Whether you are technically inclined or not, you’ve heard of HTML. HTML is the instructional language that websites are written in so browsers know how to display the content. How is this important to SEO? Let’s dive in.

Search Engine vs Web Browser

It is important to note that Google, as much as it would like to be, is NOT “The Internet”. In daily life, it is a common occurrence that people will use Google interchangeably with all sorts of internet-related terms. While Google does own its own popular web browser, Google Chrome, and has a vast suite of SaaS products, browsers read through much more than search engines. 

Web Browsers

Web browsers, like Safari, Google Chrome, Firefox, Internet Explorer, Microsoft Edge, and Opera read through all the files uploaded through your content management system to display your website and let users interact with it. Web browsers make it possible to load interactive content with javascript, place images in a specific format, run scripts for external content, and much more.

Search Engines

Much like web browsers, search engines will read through the HTML code on your website. What makes search engines so different, is they only read the final outputs of a website’s code. Search engines see what you see on a website, minus images and javascript. If your website is built with lots of images and interactive objects, search engines likely don’t think much of your beautiful website. They know the objects are there but for the most part, don’t know what they are and more importantly, who they are for. 

Search engines, unlike web browsers, do not load web pages as you click on them. They use something called a “website crawler” that is constantly searching the web for new web pages and indexing them in a MASSIVE digital filing cabinet. In fact, Google is known to have indexed well over 100 Trillion web pages at this point. While search engines do not index websites in real-time, they have significantly increased the speed at which they do over the past decade. However, this may be one reason why you aren’t seeing your recently published website pages on a search engine result page. This index is what allows search engines to categorize and rank pages in whichever order they, or their search algorithm decides they should be ranked in.

For the remainder of this article, we will mainly consider SEO tactics as they pertain to Google’s search engine, as it holds over 90% of the search market and is the most important to understand for your business.

Using HTML To Help Search Engines Understand Content

When it comes to creating content for your website, modern CMS platforms have made it easy to point and click to make the necessary adjustments for SEO. Let’s cover some basic HTML tags you can add to your website and how they impact visibility to search engines.

Title Tags

The <title> tag on a web page is without question one of the most important optimization tools in your SEO belt. I mentioned earlier that Google’s search engine index is basically a massive digital filing cabinet. How do you organize your filing cabinet at home? You add a “Title” to the tab of the manilla folder(website) to ensure you can easily find it again when you SEARCH for it. Coincidentally, or maybe not, you can find the title of the web page you are on by hovering your mouse over the page tab in your browser.

Most CMS systems are set up so you don’t have to fool with the HTML to change the title tag. Find how to adjust yours and be sure to include the exact keyword(s) you want that page to rank for. Remember it still needs to be relevant to the page content. You wouldn’t label the personal taxes folder in your cabinet as “Work Portfolio”.

Heading Tags

The heading tag is not only a powerful way to allow users to skim your content for the juicy bits, but it also holds higher value to search engines than the other content on the page. Heading tags consist of <h1><h2><h3><h4> and so on. Search engines interpret these tags in order of importance starting with <h1> and may group the following content under that tag. For example, the heading for this section is <h2> with the following headings set to an <h3>. Search engines will understand that “Heading Tags” is related to and under the umbrella of “Using HTML To Help Search Engines Understand Content. Ensure each page on your site has exactly one <h1> tag. No more, no less. It is also best practice to make sure the <h1> tag is not a duplicate of the <Title> tag.

Meta Descriptions

As with titles, most CMS platforms have added the option to add a meta description. If you are on WordPress and have a lot of pages, consider adding the Yoast SEO plugin to take advantage of their “bulk editor” tool. 

Meta descriptions are a fallback for search engines if they can’t get a good grasp of what the content is about from your content and other tags. They also show one the search engine result page just below a web page’s URL. It can be a powerful user experience tool and attract users to visit your site over others. Try to include keywords in the meta description, but due to the visibility of this HTML tag make sure it is friendly to human readers.

Alt Attributes

Alt attributes are one of my favorite ways to bulk up the number of keywords on a single page. In your HTML you will have the <img> tag for each of your images. Since search engines cant comprehends images in the same manner as humans, it doesn’t know how to categorize them.  Use this to your advantage by assigning keywords that you are trying to rank for on that page to the images. 

  • HTML Example: <img alt=”My Relevant Keyword”>

Canonical URLs

A canonical tag will tell search engines which page in a series of pages is the original or most important. The canonical tag should be placed in the page header.

The most common example of a use case for canonical URLs would be medium to large size websites that have 100s of blog posts or articles all under one category tag. In most cases, the category pages will only show 10 or fewer posts per page, creating duplicate content issues. If your website is set to allow category pages to be indexed, you’ll want to add a canonical tag pointing from pages 2+ back to the first page of posts in the category.

  • HTML Example: <link rel=”canonical” href=”original-post.com”>

Anchor Text

As you are adding new content and blogs to a website, it is inevitable that you will want to reference other pages within the content. Anchor text is often blue text that you can click to follow a URL. That blue text actually holds fairly significant importance when it comes to search engines. Anchor text is yet another signal to search engines of what the linked page is about. In new posts, you should absolutely be linking back to other pages on your site when relevant keywords come up naturally. You can embed links in your text with the ‘a’ tag.

  • HTML Example:  <a href=”page-you-want-to-link.com”>Your Text</a>

Bold, Underline, Italicized, Bullet Points

Adding formatting to your text will help humans and search engines alike to navigate the content. Search engines can comprehend these types of formatting and understands that they are more important than the normal text on your site. I won’t go through each individual type as you probably get the idea by now.

Don’t Over-Optimize Website Pages

While it is important to take note of the easy HTML markup you can use to help search engines understand your content, don’t overdo it. Keyword stuffing is a real thing that search engines, mainly Google, will penalize you for. Page content should be written for human readability and not the search engine. When done correctly, the average person should not be able to tell that your page has been optimized for SEO. 

HTML optimization is one of many strategies SEO professionals implement to improve website rankings. Due to the complexity of creating fast, responsive, and user-friendly websites that rank well it is usually best to leave those practices to the experts. If you would like to consult an SEO expert on the right strategy for your business, please request a consultation.

Think I missed something in this article that would be beneficial to SEO beginners? Let me know: [email protected]