Danny Sullivan explained the reason he started Search Engine Watch was because people were building web pages that worked for IE and Netscape but not for the search engines, which he called the 3rd browser.
Eric A. Meyer started us off with Web standards, he is from Complex Spiral Consulting. I think he was the guy who posted in his blog a whole big stink about the last SES conference, (meyerweb.com). Ahh, he confirmed this to be true by admitting why he was on the panel. He basically blew off the people on the panel, and then realized it was a miscommunication, he actually apologized to the panel. Web standards means no proprietary lock in and a wider support base. Page weights can be reduced by at least half or more when using standards. You can support multiple media and more accessibility comes through Web standards. And how do search engines like standards (he says he would like to know). He then lists out some big corporations are using standards, and talks about small sites deploying it. What about browser incompatibilities? Some problems do exist, but they are far less a problem than they were three years ago. The biggest stumbling block is Internet Explorer, but its only biggest by comparison. Various approaches to get around this such as "transitional design" (mixing tables and CSS). How do standards help your users? Page weights are lower, the number one factor in page response time is page load time. Users really dont care about your markup, they only care about is page load time. Reduced server load, bandwidth consumption and for example ESPN. ESPN in March 2003 moved to Web standards. ESPN at 2003 was getting one billion page views per month. Initial page weight reduction was 50kb, which turned out to be 720TB of bandwidth each year. They can not server more users per server (reduce the number of servers need). How do standards help you? Makes your life easier in creating and maintaining the site. Are standards always appropriate? Theoretically, yes. More practically, it depends on the situation. Always weigh costs against benefits. Look at your log files to determine if you should move. You can give certain functionality to different browsers. Webstandards.org, maccaws.org, w3.org are all good resources.
Shari Thurow from Grantastic Designs was next up. Shari is a big fan of Eric Meyer. Goals of the presentation, she will define a good web site, css vs. graphic images, myths and misconceptions (web standards, SEMs, usability professionals). A good web site is a user friendly, search friendly and persuasive site that converts visitors to buyers. She explains that your site needs goals and goes through some text book examples, then she explains how search integration into those goals are key. Potential issues: Both SEMs and Web standards advocates advice against using graphic images. There are many advantages to using CSS; search engines love it, faster download time, time saver when maintaining site and for usability reasons. CSS problems include; end users must have font and typeface installed on their computers, text link navigation can dominate the content of a page, usability testing and focus groups might show that users prefer a font that is not commonly installed on all computers. Graphic images are better in terms of usability, remembered better, make a site more appealing and other advantages. If your users prefer graphic navigation, then use it. It depends on your users. She then brought up some case studies, which I will not mention here. There is a difference between actual download time and perceived download time. The perceived download time is reduced when a user accomplishes a goal. She said adding a title attribute to your links will not help your rankings, she said this is confirmed by the search engines BUT use it for accessibility.
Tim Mayer from Yahoo had a few comments to add. Speed is a major concern at Yahoo. Yahoo does focus on creating fast loading pages. Yahoo doesn't care about download speed on the crawling site, of course they prefer fast sites. In addition, Yahoo's crawlers do not care about validation. They have not seen a correlation between validated sites and good quality sites. The search technology will enhance over time to handle these new technologies.
Q: Using CSS to replace graphic headers with h1 tags, is that ok? A: Tim said Google goes about it in a white and black attitude. Yahoo said it is primarily ok. Shari said that particular case might be crossing over the site.