HTML5: An Essential Weapon for SEOs

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HTML5: An Essential Weapon for SEOs

SEOs rely on traditional HTML optimization as a standard tool in their fight to improve search rankings. Just as the bayonet has evolved since the 17th century, HTML is set to receive a major upgrade in the form of HTML5. The update contains a collection of new tags and APIs.  Five stand out as major SE0 innovations.

“Well, Governor, we also have fewer horses and bayonets.” That was President Obama’s now-famous zinger to Mitt Romney during the third Presidential debate in 2012. But the President was mistaken — the military does NOT have fewer bayonets. In fact, every U.S. Marine still receives a bayonet. Apparently, it is considered an essential weapon. The same can be said for HTML and SEOs today.

1. Nofollow’s little brothers and sisters 

In 2005 Google announced that they would support a new way for webmasters to tell search engines not to pass PageRank through a link by adding a small code snippet to the link called rel=nofollow. Below is an example of a link that does not pass any PageRank:

<a href=”no-follow.htm” rel=”nofollow”>Don’t Follow This Link</a>

HTML5 goes a step further and provides several new ways for webmasters to instruct search engines on how to handle a particular link. As you can see from the below table, you can now provide them with very specific directions for everything from setting the page’s language to advanced pagination. Imagine how useful it will be to tell search engines what pages of your site are in Spanish, or where your Help documentation exists.

<link rel=”alternate” hreflang=”es” href=”espanol.html”>

<link rel=”author” href=”″>

<a rel=”bookmark” href=””>Permalink</a>

<link rel=”help” href=”helpfiles.html”>

<a rel=”license” href=”licensing.html”>License information</a>

<a rel=”next” href=”page-2.html”>Next</a> <a rel=”prev” href=”page-0.html”>Previous</a>

<link rel=”search” href=””>

Perhaps even more importantly, HTML5 also allows you to claim ownership of the content you create by using the rel=”author” text on your link. This development underscores Google’s heavy push towards authorship. As Google’s former CEO, Eric Schmidt, points out below, ownership will be tied directly to top rankings.

“Within search results, information tied to verified online profiles will be ranker higher than content without such verification, which will result in most users naturally clicking on the top (verified) results. The true cost of remaining anonymous, then, might be irrelevance. ” – Eric Schmidt

2. Alt text gets some much-needed support

One of the key roles of an SEO is to take rich content that search engines have trouble understanding — such as images and video — and convert it into a text based alternative. And until now, SEOs used “alt text” as the primary way to help a search engine understand what is going on in an image. However, with HTML5’s new “figure” and “figurecaption” tags, we now have a much better way to explain images to search engines and users.

As you can see in the below box, the image, as referenced by the <img tag, is enclosed inside a parent <figure> tag. Underneath it, the <figcaption> tag description works in conjunction with the alt text to explain what’s going on in the image. The difference between the alt text, and the <figcaption> tag is that the alt text is not visible to users, while the <figcaption> tag is.

<figure id=”figure2″>

<img src=”shasta.jpg” alt=”My Dog Shasta”>

<figcaption>My Dog Shasta</figcaption>


Webmasters often add keywords to an image’s alt text that shouldn’t really be there. That’s because search engines have looked at the words surrounding an image to help them understand the meaning. But now <figcaption> gives search engines and users a clear understanding of an image.

3. Identifying the most important links on your page 

In June of 2004, Google filed a patent entitled: Ranking documents based on user behavior and/or feature data. The patent explained that not every link on a web page will pass the same amount of PageRank. To determine how much PageRank each link should pass on, Google looked at how likely a user was to click on a link. Popular links, like those included in the main navigation, were very likely to be clicked on, so they passed on more PageRank. Less visible links, such as a privacy policy, would pass on less PageRank.

In HTML5, several new tags were introduced to help you label the important parts of a page. For example, the new <nav> tag tells search engines which links are part of your main navigation, which according to the above patent, may help them pass on more PageRank. Conversely, the <footer> tag tells search engines which links are at the bottom of the page, which of course, may cause them to pass on less PageRank.

4. No more Flash for videos

Web designers love using Flash, especially to embed video on a web page. But do search engines feel the same way? Um…not so much. That’s because they have a hard time accessing the content in Flash video. In fact, without the aid of special technologies like SWFobject and video sitemaps, search engines would be clueless about a video.

But HTML5’s new <video> tag changes all that. With the <video> tag, you can embed a video as easily as you can an image – no Flash required. But there’s more. HTML5 now provides SEOs with a number of ways to tell search engines about additional content related to the video, such as “captions” and “subtitles.”

<video controls>

<source src=”video.mp4″ type=”video/mp4″ />

<source src=”video.webm” type=”video/webm” />

<track kind=”subtitles” src=”subtitles.vtt” />

<track kind=”captions” src=”transcript.en.hoh.vtt” srclang=”en” label=”English for the

Hard of Hearing”>


5. AJAX gets search engine friendly

While Flash is a favorite of designers and creative types, AJAX is a favorite of developers and programmers looking to make their sites faster and more interactive. The drawback, of course, is that search engines struggle to read content delivered with AJAX.

But HTML5 has a solution for that. It’s a new feature called the History API. It lets developers change the URL in the address bar of the browser without refreshing the page. This subtle change helps search engines tie AJAX content to a unique URL, which is crucial for their ranking algorithms.

Overall, the improvements in HTML5 include numerous features that will help you “fight the good fight,” and improve your search rankings. It should be considered an essential weapon for SEOs today.

Daniel Cristo

Daniel Cristo

Dan Cristo is the director of SEO Innovation at Catalyst Search Marketing, a thought leader in the organic, paid and ... [Read full bio]