HTML5, Responsive Design and SEO in 2013
When it comes to SEO, I like to be ahead of the curve. If there is something on the horizon that has the potential to enhance SEO then I want to try it… first. When it comes to the future of SEO, I’m all about being on the cutting edge. So it is with forward-thinking SEO in mind that I find my attention drawn to two enhancements in modern web development:
HTML5 and Responsive Design
Why are these two things on my SEO radar? In a word: Google.
In the Google-verse, 2012 was the year that saw Google (and Bing) openly endorse responsive design as the best way to build a website for a mobile audience. It is also the year that saw well-known Googlers reverse previous cautions about jumping on the HTML5 bandwagon just for SEO, endorsing the markup as cleaner and more adaptive and hinting that HTML5 may really matter in future algorithm improvements.
Why HTML5 Rocks for SEO
HTML5 is to SEO what GPS is to automobiles; it’s not totally necessary but when you have it, it sure makes going places much easier. In SEO, going places means moving to the top of SERPs. While HTML5 is not a Google ranking factor or a specific SEO advantage (yet), Google has come out in favour of using it, even going so far as to help launch a web project called HTML5 Rocks.
So exactly how can HTML5 support SEO now and in the future?
- If your site is in Flash, HTML5 can be used in its place, finally making your site fully accessible to search engine crawlers.
- If your site is already crawlable, HTML5 can enhance the semantic mark up on your pages, which improves contextual interpretation of on-page content, leading to better rankings.
In the future, some HTML5 tags may become as important as H1 tags are today. Tags like <header>, <nav>, <footer>, <time>, <aside> and <article> will revolutionize how content is structured in page code, making it easier to separate site wide content, like a marketing tag line or side bar, from the main content of an individual page. This makes HTML5 a tool that can be used to better structure the code of a page, and something that search engines are unlikely to ignore forever.
Search engines can’t help but embrace HTML5 and the way that it allows web developers to isolate page content from other text based page elements, elements that may otherwise throw off search algorithms. How many times have you been frustrated by a SERP that shows you a website just because your search phrase appears somewhere in an otherwise irrelevant page?
HTML5 can solve that problem for you and the search engines by distinguishing relevant content from other page “noise.”
Responsive design already has inherent SEO benefits and may well be a ranking factor in the future. Google and Bing have stated that they prefer sites to be responsive. Google has always said it wants to promote quality sites that are created with the user in mind, and what is more user-friendly than a site that seamlessly responds to a visit from a mobile device or tablet? If usability is indeed a ranking factor, then rewarding responsive sites with better SERP position just makes sense.
However, future ranking potential aside, there are two ways that a responsive design helps with SEO today – site performance and link building.
Currently, when a site has a desktop and mobile version of their site the two live on different URLs. A common way to build a mobile site is as a subdomain; so http://thissite.ca might have a mobile companion site, http://m.thissite.ca.
When a mobile user accesses the site it would first auto-detect that the visitor is on a mobile device, then redirect from the main domain to the mobile subdomain. This creates a redirect, which adds to load time on mobile devices. It also could impact the overall performance of a site by increasing server load, something that can hurt page speed on the main site as well as its mobile version.
Mobile sites that live on a subdomain can hinder natural link growth. Links shared from mobile devices could link to the mobile subdomain rather than the main site, which will split the link profile. This can have the knock on effect of hurting the SEO of the main site, as links are a known ranking factor. By adopting a responsive design all links to the site can be consolidated to a single domain.
Adopting HTML5 or Responsive Design
Should you make your site responsive or recode it in HTML5? The full SEO benefits of HTML5 and responsive design remain to be seen but there are some definite advantages already. Whether or not you should adopt one or both of these innovations today really depends on your circumstances.
If your site is all in Flash, you should definitely make the switch to HTML5 as soon as possible, and it can’t hurt to go responsive at the same time.
If you are planning a new website or are in the midst of a redesign, seize the day and build your new site with both. But if you are making these changes just for SEO, it may be better to wait until you are ready for a redesign, which ideally should be every 2-3 years.
With all of the benefits of HTML5 and responsive design, there is one big caveat in migrating your existing website to either one. Even if you feel like you are not changing very much, make no mistake, fully moving to HTML5 or making your existing site responsive is a redesign, and as with any redesign there are some SEO risks. If you want to adopt one or both of these technologies today, go for it, but get a good SEO on board before taking any action and be sure to follow SEO best practices for a site redesign.