also more clearly find common words throughout your document without having to filter through code. Search engines prioritize websites that have a higher content to code ratio, so putting all your style elements into your external CSS stylesheet makes your site highly content based to a search engine. Tableless layouts, as previously mentioned, decrease page size and loading time – another bonus to search engines.

Additionally, being able to take advantage of the RSS/ATOM feeds (see the section directly above) will aid you in some new technology for site indexing as used by all search engines called ROR. (ROR is an XML format summary of your website, like a sitemap, that search engines can access for additional information about your website.)

Presentation Flexibility

Making changes to a CSS based Tableless layout is simple. You can alter the CSS file only, changing as many styles and graphics as you want. The affects cascade through all the pages on your website, and eliminate the need for manually updating many pages.

For one of the best known examples of how powerful presentation can be, you can visit the CSS Zen Garden and navigate through the ‘Select a Design’ links to see the differences. Each of the different designs uses exactly the same HTML file content. The only thing that changes is the CSS file for each one.