Top 10 Lists vs. Web Craftsmanship

Are you the type of person who loves to read Top 10 lists, and then link them up on Twitter ad nauseam? Do you love Smashing Magazine and the tuts+ network (psdtuts, nettuts, …)? If so, this post is for you.

My latest pet peeve involves people who post and share links to web design and development tricks and “quick hit” tutorials. What are the odds that the list or tutorial is going to help you with your current work? Also, did you actually go read the list and follow the links and do the tutorial and launch a site based on it and can you show that product to me? What did you actually learn?

The tendency toward listmania is misleading at best and damaging to the web design and development community at worst. It promotes superficial knowledge, quick fix schemes, and small-minded solutions.

If you want to do quality work and be proud of your craft, avoid these sites and lists. The quick trick can’t make you a better web craftsman or -woman. There isn’t a shortcut or quick fix to learning web design and development fundamentals.

Instead spend time actually making awesome sites yourself. Build something and launch it to the public. Go to An Event Apart. Learn by doing: your experience will teach you more than any top 10 list ever will. The critical thinking and solid skills will come from your hard work, not from the latest, hottest tut.1

More fuel for the fire:

Here is the thing. While it’s fun to learn the latest way to vertically center a div on a page using jQuery, HTML5 and your mom, you’re wasting your time. You may use that what, 1-2% of the time in your projects. Your fundamentals are what is important. Positioning, layouts, typography, spacing, etc. Master those things. Tricks are just tricks. Fundamentals win the game. —Noah Stokes

One can only really learn by doing, by making mistakes, and not by following someone else’s abridged instructions. The tips might get you a quick ‘n’ dirty result, but after that, you’re none the wiser and will need more hints to get you through the next problem. To anyone with genuine aspirations to be great and to really improve themselves, drop the ridiculous lists of quick fixes and shortcuts and start learning for yourself by doing and by making mistakes. —Contrast blog

There is a “quick hit” culture amongst net junkies, where they read the bare minimum and foolishly believe they’re getting value or insight. These are the same people who bookmark links “to read later” but never do, and order piles of amazon books to sit on shelves forever. Someone thinking they’re getting value of 10 sentences along the lines of “Launch early, launch often” or “Your brand is beyond your control” is in need of far more than a top 10 list in my opinion. —commenter on the same Contrast post

1 And, this is silly, but I hate the word “tut” so much. Argh!

Google's Search Engine Optimization Starter Guide

I recently came across a wonderfully rich resource on search engine optimization (SEO) called Google’s Search Engine Optimization Starter Guide. Originally written by Google for their internal teams, they decided to generalize the recommendations so that it would be useful to any website author or owner.

Access the guide from Google’s SEO page, or download the PDF directly [552 KB].

While the recommendations might already be known to you, they are still worth reviewing. Among Google’s tips for good organic SEO:

  • Create unique, accurate page titles
  • Make use of the “description” meta tag
  • Use appropriate URL structure
  • Make your site easier to navigate
  • Offer quality content and services

One notable omission is the recommendation to use the “keywords” meta tag. That’s because Google does not use the “keywords” meta tag in web ranking, and has in fact ignored it for years due to abuse.

Our web search (the well-known search at Google.com that hundreds of millions of people use each day) disregards keyword metatags completely. They simply don’t have any effect in our search ranking at present.

For more on the “keywords” meta tag see Google does not use the keywords meta tag in web ranking from the Google Webmaster Central blog (posted Monday, September 21, 2009).

If you are a web designer or web developer with clients who look to you for SEO-related advice, consider giving them a copy of the Search Engine Optimization Starter Guide—it’s a great summary of how to optimize websites for search engines, and it’s available for reuse under the Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 License.