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HTML5 and SEO – Just Dipping My Toes In

Yesterday I spent the day perusing a great little book about HTML5, the new HTML standard being worked on by both the W3C and the WHATWG.

steve-jobs-prefers-html-5-embedded-videoYou may recall reading about this new standard in the much-discussed open letter that Apple CEO Steve Jobs published on the home page of the Apple website last summer, in which he explained that Apple products would be dropping support for Adobe Flash (currently the most popular technology for displaying video and other rich media on the web) in favor of the native video and rich media support available in HTML5.

Well. As a non-designer and non-developer, I had no idea what that meant. Until I read HTML5 for Web Designers by Jeremy Keith.

What I do concern myself with (but admittedly know little about) is search engine optimization, or SEO. Many people, including myself, are wondering how the new HTML5 standard will impact this little tags and on-page content jacks that we use to improve our SEO.

Is Google Indexing HTML5 Code? Yes and No

html5-logoAccording to an unofficial Google spokesperson, John Mu, the Google web crawler, Gooblebot, is already able to crawl websites that don’t strictly comply with either HTML or XHTML coding standards. So, if a brand develops a website using the new HTML5 standard (which is backwards compatible with much of the previous HTML standard), Google will be able to crawl it.

However.

HTML5 contains many newer tags, and Mu says that Google makes no guarantee that it will support these new tags. “Our general strategy is to wait to see how content is marked up on the web in practice and to adapt to that,” said Mu. He advises that web developers use “fallback code” that uses older standards if they want to be sure that browsers will fully support their pages.

Based on what I’ve read in Keith’s book, this is a common pragmatic approach by the search industry, which has always followed actual use rather than announced new standards. My conclusion is that, if programmers develop HTML5 sites (which many are eager to do!), Google will soon be able to crawl them. Significantly, Google’s own YouTube property has indicated that it will fully support HTML5 video.

Document Object Models and the New HTML5 <Video> Tag

HTML5_Supported_by_YoutubeHere’s something I learned from my reading yesterday: there is something called a Document Object Model (DOM) that describes each type of document on the Internet. Typically, SEOs pay attention to the text nodes of each DOM, since search engines like Google crawl the web looking for text that can be read and categorized. Text nodes are also very important for accessibility to people with low vision or hearing, since they allow screen reading devices to “read” a text description of the visual element when they come across an image or video on a web page

However, Flash plug-in video technology does not allow text nodes. So the videos we see embedded on more and more pages of more and more websites are like “black rectangles” as far as the search engines are concerned (and the site visitors who rely on screen readers and other assistive tools in order to experience web pages). Keith explains that videos that play using Flash plug-ins are effectively “sandboxed” from the rest of the site.

In contrast, the new HTML5 <video> tag contains useful text that can be crawled by search engines such as Google. The search engines will now know that a video is embedded, and will be able to read the file name of the video. Creative web designers will want to specify a “good” file name that refers to the content, as in this example from the VideoRetailer.org blog:

<video src=”/myvideofolder/videofile.mp4″ controls= “/running-shoes/new-balance.mp4″ ></video>

 

For More Reading About HTML5 and SEO:

Casanova, X. (May 11, 2010). The HTML5 Video Tag, Built for SEO. [VideoRetailer.org Blog] Retrieved February 20, 2011, from http://videoretailer.org/commerce/the-html5-video-tag-built-for-seo/

Keith, Jeremy. (2010). HTML5 for Web Designers. A Book Apart. Available from http://books.alistapart.com/products/html5-for-web-designers

Schwartz, B. (October 18, 2010). Google’s View of HTML5 In Terms of SEO & Crawling. [SEO Rountable blog] Retrieved February 20, 2011, from http://www.seroundtable.com/archives/023106.html

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