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Semantic HTML Elements for SEO

Semantic HTML: What is it & How to Use it?

James Gibbons
Semantic HTML Elements for SEO

Have you ever wondered why your meticulously designed website isn't reaping the SEO rewards it deserves? Search engines are like blindfolded users trying to make sense of your content. However, HTML is where and how search engines interpret your web page's content. That's where semantic HTML elements step in.

Semantic HTML elements are tags that add meaning to your website's content, helping search engines understand it better. Using these elements, you can provide context to your content, making it easier for search engines to crawl, index, and rank your website.

In this blog, we'll dive deeper into semantic HTML elements & their importance in website SEO. We will also explore the best practices to implement these semantic tags. Read along & take your website's SEO game to the next level!

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What is Semantic HTML?

Semantic HTML is an approach in web development that uses special HTML tags to give more meaning to your content.

Think of HTML as the basic structure of your webpage, like a skeleton. Semantic HTML, on the other hand, acts like muscles, providing purpose & meaning to that structure.

Semantic HTML uses specific tags to indicate the type of content it is wrapping.

For example, a <article> tag signals to the browser & other platforms that the content is self-contained, like a blog post or news story. It helps browsers understand your content better and makes it easier for search engines like Google to index & rank your site effectively.

Benefits of Semantic HTML Elements for SEO

1. Enhanced Indexability: Semantic HTML provides explicit meaning to your content structure, making it easier for search engines to understand & index. This enhanced readability can significantly boost your SERP ranking.

2. Improved Accessibility: These elements help enhance navigation & interaction for assistive technologies such as screen readers. It creates a more inclusive site and, opens up your content to a wider audience & increases potential traffic.

3. Better Link Context: Semantic HTML gives context to links and other elements of a page. Search engines such as Google use this context in their ranking algorithms to determine the relevance of your site to a given search query.

4. Increased Relevance: When you use semantic HTML, you provide precise meaning to your content. This allows search engines to provide more relevant search results to users, thus improving your visibility to potential visitors.

5. Future-Proofing Your Site: Semantic HTML will likely remain relevant and beneficial for SEO as search engines evolve. By using these elements now, you're keeping your website compliant with the best current practices and setting it up for success in the future.

Semantic HTML vs Non-Semantic HTML

Non-semantic HTML code provides no information about the content's meaning or structure - it simply presents the content. For example,or  are non-semantic elements as they tell nothing about their content and are used only for styling purposes.

Semantic HTML vs Non-Semantic HTML
Semantic HTML vs Non-Semantic HTML

Let us understand the difference between semantic HTML elements & their counterparts.

Feature Semantic HTML Non-Semantic HTML
Structure Focuses on the meaning and structure of content. Primarily concerned with the appearance of content.
Accessibility It eases navigation for individuals using assistive technologies. It makes navigation difficult for users of assistive technologies.
Maintainability Developers find it easier to read and understand, making it easier to debug or update the code. It can lead to untidy and disorganized code, making it difficult for other developers to decipher.
SEO Search engines can understand and interpret the meaning of your content when determining SERP rankings. Lacks specificity and clarity that search engines rely on to understand and rank your web content, resulting in lower SERP rankings and reduced visibility.
Performance Browsers can render pages more swiftly due to a better understanding of the context, leading to improved performance and faster load times. Browsers may have slight difficulty interpreting the structure, potentially leading to slower performance and higher load times.

Types of Semantic HTML Tags

Semantic HTML tags or elements are the ones that provide meaning & structure to the content on a webpage. These tags make the content more accessible and understandable for both humans & search engine bots.

Semantic HTML tags can be broadly categorized into two types:

1. HTML Semantic Tags for Structure

2. HTML Semantic Tags for Text

Each type of semantic HTML group serves its unique purpose in providing meaning to the web page structure & content. Let's explore each group in detail:

HTML Semantic Tags for Structure

HTML semantic tags for structure are used to define the layout & structure of a web page. They are also known as layout containers. These tags signify the different parts of the page & how they relate to each other. Here are the different types of HTML semantic tags for structure:

1. Header

HTML Semantic Tags for Structure: Header Tag
HTML Semantic Tags for Structure: Header Tag

The header tag represents the header section of a web page & is typically used to contain the page's logo, navigation menu, and other introductory content. Header tags help to make a page more user-friendly & accessible. They provide a logical structure for content and give visitors & search engines hints about how the page is organized.

It can be implemented by simply wrapping the content you want to appear in the header section within the header tag. An example of its use would be a news website where the top section contains the website's name, a logo, and the navigation menu.

