What SEOs Ought to Know About HTML 5

by Stephanie Woods February 10th, 2010 

It appears the era of HTML 5 is upon us. YouTube recently started offering a HTML 5 version of their video player (as opposed to Flash). Given the strong influence of Google - who happens to own YouTube - every online marketer should have some understanding of how HTML 5 will impact SEO in the near future.

If youre like me (a couple of weeks ago), youve heard of HTML 5, but havent given it much thought yet since (a) the release date seems so far ahead in the future , and (b) it might not affect me anyways since I dont write very much code (with the exception of meta tags and content).

Why HTML5?

A lot has changed on the internet since HTML 4 was first introduced in December 1997. Back then sites were collections of static pages; they were not the media-rich and socially interactive communities that we have today.

por qu?

por qu?

HTML5 will be the beginning of the standardization of websites. This means it will be easier for someone to update a site theyve never worked on. It also provides a better way to divide a page into several parts - making it easier to read for humans and bots alike.

How Will HTML 5 Affect the Internet?

HTML5 will help speed up the internet. As we all know, Google pretty much IS the internet - as much as you might dislike that fact - and they want to speed things up.

With the new HTML 5 tags, relativity will be improved because of how a web page is categorized. New HTML tags will point to what is most important on a page.

It seems like Google was hoping to push the HTML 5-based platform, by writing Google Wave in almost all HTML 5 (since HTML 5 reflects the interactivity and dynamic-ness of the internet these days). Since that hasn't caught on like it intended to, YouTube is the next push for Google to speed along things for HTML 5.

How Will HTML 5 Affect SEO?

HTML 5 markup is similar to the XML structure. Spiders will be able to distinguish what is content on a page more easily. With the new tags you will be able to point out navigation versus content. This lets the spiders know what to focus on instead of spidering the whole page. The spider is provided with a clear indication of content, thus creating a better experience for the end user (aka search results).

Spiders heart HTML 5

Spiders heart HTML 5

The goal of the new tags is to add more structure to a page and to help search engines decide what is the most relevant content amongst a sea of code. Currently the structure of HTML tags are not semantic and not in any particular order " which makes it challenging for a search engine to figure out what is actually important.

New HTML 5 Tags

Here are some (not all) of the tags that will hold the most importance in regards to SEO and the categorization of a page:

Header: This tag holds the primary info about the content following the tag. It can be included more than once on a page, so that different sections can have their own header. This also allows search engines to rank pages with multiple topics more easily.

Smashing Mag HTML 5 Wireframe

Smashing Mag HTML 5 Wireframe

Article: Points to the most important content on the page. It lets spiders know what the primary focus is.

Aside: Contains any tertiary or secondary info related the page. For example, this provides an excellent way to make a relevant, yet off topic comment. Basically, you can keep your content interesting without sacrificing the primary focus of the page.

Section: This tag specifies separate sections of a page containing an article or blog post. This means that (hopefully) a search engine will be able to pay attention to the contents of separate sections. Think of a big department store with the various signs pointing you in the right direction. Without them youd be lost.

Navigation: For navigational menus that contain links to different sections of the page/site. (Think primary navigation.)

Footer:Can be used multiple times like the header and will (rather obviously) be given less importance from the search engines.

Audio and Video: Both of these allow text alternatives to be placed within the tags themselves. This will make it possible for search engines to better index audio and video. With these tags you will be able to embed these types of files directly onto your HTML pages and give you more control over how they appear.

Now What?

For SEOs there is not much we can do at the present moment except wait and keep ourselves in the loop. Its best to be prepared, so that when HTML 5 becomes the next best thing to sliced bread, were not left scratching our heads going whaaaaa?


Stephanie Woods is an internet marketer. If you'd love to contact her to work on your site (because you're interested in seeing some great ROI for your online expenditures), you can check her out here. When shes not helping clients achieve their online goals, youll find her riding her beloved snowboard any time she can.

Stephanie Woods

Stephanie Woods is a Search Specialist at Blast Radius in Vancouver, BC.

Steph Woods SEO

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18 Responses to “What SEOs Ought to Know About HTML 5”

  1. This is a good article, don't get me wrong, but all of the Google love is making me a little sick.

    How about SEOs should be concerned with HTML5 because it's the future? Not because Google said so, but because a good majority of top developers around the world have said so.

    Every good optimizer knows: search engines tend to have a positive relationship with web standards, HTML 5 is becoming the new standard, therefore SEOs should know HTML 5. :)

  2. Stephanie Woods says:

    Tanner – I hear what you're saying about the overabundance of Google love. At the end of the day though, as much as I stress the importance of focusing on online visibility versus ranking in Google, clients always want the latter more than the former. Hence, the majority of SEOs are focused on Google out of sheer necessity and a willingness to please our clients.

    And I agree: SEOs should know HTML 5 simply because it’s the new standard!

  3. Ummm, just the other day I read an article questioning whether SEO's need to know HTML period… one of the biggest hurdles for this industry is actually figuring out what is needed to do the job and what isn't. Since I pride myself on being a developer first and person optimizing websites for SEs second I'd say yes.

    HTML is not a standard until the RFC has been accepted and AFAIK HTML 5 isn't even fully supported by all browsers, For instance the Google Vid player crapped out in MSIE for me. Could be M$ decide to forego it since it is a direct competitor to their media player!

