What Potential Impact Can HTML5 Have on SEO?

What Potential Impact Can HTML5 Have on SEO?

Although still a work in progress, HTML5 is the next major revision of the HTML standard. HTML, which is the markup language that allows us to structure and present our web content, is the primary factor in search engine optimization efforts. HTML gives search engines the needed context they need to understand what’s contained in a web page.

How might HTML5 change the way we approach SEO? What are the possible impacts of HTML5 in search engine algorithms? In this article, I will attempt to answer these questions.

Web Page Segmentation and Increased Semantics

One key component of HTML5 is that it adds new elements that help us better express what’s on a web page. This helps improve web page segmentation so that different parts — such as the header, footer, main content area, etc. — can be easily be distinguished from one another.

Once HTML5 becomes more widely adopted, search engines can use these new elements to help them find page elements of interest to them.

Currently, we use <div> elements to organize and segment a web page.

The issue with using <div> elements is that the element is meaningless. It doesn’t add semantic value or give context to what’s inside it.

With new elements such as <header>, <article>, <aside> and <footer>, the segmentation of the web page becomes more meaningful.

The benefit of this is that it will allow search engines to easily crawl the website, possibly skipping sections such as <footer> or <header> or using them for different indexing purposes (such as identifying copyright information or finding the site’s name or logo). Search engine indexing will thus be more efficient, meaningful and possibly more advanced.

HTML5 Elements That Can Affect Search Engine Indexing

Below are some new HTML5 elements that can have a direct impact on SEO.


You probably already know the importance content plays in your website’s search engine ranking.

The new <article> element is probably one of the most important additions to HTML5 when it comes to SEO. It allows you to indicate the main content of a web page.

One potential change to search engine indexing is that search engines may put more weight on the content inside the <article> element.


The <section> element is meant to indicate various sections on a page. The advantage is that each section can have its separate HTML heading. This can give search engines a better understanding of how the web page is segmented and structured. Search engines might be able to tease out the information hierarchy of the HTML document based on <section> tags.


The <header> element can give search engines a clue as to where the site name and logo is on a web page or where the primary navigation is (as this is often the place where navigation menus reside).


In web design, a footer usually contains auxiliary information such as copyright information, licensing terms, privacy policy information, links to static pages, and links to social media profiles. This section could be used by search engine spiders to identify items related to copyright, terms of use, privacy policies and social media profiles.

Since <footer> contains auxiliary information, will its content be heavily discounted in search engine algorithms? Possibly.


This new element can give search engine indexing algorithms clues to the information architecture of your website, (just like how sitemaps help them gain a better understanding of the website’s structure).

Link Types

One of the ways search engine rankings are determined is through hyperlinks in a web page. Search engines study links in a web page to see what web pages it points to as well as to see what web pages point to it.

Link types in HTML5 allow us to give our links better meaning. This gives search engines greater context for each link they encounter.

You are probably familiar with rel="nofollow", which was a non-standard rel value in HTML4 that many search engines use to identify links that the current web page doesn’t endorse. The new link types, which also use the rel attribute, works the same way.

New attribute values like rel="author" and rel="license" essentially allow us to describe our links better. The rel="prev" and rel="next" attributes, which is a link that points to another web page that is related to the current web page, can be used in circumstances where a blog post is broken up into several web pages.

Below is a table containing interesting link types for <a> elements that can influence search engine indexing in the future.

Link Type Description
alternate Links to an alternate presentation of the current web page
author Links to a web page related to the author of the web page
external Links pointing to external domains
help Links pointing to relevant help pages
license Links to licensing terms of the current document
next In a series of web pages, this links to the next web page
nofollow Indicates that the link is not endorsed by the site
prev In a series of web pages, this links to the previous web page

See a full list of link types here.

Improved Media Handling

The addition of native multimedia elements such as <audio> and <video> can mean increased interoperability with search engines. Google, for example, presents YouTube videos in search engine results. Google already indexes images in Google Images. We could see video and audio being treated like images indexed in Google Images.

