HTML5′s Semantic Markup and SEO  

I believe it to be common knowledge that search engines would want to place a lower emphasis on links or content located in a repeating nav bar or especially a footer. ¬†Greater emphasis is, and probably should be, placed on the more unique content and links found in the “body” of the page.

Currently with HTML4, mark-up coders are working with document structures like this:

<div id="header">
[insert a logo]
[insert some links]</div>
<div id="leftnav">[bunch-o-links]</div>
<div class="post"><p>Lorem Ipsum</p></div>
<div id="footer">[bunch-o-links]</div>

In principle, <div> tags are generic and don’t tell the browser/crawler anything about the content it contains. It’s true that I’ve used some semantic ids and class names in the above example but that’s just for ease of illustration. I could have called them anything.

If we change up the obvious id and class names, the only way a search engine would know that something is actually a footer or a nav-bar is if it repeats over and over again. But that’s sort of the crucial part, isn’t it? It has to have a way to KNOW that some section is repeating in order to devalue any part of it. Across billions of web pages that would be a fair amount of heavy lifting to maintain.

Well HTML5 is about to make their lives a LOT easier. Here’s how that same code above would look in HTML5:

[insert a logo]
[insert some links]</header>
<article><p>Lorem Ipsum</p></article>

With HTML5 and semantic markup, browsers and crawler will know exactly what section of the page contain what content. Now all a search engine needs to do is just say “Oh, it’s the footer tag. Give -5 internet points to all the links contained therein.” Or, worse yet, just ignore them completely and only concern themselves with what’s in the <article> tag.

Don’t get me wrong here. I’m all for semantic markup, microformats and RDFa, and all that good stuff. HTML5 is going to be powerful (and it’s about time anyways). I just thought this could make for an interesting side effect of the transition.


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