2. Nav

HTML Semantic Tags for Structure: Nav Tag
HTML Semantic Tags for Structure: Nav Tag

The nav tag represents the navigation section of a web page. It's used to contain links that allow users to navigate to different pages on the website and help visitors quickly move to the content they seek.

It can be implemented by enveloping navigation links within the <nav> tag. An example of its use is a blog with navigation links to different blog categories. A well-designed navigation menu can help increase visibility & drive more traffic to a site.

3. Section

HTML Semantic Tags for Structure: Section Tag
HTML Semantic Tags for Structure: Section Tag

The section tag groups together related pieces of content. It allows easier navigation of different sections. You can implement it by enclosing all the related content in a section tag. On a blog, each post might be enclosed within a section tag.

4. Article

HTML Semantic Tags for Structure: Article Tag
HTML Semantic Tags for Structure: Article Tag

The article tag defines an independent piece of content on a web page. It helps locate the main information within each piece of content. A news site would typically use this to frame each news story.

5. Footer

HTML Semantic Tags for Structure: Footer Tag
HTML Semantic Tags for Structure: Footer Tag

The footer tag is used to create the footer section of a webpage, which displays the information at the end of the page. This tag is typically used to contain copyright information, contact information, and other relevant information to the website or organization.

To implement it, wrap the footer content within the footer tag. A footer can add value to a site by offering content from deeper pages, external links, and additional information.

HTML Semantic Tags for Text

These tags are used to define the text content of a web page. They provide meaning to the text and help search engines & screen readers better understand the content. Here are the different types of HTML semantic tags for text:

1. Headings h1-h6

HTML Semantic Tags for Text: H1 to H6 Tag
HTML Semantic Tags for Text: H1 to H6 Tag

The h1 to h6 tags are used to define headings & subheadings on a web page. The h1 tag is used for the page's main title, while the h2 to h6 tags are used for subheadings. These tags provide structure to the content & improve readability.

Learn more about heading tags here.

2. Paragraph HTML Tag (P)

HTML Semantic Tags for Text: Paragraph Tag
HTML Semantic Tags for Text: Paragraph Tag

The p tag is a web page's most commonly used tag. It is used to define paragraphs on a web page by separating blocks of text and helps improve the users' readability. Blogs & articles use this tag to structure their content into readable sections.

3. Hyperlinks (A)

HTML Semantic Tags for Text: Hyperlink Tag
HTML Semantic Tags for Text: Hyperlink Tag

The <a> tag represents a hyperlink. It's used to link to other pages within the website or external websites. They provide visitors with a wealth of good-quality information & allow users to quickly jump to specific parts of a document or to other files or web pages without scrolling or searching.

4. List Types OL and UL

HTML Semantic Tags for Text: List Tag
HTML Semantic Tags for Text: List Tag

The ol (ordered list) and ul (unordered list) tags are used to define lists on a web page by providing structure to the content. The ol tag is used for numbered lists, while the ul tag is used for bullet-point lists. They make content more appealing, help organize information, improve readability, and make it easier for readers to find information.

5. Code HTML Semantic Element

HTML Semantic Tags for Text: Code Tag

The code tag is used to define code snippets on a web page. This tag indicates that the text is a code & provides proper formatting. The code tag is essential for tutorials & programming-related content.

Google & Semantic HTML Elements: Is it a Ranking Factor?

Google has clarified that semantic HTML doesn't boost your site's ranking directly. While it may not be a direct ranking factor, it indirectly significantly enhances your website's performance on SERPs.

Sematic HTML elements provide a context to your content, making it easier for search engines & assistive technology to understand what a web page is about. When Google's crawlers encounter a webpage, they inspect the HTML code to comprehend the content's purpose & significance.

Semantic HTML provides a clear, unambiguous layout of your content, helping in faster & more accurate indexing.

Faster indexing, in turn, contributes to the improved accessibility of your website. As your site becomes more user-friendly, it can lead to higher user engagement, lower bounce rates, and longer dwell time. All these factors are considered in Google algorithms, thus leading to better ranking.

How Do Semantic HTML Elements Benefit Google & Readers?

Semantic HTML elements are helpful and important for how Google & people use & understand websites. These elements give web pages a neat structure, making them easier for everyone to navigate.

1. For Google, semantic elements act like labels that tell it exactly what's inside. It makes Google great at figuring out what a page is about. So, when someone searches for something, Google can quickly find the most relevant information. It's like having a tidy bookshelf with labels on each section – finding what you need is easy.