Related Content

About the Author

Adam Heitzman is a web designer/developer with a strong background in SEO. He’s a Managing Partner at HigherVisbility, a Memphis-based internet marketing agency that offers a full range of marketing services ranging from SEO, Pay Per Click Marketing, Web Design and Development, and Social Media Marketing. Connect with HigherVisibility on Facebook and Twitter.

This was published on Jun 22, 2011


Koozai Mike Jun 22 2011

Great roundup Adam. HTML 5 seems like the SEO question sitting under everyones noses that no one has really written about.

On the whole then it seems we can better label pages and give search engines more indicators on what each section is. Sounds good!

Geert van der Heide Jun 22 2011

Good article! One thing that’s related, but not mentioned, is microdata. It might not be strictly HTML5, but it is one of the major “new” techniques for making sites easier to index by search engines. Anyone starting with HTML5 and even those who think it’s too early to use HTML5, should start with microdata regardless. It can finally give some context to all those elements in a page.

will also likely play a role, especially in regards to blog and newspaper sites. The search engines are full of age old content that fill the likes of Google. Search engines will clearly want to use this information as a signal as to the current relevance of a page in it’s results.

Good stuff here. HTML5 markup is the first step in standardizing websites more efficiently.

Michell Campos Jun 22 2011

Very nice Post!
I recommend it for everyone that working with web!

Congratulations Adam

Interesting article – I hadn’t really thought about HTML5 and SEO, but the points you make seem like they will eventually be a reality.

mogmismo Jun 22 2011

Great article Adam. I’d like to see a followup article on something our team been back and forth on.

With HTML5, each element can have it’s own completely valid H1 tag, which only has meaning inside that element. (Multiple can each have their own H1 tags), but, at this point, are we still loosing SEO value using this HTML5 feature because search engines see multiple H1’s per page? Or do the search engines understand this yet?

anthonydnelson Jun 22 2011

HTML 5 definitely seems like it’s going to be beneficial for SEOs. Nice clean code will allow the engines to know exactly what is on our pages or how our page structure is set-up.

Does anyone have any experience using rel=”next”. Did you see any impact? I’m thinking using rel=”next” on the bottom of an e-commerce site with numerous pages of shopping results for a given category.

Richard Hill Jun 22 2011

Interesting. I wonder how quickly the search engines will give any advantage as it’s going to be a long time until HTML5 has the majority of sites in it. I guess if it does it will speed up adoption, but probably it won’t be SEO that is the major driver or, will it?

Andy Griffin Jun 22 2011

If only we could get people off IE8 so we can start using the new elements mainstream. Let’s hope Microsoft’s big end-of-the-month IE upgrade push takes hold.

Kevin Reynolds Jun 22 2011

Great article! I have been wondering how to better optimize my website with HTML5.

Warren Jun 22 2011

I have noticed that most website that leverage HTML5 to the max, are actually pretty crap SEO website because most of the coolest and engaging HTML5 features rely heavily on js. HTML 5 has the potential to be both great for SEO as described above, but also it can be pretty harmful as well if executed without advanced knowledge of SEO.

Jason Jun 22 2011

Interesting read and through points made. Good article. And well said Andy Griffin, IE, get with it.

Tomas Jun 22 2011

Riding on the HTML5 hype. Google is used to scan all from table to css sites. It would be stupid to give advantage to a site just because it using new features that people don’t see. Google try to score good sites that people like with inbound links and good content. People spend too much time to optimize code to absurdum. Don’t forget other qualities.

Great article, thanks :)

Alan Rothstein Jun 22 2011

Good info! Always important to stay ahead of the Googlebot and make sure your website is compliant with the current HTML standards.

