Understanding HTML5 with reference to SEO

HTML 5 is still in the making but for any SEO expert, who tries to
look ahead, some knowledge about HTML 5 and how it will impact SEO is
not unnecessary information. It is true that the changes and the new
concepts in HTML 5 will impact Web developers and designers much more
than SEO experts but still it is far from the truth to say that HTML
5 will not mean changes in the SEO policy.

What’s New in HTML 5?

HTML 5 follows the way the Net evolved in the last years and
includes many useful tags and elements. At first glance, it might
look as if HTML 5 is going in the direction of a programming language
(i.e. PHP) but actually this is not so – it is still an
XML-based presentation language. The new tags and elements might make
HTML 5 look more complex but this is only at first glance.

HTML 5 is not very different from HTML 4. One of the basic ideas
in the development of HTML 5 was to ensure backward compatibility and
because of that HTML 5 is not a complete revamp of the HTML
specification. So, if you had worries that you will have to start
learning it from scratch, these worries are groundless.

How the Changes in HTML 5 Will Affect SEO?

As a SEO expert, you are most likely interested mainly in those
changes in the HTML 5 specification, which will affect your work.
Here are some of them:

  • Improved page segmentation. Search engines are getting
    smarter and there are many reasons to believe that even now they are
    applying page segmentation. Basically, page segmentation means that
    a page is divided into several separate parts (i.e. main content,
    menus, headers, footers, links sections, etc.) and these parts are
    treated as separate entries. At present, there is no way for a Web
    master to tell search engines how to segment a page but this is
    bound to change in HTML 5.
  • A new <article> tag. The new <article> tag is
    probably the best addition from a SEO point of view. The <article>

    tag allows to mark separate entries in an online publication, such
    as a blog or a magazine. It is expected that when articles are
    marked with the <article> tag, this will make the HTML code
    cleaner because it will reduce the need to use <div> tags.
    Also, probably search engines will put more weight on the text
    inside the <article> tag as compared to the contents on the
    other parts of the page.

  • A new <section> tag. The new <section> tag can be
    used to identify separate sections on a page, chapter, book. The
    advantage is that each section can have its separate HTML heading.
    As with the <article> tag, it can be presumed that search
    engines will pay more attention to the contents of separate
    sections. For instance, if the words of a search string are found in
    one section, this implies higher relevance as compared to when these
    words are found all across the page or in separate sections.
  • A new <header> tag. The new <header> tag (which
    is different from the head element) is a blessing for SEO experts
    because it gives a lot of flexibility. The <header> tag is
    very similar to the <H1> tag but the difference is that it can
    contain a lot of stuff, such as H1, H2, H3 elements, whole
    paragraphs of text, hard-coded links (and this is really precious
    for SEO), and any other kind of info you feel relevant to include.
  • A new <footer> tag. The <footer> tag might not be
    as useful as the <header> one but still it allows to include
    important information there and it can be used for SEO purposes as
    well. The <header> and <footer> tags can be used many
    times on one page – i.e. you can have a separate header/footer
    for each section and this gives really a lot of flexibility.
  • A new <nav> tag. Navigation is one of the important
    factors for SEO and everything that eases navigation is welcome. The
    new <nav> tag can be used to identify a collection of links to
    other pages.

As you see, the new tags follow the common structure of a standard
page and each of the parts (i.e. header, footer, main section) has a
separate tag. The tags we described here, are just some (but
certainly not all) of the new tags in HTML 5, which will affect SEO
in some way. For instance, <audio>, <video> or <dialogue>

tags are also part of the HTML 5 standard and they will allow to
further separate the content into the adequate categories. There are
many other tags but they are of relatively lower importance and that
is why they are not discussed.

For now HTML 5 is still far in the future. When more pages become
HTML 5-compliant, search engines will pay more attention to HTML 5.
Only then it will be possible to know how exactly search engines will
treat HTML 5 pages. The mass adoption of HTML 5 won’t happen soon and
it is a safe bet to say that for now you can keep to HTML 4 and have
no concerns. Additionally, it will take some time for browsers to
adjust to HTML 5, which further delays the moment when HTML 5 will be
everywhere.

However, once HTML 5 is accepted and put to use, it will be the
dominating standard for the years to come and that is why you might
want to keep an eye on what other web masters are doing, just to make
sure that you will not miss the moment when HTML 5 becomes the
defacto standard.

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~ by UTS on October 23, 2009.

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