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How Does Semantic Markup Help Me Rank Higher?

On the 22nd of January 2008, the W3C released HTML5, which brought a myriad of new functionality, tags & potential to a language which at the time was struggling to keep up with growing demand from developers. HTML5, now with additional markup included, was in a much better position to pave the way for presenting more semantic data to both users and search engines.

What is semantic markup in SEO?

Semantic markup in SEO refers to the content markup (HTML) of a particular page when taking into account: content headings, page sections, headers, navigation, lists and paragraphs. With the inclusion of the new tags, brought a more concise way to build pages, with a much more structured approach.  

How does semantic markup help me rank higher?

As with all things SEO, relevance and ease of access to information for both users and search engines is paramount. The easier it is for search engines to understand and index your content, the more likely your content will be to rank highly if optimized appropriately towards a set keyword.

By refining the page and ensuring the markup of your pages is semantic, you are giving search engines a more specific indication of what parts/sections of a page contain which information; for example, when defining an article, using <article> will ensure that search engines are able to understand that anything between these tags refers to the subject of the page. For example:

Old MarkupNew Markup

Which tags are important for SEO?

Whilst it is very important that all pages are semantically markup up, there is some leeway with lesser-used tags which can be used to cut corners – it is still imperative that basic structure is maintained:

  • H1 – H6 for page headings (with one use of H1, only)
    Heading tags contain the subject headings for certain sections of the page, e.g. answering topical points, explaining further, or giving a brief summary of both page & subject content.
  • Paragraphs (for any copy which appears on the page)
    Paragraphs define any on-page content in the standard contextual style.
  • List elements (both unordered and ordered)
    List elements can be either ordered or un-ordered depending on context (e.g. ordered for sequenced lists [1,2,3], unordered for points [ • ].

Which tags will work to increase the performance of my pages semantically? 

The following tags ensure that your page is fully semantically structured: 

  • Header tag <header> (not to be confused with heading tags )
    Used to define the “header” section of the website
  • Footer tag <footer>
    Used to define the “footer” section of the website
  • Article tag <article>
    Used to define the article content of the site (regardless of if blog article or standard post)
  • Main tag <main>
    Used to define main focus content for that particular page (e.g. copy/video/images etc).
  • Aside tag <aside>
    Used to define any aside content (e.g. sidebar links, related articles etc).
  • Navigation tag <nav>
    Used to define an area which provides internal linking for the site (e.g. main navigation bar, site-links, archives).


When possible, you should always take advantage of semantic markup, it will always benefit search engines if implemented to a high standard, and can also bring development benefits in relation to reusability/readability of code.

Under our SEO packages, we evaluate semantic markup as part of our technical strategy, if you would like to find out more about how Colewood can help you unlock your organic traffic, simply email us at seoteam@colewood.net.