2. For humans, these elements make websites more organized & easy to read. Imagine a webpage like a well-organized book. Tags like <h1>, <h2>, etc., are like the chapter titles, showing which information is the most important.

But it's not just about Google & organization; it's also about being friendly to everyone. Think about people who use screen readers because they can't see the screen. Semantic HTML helps these users understand the content better. So, semantic HTML elements ensure that everyone can enjoy & get what they need from the webpage.

Semantic HTML Best Practices for SEO

Semantic HTML SEO Best Practices
Semantic HTML SEO Best Practices

Avoid Misuse of Semantic Tags for Styling

Remember, semantic HTML tags are about meaning, not presentation. Misusing them for the sake of styling can undermine the very purpose of these tags. For instance, using the <h1> tag to make text appear large is misused.

CSS should be your go-to for styling, not HTML. Misuse of semantic tags can confuse search engines & negatively impact your SEO. At the same time, it can affect your site's accessibility, leading to a poor user experience.

Implement Descriptive Headings

Heading tags (h1, h2, h3, etc.) help you structure your content & guide readers through your webpage. They give an overview of the content & make it easy for users—and search engines—to understand the hierarchy & flow of your content.

But remember to make your headings descriptive. They must reveal the topic of the content they precede. Effective use of headings can significantly improve user experience, as users can easily skim through your content & find what they are looking for.

Since search engines give considerable weight to headings, descriptive headings can significantly enhancing crawling & SEO.

Use Clean and Valid HTML Code

A clean and valid HTML code implies a code without syntax errors, deprecated tags, unnecessary tags, or elements. Such code makes your website easier to maintain & more efficient, leading to faster load times. Moreover, clean code makes it easier for search engines to crawl & index your site.

When writing your HTML code, always close all tags, use lowercase, & quote all attribute values. You should also consider validating your HTML code using the W3C validation service to ensure it adheres to updated web standards. It will improve your SEO & enhance the user experience by ensuring your webpage loads correctly on various browsers.

Leverage Appropriate Semantic Elements

Ensure leveraging appropriate semantic elements wherever necessary. For example, include <figure> and <figcaption> for images and their captions, <article> for standalone content, and <aside> for sidebar content. These elements provide further context to search engines, helping them understand the structure of your content. They help in making your webpage easier to navigate & comprehend.

By following these best practices, you can create web content that ranks higher in SERP & delivers an exceptional user experience.

Start Leveraging Semantic HTML Elements for Enhanced Accessibility & SEO

In conclusion, web developers can provide more meaningful information to search engines using semantic HTML elements. It makes the website more accessible to users with disabilities, which can improve user experience & engagement.

However, it is important to note that semantic HTML elements alone cannot guarantee high search engine ranking. Other factors, such as quality content & backlinks, also significantly influence SEO. Therefore, it is crucial to incorporate semantic HTML elements with other SEO strategies to achieve the desired results.

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Semantic HTML for SEO FAQs

Are there situations where non-semantic HTML is still appropriate?

Non-semantic HTML is still appropriate when creating a template or a placeholder. Its purpose is not to provide structure or meaning to the content but to serve as a container for the content that will be added later. However, it is important to use semantic HTML wherever possible to ensure accessibility, SEO, and maintainability of the code.

How regularly should you update your website's HTML to maintain its semantic structure?

The frequency of updating your website's HTML largely depends on the type of content you publish and the rate of change in your industry. However, reviewing & updating your HTML regularly is recommended to maintain its semantic structure.

Do all browsers support semantic HTML equally?

No, not all browsers support semantic HTML equally. It varies from browser to browser & their versions and may interpret & display semantic elements differently, potentially affecting performance & user experience.

About The Author

James Gibbons

James Gibbons is the Senior Customer Success Manager at Quattr. He has 10 years of experience in SEO and has worked with multiple agencies, brands, and B2B companies. He has helped clients scale organic and paid search presence to find hidden growth opportunities. James writes about all aspects of SEO: on-page, off-page, and technical SEO.

About Quattr

Quattr is an innovative and fast-growing venture-backed company based in Palo Alto, California USA. We are a Delaware corporation that has raised over $7M in venture capital. Quattr's AI-first platform evaluates like search engines to find opportunities across content, experience, and discoverability. A team of growth concierge analyze your data and recommends the top improvements to make for faster organic traffic growth. Growth-driven brands trust Quattr and are seeing sustained traffic growth.

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