|CSS or tables with search engines|
Is there a definite answer
I had learned somewhere that search engines either do not read tables or find them indigestible. Is there a definite answer to this question?
Search engines still read tables, but they are not as clean as css. I believe, and this is not definitive, that search engines prefer CSS over tables. To me, CSS is better because it allows you to control all aspexts of your site in a single external file. It just makes more sense to use CSS for design, in my opinion.
CSS is a set of commands for suggesting how a browser should present HTML elements (including size, typeface, colour, underlining, spacing between elements and so on), it is not an alternative to the HTML table element, and should not be thought of as such.
As for the question of whether to use tables or CSS positioning commands for layout, and how search engines the both, the only difference is that with CSS positioning commands one can force the order of the text to be different in the document source and that displayed.
You can gain a reasonable estimation of what a search engine spider will detect by viewing your web page through a character-based browser such as the freely available 'Lynx'.
Yes, there is a definite answer to your question(s).
Tables get read by SE's just fine... I don't know where you "learned" this but I'm sure you misread it... you're talking about what, 60 or 70% of existing websites not being searchable by SE's? Do you think the major e-commerce players would put up with their table layouts if they weren't getting indexed correctly in SEs?
And yes, CSS is hypothetically better, for two reasons.
1) As previously mentioned in this thread, you can use absolute positioning to feed SE friendly content first... not a practical possibility with tables.
2) CSS layouts, and the use of external stylesheets, SHOULD lead to having less code on your page than if you designed with nested tables and had inline styling. Of course, it's certainly possible to design a CSS layout that uses more code than a table layout, but if you know what you're doing, that shouldn't happen. Less code means faster spidering and a more appealing page to SEs overall.
Start using DIV-layers and CSS! Web pages load much faster and the HTML-code stays clean. When you use tables the site loads slower. Search Engines advise to use as less tables as possible. A search spider has to index the table twice. DIV's are better, cleaner and faster.