Well, the answer is yes and no…
Our colleagues and clients have asked us this question on numerous occasions – so we thought we’d take the opportunity to share and explain our opinion. Both Nick and I have read many blogs from SEOs and developers who have all shared their thoughts on the topic based on their own research, observations and experience. Here’s a couple of our favourites:
- Kerry Dean’s Article @ Search Engine Land
- Matthew Taylor’s article @ SEOptimise
- David Gould’s article @ Vertical Measures
So to try and nail-down and put this question into context – let’s ask a more specific question. “If I take the time to upgrade my website’s coding from HTML4 or XHTML to HTML5 – can I expect my SEO and my rankings to improve?”. Let’s begin answering this question by tackling the idea or concept of HTML5 markup physically improving on-site SEO and ‘ticking-a-box’ as we call it – in Google’s indexing algorithm. In our opinion – as of right now, the answer would be no – it doesn’t. We’ve not seen enough evidence to suggest that simply upgrading to HTML5 will push your site up in the rankings. That being said – it’s not to say that it never would influence rankings.
Not enough sites are utilising HTML5
A few months ago Binvisions.com published a report that identified the markup of Alexa’s top 100 websites. These are sites like eBay, Apple, Google, Amazon and Twitter for example – and surprisingly only 34% of the websites were written in HTML5. So if only a third of the top 100 websites are using HTML5 – it’s probably safe to assume that less than 5% of all websites at the moment utilize HTML5 markup.
Until more of the internet’s content is presented in HTML5, and HTML5 is better used and understood – we don’t think it will have a noticeable effect on SEO. If we’re wrong, and Google are experimenting with HTML5 markup in their algorithm testing right now – then it would make sense to only be minor as HTML5 is not widely or accurately used enough throughout the internet. We should stress that we’re not questioning the fact that HTML5 can improve the structure, priority and emphasis of your website’s content. On the contrary – the new semantic tags like the article, header or footer tag do provide search bots with a better understanding of your page’s content. But let’s not forget how much more important quality content and incoming links are – in comparison to the on-site coding quality of a website.
Now take on-site SEO’s influence on the rankings – and consider just how small a part HTML5 markup could – or would be in the factors that are used to rank web pages. Granted – that’s a very cold and blunt response to the idea of HTML5 pushing your site up the rankings.
Can HTML5 improve SEO? Well, yes…
But let’s not contradict ourselves here. Search Engine Optimisation is all about getting more traffic to your website. More traffic means more conversions – whether that’s more readers, enquiries or online sales. On a search results page – particularly with Google – your organic listings are always going to be competing with other listings – in particular paid advertising. If you could make your organic listing more attractive and informative – i’d class that as search engine optimisation.
HTML5 has also spawned Rich Snippets – that little bit of blingy extra information you’ll have noticed appearing with listings over the past couple of years. Rich Snippets are available via several techniques, but we’d recommend looking into Microdata and Schema.org. When used correctly, these techniques allow your listings to be accompanied by a snipped of information that can range from reviews to recipes.
I recently came across an alluring article on Search Engine Land by Paul Bruemmer – that suggests you can expect to achieve a 30% Increase In CTR by harnessing Rich Snippets for your Search listings. Before even reading the proof on this blog – I think it’s easy to understand why. Take this for example.
Rich Snippets can increase CTR by 30%
I’m into my movies – and one of my colleagues told me that I should buy Robert Rodriguez’s film – Machete. So – I jumped onto Google, and here are the results that I got back. Having not seen the film, my eye was instantly drawn to the review snippets alongside play.com and lovefilm.
Despite having accounts with both Amazon (which is P1) and Play.com – I ended up clicking through to Play.com first – I’d say that’s SEO?
What Google says
Interestingly in the Schema.org FAQ on Google Webmaster tools – Google indicate that mark-up does not effect rankings:
“Google doesn’t use markup for ranking purposes at this time—but rich snippets can make your web pages appear more prominently in search results, so you may see an increase in traffic.”
We could talk about this topic all day, particularly as there’s no definitive answer. Let’s wrap this up with a few key things about HTML5 and why you should be using it – if you’re not already.
Conclusion on HTML5 & SEO
HTML5 looks to be the future. It’s going to be used more and more for mobile websites, apps and games. Switching to HTML5 shouldn’t be to just to try and improve your SEO. Consider all of the other HTML5 benefits like Rich Snippets, Smartphone/Tablet usability and structuring your content into meaningful markup. It does sound logical that in the future, HTML5 sites may influence rankings and be part of the algorithms, but probably not until it’s more widely and accurately used. So for all of these reasons – HTML5 is great.
This is a very broad and open topic, so we’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments below.