Martin Jun 22 2011

I agree with much of what has been said here. There are a few cautionary things to say though – one is that the vast majority of websites (whether kept up-to-date or not) are not HTML5 compliant yet (including our own – too busy working with clients and bringing them up to HTML5!) – the algorithms are still going to have to not discount HTML4 pages if they offer quality content – because it may not be viable, financially or logistically to switch over.

And of course, they will have to close loopholes early for any gaming of the link types.

Those being said, I agree that structure is key, that highlighting important information to search engines is a great idea and will force people to think about content hierarchy much better than just flinging stuff onto web pages. And that has to lead to a better web in my humble opinion.

I’ll play devil’s advocate here.

To say that div is meaningless is, well, meaningless. By adding classes to elements we can make our pages a lot more meaningful to machines than through using HTML5 elements. For example, div class="hentry" is more widely understood than article.

While we can argue that HTML5 sectional elements will be useful at some undefined point in the future, there’s a problem with how document authors choose to interpret them. Even the article element is contentious. If authors can’t agree when to use article, section etc. then it’s hard to see how machines will be able to do much with them. Even if they can sort out the heading structure of an HTML5 document :-)

Bratu Sebastian Jun 22 2011

Relly cool article!

I do believe that search engines will learn more from html5 tags, but it will take some time until the most important search engines will do this ( I don’t want to imagine what kind of spamming techniques will be invented using -moz-transition that will be hard to predict by the crawlers :)) )

movitar Jun 22 2011

nice article :]

Exploter Jun 22 2011

Dont forget about header tags in html5, every article tag will get his own h1-6 tags this mean that any html pages will get more than 6 h1 tags.
how will this affect on seo??

Jeremy Harrison Jun 23 2011

This is great stuff. I think of html5 in terms of it’s mobile benefits, but the seo stuff makes me more excited to start implementing it.

Joydeep Jun 23 2011

There are many advantages of HTML 5 but my concern with HTML 5 is it supports only modern browsers (IE9, Chrome, FF)and doesn’t supports older versions IE 6,7,8, older versions of FF

Is there any way to overcome this situation?

Great write up, but considering google own SEO, and they want html5 more than anyone, I guess it means whatever they like.

Glynn Jun 23 2011

Great post and very interesting! Makes a lot more work for SEOs to get into, but if that is the cost of getting even better results, it’s worth it!

eng. Ilian Iliev Jun 23 2011

mogmismo has pointed to the right way. For example if we have a news list page where every news is put in “article” tag we can set each news title to be H1. In my opinion I found the news title not less important than the brand(website title).
Again to the example above if you have 2 pages one with 5 H1 tags and other with 10 with similar titles/keyword which one should be ranked better?
On the first it is easier to find the topic you are looking for but on the second you have more keywords density.
So using multiple H1 for each news will be great but how search engines will understand that is something that we will see in the future.

Sohail Amir Jun 23 2011

Some HTML5 tags are already making an impact on Google’s Search Engine Ranking Process. This is basically a great article on semantic markup.

John Faulds Jun 23 2011

I think you missed one very important area of HTML5: microdata which is currently being promoted by all the major search engines at This is stuff that they’re actually using in the results now, whereas most of what you’ve talked about in this article is theoretical unless I’ve missed some news. I mean, yes, it would be good for the SEs to be improving their results based on the new HTML5 structural tags, link types etc, but I don’t think I’ve seen any evidence that they actually are yet.

Panen Jun 23 2011

Very helpfull for me. Thank you for the sharing

Phil Rae Jun 23 2011

@Andy Griffin

You can use HTML5 tags now in older versions of IE –

Chris McGiffen Jun 23 2011

Its already quite simple to parse a page to identify main content, headers, footers and navigational components.

One possible use that the search engines could be making of this is in devaluing footer links. But they aren’t suddenly going to trust links that don’t appear in between footer tags as being good links, they are still going to be looking at the same patterns that they have always looked at, regardless of HTML version.

