Bold and Strong Tags for SEO
What matters to search engines in terms of onpage optimization is the text they can access and read from your pages and not how you format it. Google and the rest won’t give you a page one rankings simply because you visually emphasized some text, no matter if you do that with <B>/<STRONG> or <I>/<EM>.
Their algorithms are built to extract words, themes and meanings from documents and not to rank pages based on visual appeal.
In my opinion, the font styling elements have little to no influence on search engines rankings. Search engines could probably assign more weight to b/strong or i/em elements IF there’s a match between what they think the page is about AND what you want to emphasize. If there isn’t, then you can bold/italic your targeted keywords ten times, nothing will happen.
The B Tag
There’s so much controversy about it. While the majority of SEO professionals say that the bold tag (or strong) is really an onpage SEO factor, others deny its usefulness. For some reason, SEOmoz’ On-Page Grader checks for the presence of B or STRONG when grading how well a page is optimized:
However, on the search engine ranking factors list from the same source, B or STRONG tags are listed down at position #16, with minimal influence on rankings:
Not only that I agree with them, but I would even give less weight to this elements.
According to Matt Cutts, Google treats the B and STRONG tags with the same weight. However keep in mind that <b> and <strong> and <i> and <em> may look the same, but there’s actually a difference:<b> and <i> will tell the browser what the text should look like while <em> indicates emphasis and <strong> indicates a semantic emphasis, which can be conveyed by screen readers for people with accessibility issues.
To increase the chances of ranking better I prefer using <strong> rather <b>. The rendering in browsers will be the same for both tags, but search engines might give more importance to <strong> rather than <b>. However, this is just a personal preference and not something tested.
Definition and Usage of Font Style Elements
We’re going to refer to TT, I, B, BIG, SMALL, STRIKE, S and U elements. These HTML elements are used to style text within HTML documents.
STRIKE, S and U are deprecated, while TT and BIG are not supported by HTML 5. Since most of them are visual styling elements, they tend to not have influence on search engine algorithms.
The I tag (which displays text in italics) and B (which adds weight to the font face) are the only ones known to have some influence on rankings. However, they don’t add any semantic value to a page, and it’s advisable to use <EM> and <STRONG> if you want to communicate a semantic meaning to search bots.
The I element represents a span of text in an alternate voice or mood, or otherwise offset from the normal writing style in a manner indicating a different quality of text, such as a technical term, a thought, a taxonomic designation, an idiomatic phrase from another language, or a ship name in Western texts. – source
EM should be used when you want to stress a portion of the text. It probably communicates more meaning to search engines than the I tag.
Designers should know
- Bold or strong have quite a straightforward use in web design (adding weight to the font), so there’s not much you can change in CSS.
- If you want to emphasize a word (or several), don’t apply a CSS class that uses a font-weight:bold attribute; instead use the inline <strong> tag directly in the html code.
- Links should look different that regular text; blue font, underline, and changing color after being clicked on is the norm for links. There is no need to bold your links (if anyone has tested this, please let me know).
- Don’t underline your content with a blue line – that is misleading and/or confusing to users.
SEO professionals should know
- We really don’t know how well search engines read and understand CSS.
- Bolded keywords with <strong> or <b> and not with CSS font weight attributes.
- Use <strong> rather than <b>.
- Don’t put a whole page in bold/strong. This may convey to search engines that everything is equally important, and as a result search engines will disregard all content in bold.
- Use the <strong> tag a couple of times, preferably to enhance the semantics of the page. This might be especially important when emphasizing words to that will help search engines understand vague concepts (arm, as body part opposed to arm, as a river)
- Work with the copywriter. He/she will want to emphasize some keywords anyways.
Programmers should know
- It’s a good usability idea to emphasize the search query keywords (i.e., when you search something on Google, Google will bold your keywords, for skimming and readability purposes):
- When you automatically bold keywords (or change background color for the search terms) make sure you do so for search engine traffic where you can extract the query term.
Copywriters should know
- When you work with a designer to emphasize some words (through size, color and positioning), keep in mind that users first have to decide if they landed on the proper page or not (sometimes in less than 1 second). Let him do it.
- It’s good to have the targeted keywords in the headline, both from search engine and users points of view. Don’t bold keywords wrapped within a heading element (unless that is done to highlight the search query that sent the visitor to the landing page).
- As an old SEO practice, you could bold/strong the targeted keywords in your copy but don’t over do it. This is not as important as you might think.
Are you a web designer, copywriter, programmer or search engine optimizer? Have a suggestion about this tag and how it can be used for better rankings? Please leave a comment or contact the author with your suggestions.
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