Google’s John Mueller answered a question as to whether the “ARTICLE” semantic HTML element has an impact on Google Search.
This is a good question because the use of semantic HTML is generally regarded as a good practice.
But does it have an SEO impact on Google Search?
What is the <ARTICLE> HTML Element?
The <article> HTML element is a versatile HTML element that can be used to denote standalone sections of a webpage.
It doesn’t necessarily tell Google and browsers that everything within the opening and closing <article></article> elements are articles in the way that word is generally understood.
The <article> element can be used for article excerpts on a category page, for product descriptions, for user generated content like blog comments or an individual forum post.
It can even be used for a widget.
What the <article> HTML element represents is a single self-contained item of content.
The official W3C definition of the article element is:
“The article element represents a complete, or self-contained, composition in a document, page, application, or site and that is, in principle, independently distributable or reusable, e.g. in syndication.
This could be a forum post, a magazine or newspaper article, a blog entry, a user-submitted comment, an interactive widget or gadget, or any other independent item of content.”
Furthermore, the <article> element could be considered redundant if used within an area of content that is the main content area.
The official W3C specs further explain:
“When the main content of the page (i.e. excluding footers, headers, navigation blocks, and sidebars) is all one single self-contained composition, that content may be marked with an article, but it is technically redundant in that case (since it’s self-evident that the page is a single composition, as it is a single document).”
That means it’s not necessary to add an <article> HTML element within the <main> HTML element, since the <main> element signals that everything within the opening and closing of that element is the main content.
But what about an SEO impact from the use of the <article> element?
Does Article HTML Element Have an Impact on Google?
The person asking the question wanted to know what impact the Article element has on Google search.
“Does the use of an <article> HTML tag have an impact on Google?
Is it better to put the content of a product listing page in an <article> tag?”
John Mueller answered:
“The <article> HTML element does not have any particular effect in Google Search.
This is similar to lots of other kinds of HTML tags.
There’s so much more to using HTML than just Google Search though!
Sometimes there are accessibility or semantic reasons to use a specific kind of markup, so don’t only focus on SEO.”
What Good is the Use of Semantic HTML?
Semantic HTML is not a ranking factor.
For indexing purposes, Googlebot is most interested in the main content of a webpage because that’s the part that gets ranked.
The value of semantic HTML is to make it clear what the individual sections of a webpage are, in particular the section that constitutes the Main Content.
This is what Mueller refers to when he said, there are “semantic” reasons for using semantic HTML elements.
By semantic, he doesn’t mean in the sense of language.
The use of the word “semantic” in the context of HTML means that these HTML elements convey the meaning or purpose of the content that is wrapped within those elements.
Thus, the purpose of content within the <nav> element is a navigational menu.
The purpose of the <footer> element is to denote that this is the footer area.
Semantic HTML is great for making it clear to the search engines what each part of a webpage is.
For example, sometimes there’s content that should not be considered a part of the main content, such as advertising or some additional information like a Call to Action.
One can use the <aside> element to signal that whatever is within the opening and closing <aside> elements should not be considered part of the main content.
Plus, there is also an accessibility bonus from using semantic HTML elements.
Jon Henshaw wrote a great article that discusses the role of Semantic HTML as part of an overall SEO practice, highly recommended reading.
Not Everything is Ranking Related
Mueller is right to encourage the person asking the question to consider that not everything is SEO in the sense of being ranking related.
“Sometimes there are accessibility or semantic reasons to use a specific kind of markup, so don’t only focus on SEO.”
Many HTML elements have purposes that are not directly ranking related but still communicate information about the webpage.
Listen to Mueller answer the question in the SEO Office Hours recording at the 6:44 minute mark.
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