A Total SEO Newbie’s Guide to CSS

For a field that is only a small part of digital marketing, search engine optimization is remarkably multidisciplinary. For instance, our full-service SEO agency employs people with backgrounds in marketing, journalism, literature, computer science, graphic design, math, web development, and many others.

In most cases, your background will determine what specific parts of SEO you get into, at least initially. Web content writers, for example, tend to have liberal arts or business degrees while web developers often come from computer science or IT backgrounds.

While there’s nothing wrong with gaining full mastery of your initial specialization, the search optimization industry tends to reward those with multiple hard skills under their belt. And while there are dozens of potentially useful hard skills to learn, there are a few that are particularly useful for all SEO pforessionals.

A mastery of Cascading Style Sheets (CSS) is one such hard skill. Mastering CSS can be a difficult task and this article won’t even begin to scratch the surface. Regardless, even basic CSS skills can be useful for digital marketers who want to fine-tune the optimization of their websites, particularly in their appearance, functionality, and ability to convert visitors.

Here, we’ll explore what CSS is, how it’s helpful for SEOs, how you can use it to help your career, and how it can bring your clients’ websites to the top of Google Search.

What is Cascading Style Sheets (CSS)?

CSS is a style sheet language (a computer language that describes how documents should appear) that is used to determine the presentation of webpages written in markup languages like HTML or XML. CSS is used to determine how a webpage appears to end users and coders can use it to designate elements such as font, color palettes, layouts, and almost everything else on a webpage that visitors could see or interact with.

Today, the main purpose of CSS is to make it easy for webmasters to separate the appearance and overall design of a site from its content. This makes it simpler to update a site’s design without compromising the content it contains, which could easily happen if you only use HTML, XML, or JavaScript.

Without CSS, websites would not be as exciting or visually appealing as they are today. It would also be far more difficult to optimize the technical SEO of a website as they relate to user experience (UX) and other SEO factors.

How Can SEO Professionals Benefit from Learning CSS?

Regardless of what their original disciplines are, learning CSS can benefit SEO professionals in several ways:

1) Helps SEOs Perform Technical Optimizations

At least some CSS knowledge is obligatory for performing technical SEO at a professional level. Most websites you’ll work on use CSS, and having CSS expertise may help you better understand how they could be optimized, particularly with regard to rich snippets, metadata, and other areas relevant to search visibility and clickthrough rates.

Also, knowledge of CSS allows you to fix improperly applied or bloated CSS code. The outdated or improper usage of CSS can prevent search engine bots from discovering and cataloging a landing page. Haphazard CSS coding is a major cause of technical SEO issues in business websites that the vast majority of SEOs make a living off of. Thus, not learning CSS can essentially be considered as leaving money on the table, particularly if you work as a freelancer or run a small digital marketing agency.

Lastly, having some mastery of CSS can be invaluable not just for performing technical site optimizations by oneself, but also for QA’ing work done by others. This can be important if you are working with an agency to optimize your employer’s website or are in charge of an SEO team that includes web developers or designers.

2) Allows SEOs to Perform Site Speed Improvements

While site speed optimizations are also a form of technical SEO, they are uniquely critical in that they have a direct effect on Google Search rankings, UX, and site resource utilization. Though a site’s CSS is not the only potential source of slowdowns, knowing how to optimize CSS code can be a huge help in improving site speed, particularly if you’re working in a small team that lacks specialized web developers.

3) Helps With Optimizations for Mobile-Friendliness

Similarly, a site’s CSS can determine how well it presents itself to mobile users. Having a mobile-friendly site is especially important these days as anywhere from 60 to 90 percent of internet users primarily use mobile phones for web browsing, depending on user demographics and geographic area.

While it’s true that there are now excellent mobile-friendliness plugins for WordPress, Shopify, and other popular web platforms, being able to implement CSS code to ensure mobile-friendliness yourself can be an advantage, especially if a client uses a unique CMS or hosting solution.

4) Allow SEOs to Better Implement UX Improvements

The ability to tweak site elements through CSS can be handy for implementing UX tweaks that help a site achieve various business goals. However, if an SEO wants to use CSS to tweak site designs, it can be helpful for them to also learn about intermediate-to-advanced digital marketing and sales concepts as well as graphic design principles.

5) Helps in Advancing One’s Career

As you would have guessed from all the previous points, knowing CSS can improve your authority as an SEO professional, and this tends to be true regardless of your core specialization. Knowing CSS allows you to take charge of more kinds of projects, including ones where you collaborate with web developers and web designers. It also gives you the ability to recommend and assess technical SEO activities with far more confidence than would otherwise be possible.

