Search Engine Optimization

What is Semantic HTML and How It Improves Your Site


Are you using semantic HTML on your website? If not so, you could be missing out on a significant opportunity to improve your site's search engine optimization (SEO).

What is semantic HTML, and why is it important?

It is a style of HTML authoring that emphasizes the meaning of components rather than the display of those elements in a document. This means that you use HTML tags to indicate what an element is rather than how it should look.

Semantic HTML is necessary for two reasons.

  • First, it makes your code more readable and understandable by both humans and machines.
  • Second, it can help improve your website's search engine ranking.

Semantic HTML uses HTML elements to indicate their actual purpose rather than how they may appear in the browser. For example, the <h1> element should denote the most important heading on a page, while the <p> element should be used for paragraph text. Semantic HTML is necessary because it helps keep your code organized and makes it easier for humans and machines to understand.

What is a semantic tag in HTML?

Semantic tags are HTML tags that clearly define the element's purpose rather than its appearance. For example, the <p> tag indicates that the enclosed text is a paragraph, while the <strong> tag suggests that the text is essential and should be rendered in bold.

Semantic tags make your HTML code easier to read and understand and can also give you more control over how your content is displayed. For example, you can use semantic tags to tell a screen reader to read certain elements aloud or hide elements from display but still have them available for search engines.

How can semantic HTML improve my website?

Using semantic HTML can improve your website in several ways:

  • Semantic HTML makes your code easier to read and understand, both for yourself and others who may need to work with it.
  • Semantic HTML can give you more control over how your content is displayed. For example, you can use semantic tags to tell a screen reader to read certain elements aloud or hide elements from display but still have them available for search engines.
  • Semantic HTML can improve your website's accessibility, making it easier for people with disabilities to access and use your site.
  • Semantic HTML can improve your website's search engine optimization (SEO), making it more likely that people will find your site when they search for relevant keywords.

Semantic HTML tags example

  • Header tags <h1> through <h6>
  • <blockquote>
  • <code>
  • <em>

There are many more semantic HTML tags that you may use while creating a standards-compliant website.

What is Semantic Markup?

Semantic markup uses HTML tags to describe the meaning of content rather than its appearance. For example, the <strong> tag makes text appear bold, but Semantic Markup would use the <strong> tag to indicate that text is strong emphasis.

The Semantic Web is an extension of Semantic Markup, which uses Semantic Markup to describe the meaning of data on the web. This allows computers to understand better and process the information on the web.

Here are several techniques for ensuring that your HTML markup is semantically valid via the use of proper semantic tags:

1. Headings <h1> to <h6>

In HTML, the Heading tags begin with an <h1> (for primary heading) and end with an <h6> (for subsidiary heading). They range from the most significant text presented in a large font size down to the least important material presented in tiny font size. However, it is important to note that to ensure a semantic markup, heading tags shouldn't be used based on how they make the text appear but instead on the importance of the text enclosed.

Some crucial aspects to remember are:

  • Only use <h1>, <h2>, and <h3> if they correspond to the significance of the content included in the context of the site. Instead of utilizing header tags to give the text a certain look, use CSS.
  • Do not skip any of the heading levels. Because the heading levels operate as sub-headings depending on the hierarchy, every <h2> should be present inside a <h1>, every <h3> should be present within a <h2>, and so on.
  • A page should ideally include one <h1> element, which indicates the main point of the whole web page. This has been shown to aid in SEO. However, it has since been a contentious issue, with many contending that different sectional <h1> function just as well. Even Google has said that using several <h1> tags would not harm your SEO. This is now a choice that should be left up to you, depending on the importance of the relevant material on your website.

2. Document Structure

If you use <div> and <span> to segment your site, you'll end up with a page that looks nice but isn't meaningful or accessible.

<div> and <span> are non-semantic tags, which means they don't express any underlying meaning about your components to the machine and, if used for substantial portions of the page, may harm SEO and accessibility since the browser can't tell what the various sections of the document represent.

Instead, use semantic tags like <header>, <nav>, <footer>, and so on to divide off different portions of your document so that the browser can detect and comprehend the relevance and meaning of your page and utilize this information to boost accessibility and SEO.

