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Semantic HTML: Not A Ranking Factor But Still Important

Google's John Mueller advises using semantic HTML. Though not a ranking factor, it helps search engines understand content and boosts accessibility.

  • Semantic HTML gives meaning and structure to web content. It helps search engines and assistive technologies understand content.
  • Semantic HTML is not a direct ranking factor but improves SEO and accessibility.
  • Using semantic HTML creates an optimal experience for all users.

In a recent video, Google’s John Mueller answered a question about how semantic HTML helps search engines understand website content.

Mueller discussed how semantic HTML affects a site’s SEO, accessibility, and search rankings.

But first, let’s define semantic HTML and how it works.

Semantic HTML 101

Semantic HTML elements provide meaning and structure to web content.

It helps search engines and browsers better understand the content and relationships on the page.

Some common semantic elements include the following:

  • Headings are used to denote importance and create hierarchy. <h1> is the most important, <h6> is the least.
  • Paragraphs are used to represent blocks of text. The <p> element defines a paragraph.
    Lists are used to organize items. <ul> and <ol> create unordered and ordered lists, respectively. <li> defines a list item.
  • Tables structure tabular data. <table> creates a table, <tr> defines rows, <th> defines column headers, and <td> defines data cells.
  • Links or anchors (<a>) create hyperlinks between pages. They help show connections between content.
  • Images (<img>) represent photos or graphics. The alt attribute provides a text description of the image, which helps with accessibility and SEO.
  • Articles (<article>) represent independent, reusable content like blog posts or news stories.
  • Sections (<section>) group related content together, such as chapters or parts of a document.
  • Asides (<aside>) contain content tangentially related to the main content, like sidebars.
  • Figures (<figure> and <figcaption>) represent an image, diagram, or illustration, along with a caption. They show the relationship between the media and the surrounding text.

Semantic HTML – A Ranking Factor?

Although semantic HTML helps search engines analyze page content and structure, it’s not a direct ranking factor, Mueller clarifies:

“Semantic HTML does help to understand a page. However, it’s not a magical multiplier for making a website rank higher.”

While semantic HTML may not immediately boost rankings, it improves SEO and accessibility and remains a foundational best practice.

Using it, you can optimize for search engines while creating an optimal user experience.

How Semantic HTML Benefits Google

Using semantic HTML elements properly can help with SEO in the following ways:

  • Having headings to structure passages of text
  • Putting images next to the words that are relevant to them
  • Using table tags for tables of data, not just for positioning content
  • Having anchor links rather than links that work via JavaScript

Mueller notes that Google’s algorithms aren’t too precise about similar elements.

For example, when grouping together text sections, Google treats section, article, and div elements the same. The specific element used is less important than having a clear structure and relationship between elements.

How Semantic HTML Benefits People

Semantic HTML greatly improves users’ experience from various backgrounds, including those with disabilities.

It does so in the following ways:

  • Semantic HTML aids screen reader software in conveying web content to blind or visually impaired users.
  • Semantic HTML ensures keyboard navigability. Elements like `<a>` links and `<input>`/`<button>` forms can be accessed using keyboard controls, which assist motor-impaired users.
  • Assistive technologies like Braille readers and text-to-speech software benefit from semantic HTML’s clear structure and meaning.
  • Semantic elements facilitate responsive web design, ensuring content is accessible on various devices.
  • Semantic HTML future-proofs content by adhering to web standards. This means all users will likely be able to access the content even as technology progresses.

Developers can create web content that humans and machines understand by following semantic HTML principles, leading to an inclusive web experience.

Mueller’s Plea To Website Owners

Mueller concludes the video with a plea to website owners to use semantic HTML even though it’s not a direct ranking factor.

“Please use semantic HTML. It’s not a ranking factor, but it can help our systems to understand your content better.”

Source: Google Search Central

Featured Image: Screenshot from, June 2023. 

Category News SEO
SEJ STAFF Matt G. Southern Senior News Writer at Search Engine Journal

Matt G. Southern, Senior News Writer, has been with Search Engine Journal since 2013. With a bachelor’s degree in communications, ...

Semantic HTML: Not A Ranking Factor But Still Important

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