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 Organic 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.