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HTML5 - Is It Worth the Effort?

  |  January 11, 2012   |  Comments

A look at the key benefits of HTML5 and what types of sites can gain the most from it.

HTML5 provides developers with the ability to use semantic markup in their site's code, which allows them to better describe to the search engines what the content on a page conveys. It's been the topic of discussion in SEO circles for quite some time; for example, this Google Webmaster Central post from 15 months ago. In recent months, it's become a prevalent topic again. So it seems like a prudent time to ask the questions: is it worth the effort for our site and will it have a positive impact on SEO? As with most things, that's a matter of perspective.

HTML5 enables a developer to utilize tags that better describe various sections of content on a page. There are tags like <article>, which identifies an independent block of content; or <header>, which specifies the header of a page or even the header section of an <article>. These tags standardize the naming and clearly delineate various sections of a page, which currently are frequently housed in semantically meaningless <div> tags. Kerry Dean does a fantastic job of discussing HTML5 and explaining some of the more interesting tags that have potential SEO implications in this post from Search Engine Land.

So if these tags make it easier for the engines to understand the pages' content, logically they're going to have a positive impact on SEO and rankings, right? Well, at the moment, there isn't a whole lot of data out there to indicate that.

Here are some key benefits of HTML5:

  • New tags allow developers to classify critical information and content
  • Delivers improvement in the user experience
  • Useful for sites rich in audio and video, especially for mobile users with devices that don't support Flash
  • Tags are SEO friendly with respect to crawling and indexing

With that information we can draw the conclusion that the sites with the most to gain from HTML5 are those that are Flash-dependent or are heavily laden with audio and/or video. Taking a site built exclusively in Flash to HTML would give the engines' bots access to the embedded content, making it accessible to the engines. For sites in this category, this alone would make the effort worthwhile.

If your site is not built in Flash or laden with video and MP3s, is HTML5 worth the effort for you? That is less clear. While all the indications are that HTML5 is a good thing and it should or could have a positive impact on SEO and rankings, there is no evidence yet that it is making an impact. With that in mind, weigh the use of your resources wisely. HTML5 can enhance user experience. If users have a better experience, then they're more likely to convert. That's a positive signal to the engines, in terms of SEO. Additionally, HTML5 can make site content more palatable to the engines. If the engines can digest your site more easily, that's another positive in the engines' view. So maybe HTML5 is right for you. However, if you can assess your site honestly and resources are limited, there may be other areas where time and effort is better spent, i.e., developing great content and fostering great social media experiences for your customers to get them talking about your great content.

Has your website been migrated to HTML5 yet? If so, what were some of the determining factors in making the shift?

Crispin Sheridan


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Crispin Sheridan

Crispin Sheridan is the Senior Director, Global Search at SAP. As part of the digital team, he established and leads the search and testing practices at SAP. Crispin is responsible for paid, natural, and mobile search and all online testing. Search and testing at SAP are fully centralized and globally funded and run under a hybrid in-house and agency model.

Crispin has proven that search learnings and keyword insights work hand in hand with social media marketing and together can effectively drive B2B lead generation. Furthermore, the development of the SAP.com Test Lab has contributed significant success to SAP's digital marketing efforts.

A frequent guest speaker at conferences, including SES New York, San Francisco, Toronto, London, Delhi, Shanghai, and Hong Kong, Crispin was appointed to the SES Advisory Board in December 2009. He has also been a guest speaker at the e-Metrics Summit and ad:Tech, and is a member of Google's B2B Technology Council. You can follow him on Twitter at @crispinsheridan and read his monthly SEO column on ClickZ.

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