Warren Jun 23 2011

I’ll be the first to say it, even GOOGLE is NOT HTML 5 compliant from my perspective as an SEO manager. I do not agree that SEO folks should try to “get ahead” of Google, the truth is that we make our living by working within Google’s limitations and we should think about ways to help Google index and find content that it’s bots cannot see, without the use of SPAM or black hat techniques. Ideally we must be the fast followers of Google, as any test ahead of Googles implementations will yield limited results. The catch 22 is that someone has to be the first to test the water. HTML 5 content can be very engaging but again the best examples I have seen are invisible to Google. The tags described above are helpful. I hope others will use and test their effectiveness and share in test results. I will love to write more on this but am under an NDA at the moment.

John Faulds Jun 23 2011

The guys at HTML5Doctor have rounded up some info from the search engines on their attitude to the subject:

Anna Green Jun 24 2011

Great Blog here! I hadn’t even thought of the repercussions of HTML 5 on SEO. As it gets more widely used I can see it been really useful to be using HTML 5 when thinking about the SEO of your website. Looks the the crest of a wave that’s worth catching!

Saifu Jun 25 2011

Interesting….Very helpful..Thanks Adam!

In my opinion, to use HTML5 tags now just seems like the logical thing to do. I’d rather clients websites stay relevant and high ranking in Google today and in the future instead of getting buried within the next couple years.

Swamykant Jun 26 2011

Interesting article. However needs some time to understand its impact on Google search engine

Martin Jul 04 2011

Thanks Adam for this article, very useful. I started to use HTML5 in my portfolio site and I’m tweaking it for better SEO.

Shivam Jul 15 2011

This is really a very helpful article. Thanks.

btw I’ve one question. I read somewhere that wordpress by default rips off all the ‘rel’ tags on a page, so does it means that it doesn’t support HTML5 that well??

A good article and really helped me.. thx

Spencer Haley Sep 17 2011

I have just updated my personal web development portfolio site with HTML 5 tags in the hope that I will receive some SEO benefit. I wonder if google attributes search engine optimisation benefit just for having the newer doctype?

adelacreative Sep 21 2011

@mogmismo – same question here. We don’t know any facts yet ,just theory. And the biggest worry is multiple h1’s on the page. What impact will they have? At the moment I am holding off from using a few of the HTML5 features because of the uncertainty.

dhanesh mane Oct 15 2011

Hey thx for a very nice blog. I am going to start converting my website in html5, this is my first experiment about HTML5 and SEO. I am not sure whether google or lets say any search engine considers html5 as there component while giving rankings. I believe it will just help there crawlers job and helps to crawl website properly, that could be only help we can do by html5lizing our website.

Amanda Oct 20 2011

this is a great summary, however I’m curious about this-
“Since contains auxiliary information, will its content be heavily discounted in search engine algorithms? Possibly.” -with the increasing importance of using your address or location/kml files and geositemaps, will the footer actually become more important to search engines like google that are trying to incorporate location more and more in search results so they will be more personalized? Thoughts?

Steve @ White Hat Media Oct 21 2011

I don’t think immidiately it will make too much difference. Less weighting on ‘footer’ links perhaps? More weighting on links maybe?

We’ll have to wait to hear from Daddy Google ;-)


kevster Oct 21 2011

Great article – would like to see some proof that adopting HTML tags such as article has no negative effect on a site previously well ranked on HTML4.

HTML5 is good, video tag works well in modern browsers but need to be aware of graceful fallback for all new tags…

Great article – I would recommend looking into the boiler theme template for clean HTML 5 markup.

digitalpbk Nov 02 2011

Does Google affect rankings based on HTML5 or HTML4 markup?

Revax Shane Nov 09 2011

I do believe that search engines will learn more from html5 tags, but it will take some time until the most important search engines will do this

Niraj Nov 24 2011

I am an SEO and i like it very much, very good and clear tutorial for upcoming affect of HTML 5 standard.

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