  • <header>: Web page header container that usually includes the site logo, heading components, and navigational links to other pages on the site
  • <footer>: Authorship, contact, and copyright information is included in this container, which may also include navigational links and a link back to the top of the web page.
  • <main>: A high-level element containing all of the material unique to a particular web page and is not replicated across many web pages.
  • <nav>: Blocks of site navigation links may be included inside this element. This element is normally found in the page's <header> and <footer> elements, but it may also be found in the <aside> (sidebar) element.
  • <section>: It is used to denote portions of a text, such as chapters or essential sections of a long-form article, by using the <section> element.
  • <aside>: Material connected to the main content on the page but not part of the significant flow of the document is identified with this symbol. The <aside> element may include a glossary description of a phrase that occurs in a blog post or that it will contain adverts that are relevant to the contents of the page, as an example.
  • <article>: The article element is used to identify a block of information that may be reused and syndicated in different contexts, such as a blog post or a technical article, among others.

3. Textual Meaning (Bold, Italics, Highlight)

It is common in documents to see bolded or italicized text for emphasis. While this is sometimes done to convey meaning, it is also done for purely aesthetic and presentational reasons at other times. The HTML tags <b> and <I> are used to make the enclosed text bold and italic, respectively, but they do not convey any information about what is being highlighted or highlighted. Because semantic HTML requires that meaning and design be maintained distinct, semantic tags must be used for the same purpose as regular HTML tags.

  • <strong>: The browser places a higher emphasis on content that is enclosed in the <strong>tag.
  • <em>: This emphasizes the tagged material and tells visitors using screen readers or other computer devices to access the content that the tags are used to highlight.

Other identifiers that may be used for a text's meaning include:

  • <mark>: The <strong>bold</strong>, as the name implies, is used to highlight important text in a specific situation. For example, it may be used to draw attention to every occurrence of a search term on a search results page.
  • <cite>: The <cite> element is used to identify the source work for a portion of content.
  • <blockquote> and <q>: The <blockquote> and the<quote> element is used to identify material that is a direct quote from another source.
  • <time>: The <time> tag can be used to inform browsers, web crawlers, and other smart devices that a certain bit of material represents time on a 24-hour clock or a certain calendar date.

4. Media Type

Along with these tags, HTML5 contains three more that indicate the sort of material that is delivered up between the tags. These tags are helpful for two reasons. First and foremost, they inform the browser that a certain technological resource, such as a video playback engine, must be queued for use. Second, they give the material a semantic meaning by interpreting it.

  • <audio>: To add one or more audio sources to a document and allow the browser to select the best option based on the visitor's device and browser.
  • <video>: It's used to add video material to a markup document.
  • <picture>: The picture element is used to select the best photo from a group of options based on the results of a media query.

5. Correlation Tags

HTML elements are used to indicate a relationship between multiple components and tell the browser that they're related.

  • <ol> and <ul>: By placing <ol> in front of a list, you're implying that the items on the list must be presented in a particular order. On the other hand, unordered lists are used to communicate relationships between the elements and clarify that they do not have to be viewed in a particular order.
  • <figure>: The <figure> element is used to join a piece of material, such as an image, chart, graph, or text, with a caption that is defined by <figcaption> tags. A connection between the nested elements may be established by nesting the caption and content between the <figure> tags.
  • <address>: The contact information is associated with the parent element that contains the <address> element via this attribute. When incorporated into an <article>, for example, the presence of the <address> element provides contact information for the article's author. When added to a web page's <footer>, it specifies contact information for the website owner.

Humans understand structures, relative importance, and hierarchy intuitively from design and layout. Simply making that comprehension easier for machines is as simple as using the proper semantic HTML tags in place of <div> and/or <span>.


Using the correct semantic HTML tags in your website design makes it easier for machines to understand and index your content correctly. This can help improve your website's search engine ranking and make it easier for customers to find what they are looking for on your site. If you need help designing or redesigning your website, contact a team of experts to assist you.

July 29, 2022
Robbin Schuchmann
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