Google can read tables, and sometimes it does, but it would prefer not to.

“Tables” refers to a group of HTML commands that are used to set up a grid on a webpage, and then to specify where and how text and images should be displayed on the grid. In the early days of the web, tables were the tool of choice for laying out web pages.

For many years now, though, good websites have been built using a much more efficient layout system called CSS (Cascading Style Sheets). Essentially, Cascading Style Sheets are a master template that “cascades” through every page of a website, standardizing the colors, fonts, and layout for the entire site. (Tables still are used for showing actual tabular data, like comparison charts, but everything else is left to CSS.)

There are four important benefits to CSS:

  • CSS makes a website completely consistent – which makes it look really sharp and clean and professional.
  • CSS makes it much easier to adjust the look and feel of a website – you only have to make changes once in the master CSS template, instead of having to change each page of the site individually. (Those of us who were around for the very early days of the web remember how excruciating this was!)
  • CSS makes a website load much faster – the browser only has to read and interpret the layout instructions once and execute them for the entire site, instead of reading and executing them separately for each page.
  • CSS makes it much easier for Google to find and catalogue the actual text content of each page. If a website is built using tables, there are a lot of HTML commands at the beginning of every page to structure the layout, and then there are more HTML commands interspersed throughout the text to make sure that everything appears in the right spot. To figure out what your website is about, Google has to wade through all this bulky HTML – but Google has millions of websites to visit and probably won’t take the time.

Google’s mission is simple: to give people what they’re looking for on the web. It wants to list websites that are up-to-date, easy and pleasant to use, and that provide users with the information they need. A website built in tables is much less likely to have a good Google ranking because it’s old-fashioned, slow and tedious to use, and has content that’s hard for Google’s “spiders” to read and evaluate.