HTML5 is not officially released yet but we are already seeing plenty of early adapters these days. There are plenty of viral blogposts trumpeting how ‘cool’ your websites can be with HTML5 (like this one, for example) but I don’t see many that talks on the impact HTML5 will do on search engines and SEO. To proceed, we need to first understand how HTML5 might change the way search engines look at a web page.
How HTML5 improves search engine’s understanding of the web?
Apart from being concise and able to create cool on-page visual stuffs, HTML5 improves communication between a web page and the machines (search engines, in our case).
New element in HTML5
First we have bunch of new elements like <aside>, <article>, <hgroup>, <footer>, etc in HTML5 that will help search engines to have better understanding on webpages’ segmentation*; which in turn, allow search engines to decide where to look for the main content and spending less resources in indexing less-important sections like footer and advertisement.
(*Side note: It’s no secret that Google can already do this for a lot of websites (blog especially) nowadays but it definitely will do better with the help of HTML5.)
Microdata in HTML5
Next, with HTML5 comes microdata specification. Microdata is a standard way to label content to describe a specific type of information – for example reviews, persons, addresses, and so on. With microdata, the web content is not just plain string and text to search engines anymore. Take example in this tutorial:
<dd itemprop=”title”>The Reality Dysfunction
<dd><time itemprop=”pubdate” datetime=”1996-01-26″>26 January 1996</time>
<div id=”author_information” itemprop=”author”>Peter F. Hamilton</div>
Search engines now understand that the written text is about book with details below:
title = The Reality Dysfunction
pubdata = 1996-01-26
author = Peter F. Hamilton
In other words, when you search for ‘author of The Reality Dysfunction’, search engines can have the choice to match your query with the word ‘Peter F. Hamilton’ instead of just ‘author of The Reality Dysfunction’.
Chances are you have already heard about Rich Snippet (introduced by Google in 2009). According to the official, Rich Snippet is to help Google to ‘present users with the most useful and informative search results’. Search engine result pages (SERPs) are no longer plain string matching. Information like review ratings, event details, and contact particulars are extracted and displayed in SERP (see examples below)
Google’s Rich Snippets in action
Note that these examples are done without the help of HTML5. Now imagine having HTML5 microdata introduced and spreading wild worldwide, I will not be surprise to see more varieties in Google SERP.
How HTML5 affect your SEO and web marketing strategy?
We can only guestimate how Google algorithm will adapt to the new environment but there are a few things we can be sure.
1. Not all links in the same page are equal
For example, a link embedded within the <article></article> will be given more weight than a link in <footer>. I am already seeing SEOs in high level competition having great success by buying content links constantly and believe this trick to stay for quite some time.
2. Microdata/Rich Snippets helps stand out from competition
At this time of writing* adding microdata or Rich Snippets seems like a logical move to make yourself stand out in the SERP. After all searchers are good in detecting differences – some stars rating and extra lines will surely improve your site’s visibility and increase CTR.
(*Frankly I am facing a little dilemma in using microdata or Rich Snippets – not that I am lazy to make the changes but I think Google is actually stealing our content using this technique and it will do us no benefits in long run.)
3. Time to kill of your Flash sites
First of all, using Flash to develop a website is never a good SEO practice. Some say Flash site improves user experience and engagement; with HTML5 you can now do the same without jeopardizing your search engine rankings.
4. Improve your onpage SEO score
Since we can have different section (<aside>, <article>, <footer>) in a page now, I expect we can use more header tags in helping search engines to understand our web page better (in turn, improve our onpage SEO score).
Do you need an immediate plan-B?
Qucik answer: no. I don’t expect dramatic changes cause by HTML5 in the next 12 months – a few extra header tags in different <article> section and some star ratings in SERP might not change things that much to be honest. But as you know, SEO is all about winning the competition and this means you will need to change as soon as your competitors start changing (which might be probably, now).