How Does CSS Work?

To understand how CSS is implemented and how it’s used for website design and optimizations, it helps to know how it works. Without getting too deep into the finer details, CSS can be thought of as a list of attributes that could be applied to the HTML code of different pages within a website.

Without CSS, the style and other basic elements of a website need to be repeated in the HTML code for each page. With CSS, multiple webpages can derive all their style instructions from a single CSS file, which saves a lot of space and server resources, consequently speeding up the website and improving its search engine bot crawlability.

If CSS is used, HTML can be used primarily to define content and structure within single pages while CSS can be used to change how these appear throughout the entire site. Thus, content and style can be effectively separated. The separation makes it possible to modify the UX of a site without drastically changing the message of the content, which can be useful for reconfiguring and optimizing the site for different business goals.

Basic Example of CSS Code

To understand CSS better, it helps to look at an example of CSS code. CSS uses “selectors” to allow web developers to modify selected HTML elements. Selectors can modify element types, classes, and other attributes.

For example, if you want all the paragraphs in a landing page to have a 12-pixel font size, you can use this CSS code:

p { font-size: 12px; }

In this example, p is a selector that selects all the HTML-defined paragraphs in your target landing page. font-size is a declaration that indicates the font size that is to be applied to all the paragraphs in a webpage that points to the CSS.

Declarations always include a “property” and a “value”. A property is part of the element that is to be changed. In the example, it’s font-size. Other possible properties can be color, background-image, font-style, and so on.

Value is a defined quality that is applied to the attached property. In the example, the value is “12px” to indicate a font size of 12 pixels. The needed values change depending on the property. If you wanted to define a property’s color, for example, you need to use a hexadecimal color code such as “#0000FF” for pine green.

One extremely useful benefit of CSS is its support for “inheritance”. Inheritance allows “child elements” to inherit qualities of “parent elements”, reducing much of the work needed to update a website design. All a web developer needs to do is apply styles to parent elements and the child elements that are under it will receive the same attributes unless otherwise indicated.

Note that these are just the absolute basics of CSS. As you can see from today’s wonderful cutting-edge website designs, CSS can be an incredibly powerful, efficient, and versatile framework for the web.

SEO Opportunities from Bad CSS Implementation

Not all web developers and site owners who use CSS understand or care about its implications for users or search visibility. As a result, not all uses of CSS are ideal. Poor use of CSS and associated markup languages like HTML and XML can result in bloated sites and poor UX, both of which are bad from a search visibility perspective.

In a way, this poor implementation is a continuing source of opportunities for SEOs who have CSS skills in their repertoire. Understanding how CSS works can give you a leg up in performing and assessing a multitude of technical SEO activities. If you’re a freelancer or applying for a position in an agency or digital marketing department, intermediate knowledge of CSS can give you far more value than a competitor who merely knows link outreach or content writing.

Additionally, being able to do CSS as well as HTML and JavaScript implementations will open up a world of opportunities within SEO and the wider world of digital marketing. Understanding CSS and related foundational web technologies makes it possible to communicate closer with many key digital marketing professionals, particularly those with computer science and design backgrounds. This improved ability to communicate may allow you to increase your authority and trust among clients and colleagues alike.

Final Thoughts

SEOs that know how to use CSS have a significant advantage over those that don’t, particularly if they run agencies, work freelance, or are the only SEOs in a small marketing department. While CSS knowledge is not essential for SEOs, it’s definitely worth having, especially given the multitude of benefits and opportunities CSS skills bring.

Learning CSS may be difficult at first, particularly if you don’t have background knowledge in HTML or other markup languages. However, it’s not exactly rocket science or metaphysics. Most dedicated SEOs should be able to learn basic CSS in their spare time with freely available online sources and a few months of dedicated experimentation.

Once you do get the hang of it, you may find that you’ll be able to do a lot of key technical SEO implementations on your own, allowing you to accomplish more things for your clients. Additionally, learning this key skill may earn you the respect of others in the digital marketing industry, which may lead to more fulfilling and better-paying opportunities in the future.

Arthur Piccio
Arthur Piccio
Arthur Piccio has been a professional content writer and developer since 2007. He has helped develop market-winning, localized web content for hundreds of brands based in the US, the Philippines, the UK, and Australia. He is currently a project manager at SearchWorks, the most respected SEO company in the Philippines.
Arthur Piccio
Arthur Piccio
Arthur Piccio has been a professional content writer and developer since 2007. He has helped develop market-winning, localized web content for hundreds of brands based in the US, the Philippines, the UK, and Australia. He is currently a project manager at SearchWorks, the most respected SEO company in the Philippines.