17 January 2018

Using Semantic Tags to Boost Your SEO

  • Lego bricks as building blocks
Robyn Hardman, digital and SEO specialist, Alias, Cheltenham

If you haven’t updated your best practices, you could be falling behind when it comes to your SEO. Here’s why it’s becoming increasingly important to use semantic HTML5 tags to impart meaning and help out the search engines.

HTML has been the standard markup language – the nuts and bolts behind the scenes that make them work – for websites since 1994, so it’s no surprise that it’s gone through numerous updates and changes since it was adopted. Most websites are built on HTML5, but a lot of website users haven’t updated their thinking since the 2000s, and need to step away from using presentational HTML tags like bold and italics in favour of tags that give pages a better structure.

At this point, you might be wondering, “What the heck is a semantic tag?” Simply put, a semantic tag is an element of HTML that helps to determine the structure of a page. For example, you probably already use h1 and h2 tags to determine headers, and have a set style for these, but you need to ensure that you are using these in the right order – your main title should be given h1, followed by h2 for a subtitle and so on.

It’s time to phase out those old presentational tags and start using the appropriate tags, like strong for important keywords, and em for emphasis. HTML5 also introduces useful tags for things like abbreviations so that you can specify exactly what an acronym stands for, or citations, so you can specify whether you are talking about a particular work rather than a general phrase.

These kinds of tags are really useful to search engines, as opposed to older tags like bold, italic, underline and strikethrough that now provide no meaning and have a simply aesthetic function.

Luckily, most modern CMS platforms have got your back. If you’re using the latest version of a CMS, chances are that it has already been developed with these semantic tags in mind and will add the tags in your editor for you. Otherwise, it’s a good time to brush up on your skills and get your SEO strategy in order. However, it’s important to make sure you are using these tags correctly – these days, search engines are savvy enough to see through intentional overuse, and when it comes to SEO, a careful and measured approach that puts the user first will win every time.

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