    • Stephanie Woods says:

      Terry – That is interesting that people are questioning whether SEOs need to know HTML at all. I am the opposite of you: An advertising account planner/marketer turned internet marketer/SEO. I find that knowing basic HTML comes in handy when doing site audits, making site recommendations, updating content and writing meta descriptions. My intention is to fully learn HTML because I think ultimately it can only make me better at my job.

      I've heard that Mozilla and Safari can’t decide on a standardized video codec. Which means it will take some time for everyone to decide which version to use – which will further delay the standardization of HTML5.

  4. I like the idea of segmentation using blocks that allow you to prioritize crawl relevance and prominence between the various site regions.

    So much for having to use canonical fixes for redundant code in sidebars and footers or block server side includes from leaving a cookie-cutter stamp on a page, now you can just call them out and refocus the spiders efforts to your main content of rather (article) area.

    • Stephanie Woods says:

      Jeffery – I agree. I love that we will be able to prioritize sections on a page and let spiders know what content is the primary focus. I think that it will change the way SEOs do onpage and am ooking forward to the possibilities!

  5. As a developer come SEOer It'll be interesting to see whether or not HTML5 catches on – if the SEO has to wait for the developer to embrace the new code we could be in for a long wait, I still come across many a site that still uses tables!

    I think the best way to push the adoption of HTML5 is to "reward" sites that adopt it with better rankings, or at least use it to some degree in the algorithm (though again, it'll be SEO that is championing the move to HTML5, not the developer).

    The slight concern from an SEO point of view is allowing users to specify which area of the page is the most important, i.e. the tag, will article links replace footer links and start appearing further up in the content?

    • Stephanie Woods says:

      Dave – You bring up a good point about needing to wait for developers to embrace the new code. I guess it depends on the company and how much emphasis each department places on SEO. I've worked with developers that take SEO into consideration all of the time, and I've worked with others that have depended on me to educate them. When talking to other developers about this, they sound enthusiastic about it since it will help standardize the code more; making it easier for a new person to come in and start working on the site.

      Re: your concern. I am certain we will see people misuse the tags in an attempt to make everything on a page important. I don't think that this will work to anyone's advantage though. Laying out the hierarchy of a page is in an SEOs best interest. And will sites be rewarded for using HTML 5? Since Google seems to be the one pushing for this, my guess would be: Yes.

  6. billdrews says:

    Oh great! Stephanie, I'm a sales guy/marketer, whose learned SEO and have been working through XHTML and now CSS, only to find out it's gonna change! Geeminy! Oh well, HTML5…here I come!

    Thanks for the info, and I agree…SEO'ers should learn (to a point) HTML, CSS, etc, to help them talk intelligently with customers…

    Great article…thx!

  7. Hey Stephanie, great post u had written here.. I will just say, in my own tests wins HTML 5 alot of points in the ranking.


  8. Andrea Moro says:

    Nice reading Stephanie, but the link you chosen is not the best one. HTML 5 specifics are almost complete and I won't think W3C will wait another 11 years before release them.

    I wonder a new completely different approach to Internet and the way to present information by that time.

  9. We could still use the tag names as class names in our not-so-young xhtml designs.
    That could constitute an indication for spiders that give more importance to microformats today and use class names to identify content. So by extending the concept, it could be worth doing it…
    I did not test the impact though, just a thought…

  10. Stephanie Woods says:

    Bill – It’s not going to be drastically different, so you don’t have to worry. A lot of what you’re learning will still be applicable, so keep it up!

    Paw – Thanks. I can’t wait to test it out myself!

    Andrea – Nice catch! The link you are referring to is actually only a joke site. HTML 5 is just around the corner and not really going to be ready in 2022. I was wondering if anyone would say anything. :)

    Mathieu – This is where I look to the web dev guy beside me for some further clarification on class name. I like how you’re thinking though – I am going to look into your suggestion some more because I like the sound of it. Giving class names to identify content to spiders sounds intriguing.

  11. Andrea Moro says:

    @Stephanie Woods fact is there are a lot of people who believed in that joke. Yesterday when I was grabbing some info on that, some other web site stated the long term delivery.

    Have a look here: http://www.google.co.uk/search?hl=en&source=hp&q=html5%20release%20date&pws=0

    Apart the second document, that is the official one, which states a sooner (?) rec release, all the rest believed in 2022 late release. That's a shame!

  12. Andrea, the RFCs are just a way for the community to decide on what will be added and subtracted. After that is completed in the RFC process the browser developers have to implement it. And having watched RFC's going back to HTML 2.0, I will be surprised if this is finalized in 5 yrs. For instance there is still debate around the canonical ie: if it is even needed, regardless of what Google wants. You may see support for some elements and attributes in browsers before then, but, RFC's are a long drawn out affair. Easy for coders to change but that doesn't matter if the browsers aren't supporting them.

  13. Andrea Moro says:

    @Tery Yes you are right, but 11 years before next release are definitely something "massive" and I wonder if the process will be slashed down. The W3 world really require a new standard now… not the next decade.

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  15. Sonix says:

    Well we all expect some standardization and here it is, the new improved "HTML 5" may be it is in the favor of SEOs and i totally agree with you @Tanner we should do things because love them we should do them cos that's the best thing to be DONE.