How will HTML 5 and XHTML 2.0 affect the way we do search engine optimisation?
According to xhtml.com “The competition to become the next markup language for the Web is heating up.” So I’ve learned, “heating up” can be loosely translated to 7+ years development, an expected delivery of 2012 (if at all), and a lot of arguments along the way. What am I talking about? XHTML 2.0
I’ve been looking at the draft XHTML 2.0 and HTML5 markup language standards from the point of view of an SEO consultant. What are these languages and how will they affect the way we do SEO, if at all? What do you need to know now, and when will the way we work be impacted by the eventual replacement of XHTML 1.0 and HTML 4.01, the current common markup languages of the web.
What’s HTML 5?
HTML 5 is “the 5th major revision of the core language of the World Wide Web: the Hypertext Markup Language (HTML).” W3C Working Draft 10 June 2008. The new language is generally considered a step forward from the previous version, HTML 4.01. Basically, HTML 5 is being created to fix some problems and improve “interoperability” between different “user agents”. Technical SEO’s should definitely be aware of this!
How will HTML 5 affect SEO?
HTML 5 will introduce new features that help us (and search engines) better dissect a webpage. In the past, <div> elements have been used everywhere where, in HTML 5 an array of elements will be available to describe navigation, text sections, articles and headers. The improved sectioning could quite easily assist a search engine in understanding the layout of a page – check out this post on block analysis to understand why that’s cool.
Here are two excellent diagrams explaining the differences found on A List Apart: HTML 5:
Current layout with HTML:
Layout with HTML 5:
There are a few other interesting additions too. For example, the dialog element will allow better representation of conversations in HTML. For example, a WP Twitter plugin could output code like this:
<dt> <time>14:22</time> richardbaxter
<dd> Has anyone seen the latest Battlestar?
<dt> <time>14:23</time> ZakaZaka
<dd> @richardbaxter Get on with your job!
What’s XHTML 2.0?
“XHTML 2 is a general-purpose markup language designed for representing documents for a wide range of purposes across the World Wide Web. To this end it does not attempt to be all things to all people, supplying every possible markup idiom, but to supply a generally useful set of elements.” – XHTML2.0 draft specification, July 2006
XHTML 2.0 is an upgrade or replacement for the existing markup standards. It’s not “backwards compatible” with HTML 4.01 and not yet supported by browsers such as Firefox and Internet Explorer. The standard is designed to generate better search results, and to create a more accessible Web for people of all abilities and using all types of devices.
Fundamentally, XHTML 2.0 is considered a significant leap forward in markup language development and as a result, is not backwards compatible with the current HTML 4.01 standards. Current expectation is that the language (if it ever arrives), will be expected for sometime around 2012.
How will XHTML 2.0 affect the way we do SEO?
Here’s a page created in XHTML 2.0. If you’re an SEO, here are the main things to look out for:
Where H1, H2, etc would describe the relationships between headings (and therefore the semantic structure of the document) in HTML, XHTML 2 lets you explicitly markup the document structure with the section element, and its related header element “h”.
So, in XHTML 2.0, your optimised document looks like this:
<h>A study of Monkeys and Dishwashers</h>
<p>An introductory text explaining the purpose of my study of dishwashers and monkeys.</p>
<p>Text about Dishwashers</p>
<p>Text about monkeys</p>
<p>Dishwashers and monkeys have little, if anything to do with each other</p>
You can add links or images to any “element”
<p src="images/picture.gif">some text here</p>
No more alt=”” attribute
The alt attribute of the img element has been removed, so in XHTML 2 you give the descriptive text in the content of the actual element, for example:
<img src="image-profile.jpg">Profile picture - Richard</img>
There are a great deal of changes to be aware of, and frankly, my work on this subject has not finished. That said, I think it’s extremely important for SEO’s today to understand the markup languages of the future. It’s definitely worth paying attention to the subject of HTML and XHTML development. They will change the way we work with front end code for SEO.