HTML 5.0HTML 5 - An SEO Perspective

HTML 5 defines the fifth major revision of the core language of the World Wide Web, HTML. "HTML 5 differences from HTML 4" describes the differences between HTML 4 and HTML 5 and provides some of the rationale for the changes. This document may not provide accurate information as the HTML 5 specification is still actively in development. When in doubt, always check the HTML 5 specification itself.

HTML 5 W3C Working Draft from 2008 January

The HTML 5 W3C Working Draft ( was released on 2008 January 22, Tuesday.

  1. Abstract
  2. From the W3C Working Draft for HTML 5
  3. What is Flow Content? (Previously Prose Content)
  4. 3.3.1. Semantics
  5. What's an SEO To Do?
  6. SEO 5.0
  7. What's Different Between HTML 4 and HTML 5?


"This specification defines the 5th major revision of the core language of the World Wide Web: the Hypertext Markup Language (HTML). In this version, new features are introduced to help Web application authors, new elements are introduced based on research into prevailing authoring practices, and special attention has been given to defining clear conformance criteria for user agents in an effort to improve interoperability."

From an SEO perspective, you'll want to familiarize yourself with the upcoming buzzwords in HTML 5. There are seven (07) distinct areas of content that you'll be working with and those are listed below.

From the W3C Working Draft for HTML 5...

  • 3.3.3. Kinds of Content

    Each element in HTML falls into zero or more categories that group elements with similar characteristics together. The following categories are used in this specification:

    1. Metadata Content

      Metadata Content is content that sets up the presentation or behavior of the rest of the content, or that sets up the relationship of the document with other documents, or that conveys other "out of band" information.

    2. Flow Content (Previously referred to as Prose Content) | What is Flow (Prose) Content?

      Most elements that are used in the body of documents and applications are categorized as Flow Content.

    3. Sectioning Content

      Sectioning Content is content that defines the scope of headers, footers, and contact information.

    4. Heading Content

      Heading Content defines the header of a section (whether explicitly marked up using sectioning content elements, or implied by the heading content itself).

    5. Phrasing Content

      Phrasing Content is the text of the document, as well as elements that mark up that text at the intra-paragraph level. Runs of phrasing content form paragraphs.

    6. Embedded Content

      Embedded Content is content that imports another resource into the document, or content from another vocabulary that is inserted into the document.

    7. Interactive Content

      Interactive Content is content that is specifically intended for user interaction.

What is Flow Content? (previously Prose Content)

The majority of what you will do as an SEO/Content Developer, will be classified under the Flow Content category. From the HTML 5 Draft...

"Most elements that are used in the body of documents and applications are categorized as Flow Content." (previously Prose Content)

Note on Prose Content: Prose meaning "ordinary speech or writing without metrical structure." Prose writing has a greater irregularity and variety of rhythm, is closer to the patterns of everyday speech and, does not treat a line as a formal unit. Basically it comes down to "semantics" and the "structure" of your HTML Elements.

From the W3C Working Draft...

3.3.1. Semantics

"Elements, attributes, and attribute values in HTML are defined (by this specification) to have certain meanings (semantics). For example, the ol element represents an ordered list, and the lang attribute represents the language of the content.

Authors must only use elements, attributes, and attribute values for their appropriate semantic purposes."

What's an SEO To Do?

What exactly does this mean to you as an SEO, Website Designer, HTML Developer, Content Writer, etc? It means that you need to become intimate with the elements and attributes you have available to you from a semantics perspective. No longer is "tag soup" going to be acceptable. If your document does not convey meaning correctly (the document semantics), what does that leave you with?

Not only do you need to utilize the proper elements and attributes from the proposed recommendations and/or specifications, there is also a specific ordering of those elements based on the semantic structure of the document.

SEO 5.0SEO 5.0

I'm sure the above leaves many of you thinking seriously about learning all of this if you haven't already. All that stuff you do "visually" while using your WYSIWYG editors, modifying <title> elements, writing content, pressing the enter key (creating <p> elements), writing more content, pressing the <ul> button (creating <ul> <li> elements), writing more content, pressing the <dl> button (creating <dl><dt><dd> elements) and then, closing with a proper summary wrapped in <p></p> or some other element(s) based on the meaning and structure of the summary.

Welcome to SEO 5.0

Oh, and for all you programmer types out there, this <br /><br />, for you WYSIWYG types, that is a Shift + Enter twice, or what is referred to as a soft return, is no longer an acceptable method of separating content, it never has been. All of us SEO 5.0 adopters need to clean all that crap up. Stop it now!

What's Different Between HTML 4 and HTML 5?

It's not as a big of change as it may seem. Keep in mind that "backwards compatibility" is of the utmost concern when releasing a new level of HTML/XHTML. For those of you who may be interested in the forthcoming changes, the W3 have a working draft of a document that details the differences between HTML 4 and HTML 5.

We will be paying very close attention to the progress of HTML 5. We'll be running a series of articles in layman's terms to help you understand the benefits of semantic document structure and using proper markup. We suggest that you take an hour or two each week and review the HTML 5 Working Draft and prepare yourselves for the future.

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