Is it a Google ranking factor?

Various HTML elements format text to help website visitors and search engine crawlers easily identify important parts of your content.

But can these elements have an impact on your search ranking?

Read on to find out if text formatting is a Google ranking factor.

[Recommended Read:] The Complete Guide to Google Ranking Factors

The Claim: Text Formatting as a Ranking Factor

You can use HTML elements to format text in several ways; for example:

  • bold text using .
  • Indicate strong importance, seriousness, or urgency by using .
  • Italicize text using .
  • Indicate emphasis and meaning using .
  • Underline the text using .

Y differ from Y since the former indicate semantic importance while the latter are styles that indicate how words appear on the screen.

That is an important distinction that we will delve into later.

Some believe that using HTML elements to highlight specific words for Google can directly affect the web page’s ranking for those keywords.

But are they right?

Evidence of text format as a ranking factor

Google’s Matt Cutts seemed to indicate in a 2013 Google Search Central video that HTML text formatting is a ranking factor.

Or did he?

One viewer asked: “In terms of SEO, what is the difference between the tag and the label to emphasize certain words in the text?

Cutts noted that he had already answered this question before, in 2006, and he didn’t think the answer had changed.

“Back then, every time we checked, Y they were treated exactly the same in terms of ranking and scoring and how they were indexed and all that kind of stuff.

Similarly, there is also and the which means italics, and they were treated in exactly the same way.

You could use either one, and it wouldn’t make a difference in terms of Google ranking.”

A Google patent granted in 2014 also suggests that ranking algorithms give extra weight to bold/italic text:

“An existing document quality measurement technique calculates an information retrieval (IR) score, which is a measure of how relevant a document is to a search query.

The IR score can be weighted in several ways. For example, matches in a document title may carry more weight than matches in a footer.

Similarly, matches in text with larger font or bold or italics may carry more weight than matches in normal text.”

Of course, not everything that Google patents is used in algorithms.

[Discover:] Learn more about the Google ranking factor

The Evidence Against Text Formatting as a Ranking Factor

In the video mentioned above, Cutts says that Google treats the two types of HTML elements the same from a ranking perspective.

It does not say if they have any impact on the ranking. It could be that they still have no impact.

Google has never confirmed or denied HTML formatting as a ranking factor.

In the Google Developer Documentation Style Guide, Google offers advice on HTML and semantic markup. Specifically, you must not use HTML elements for visual formatting.

“The element indicates emphasis, not italics as such. Don’t use it to italicize something that shouldn’t be emphasized; instead use for italics without emphasis.

The element indicates high importance, not bold as such. To bold a word that doesn’t deserve much importance, use the element ”.

This suggests that labels like Y are important for understanding the pages.

John Mueller responded to a tweeted question about the bold text in particular. in 2017but again, the answer is somewhat ambiguous and open to interpretation:

“You’ll probably get more of the bold text for human users/usability in the end. The bots may like it, but they won’t buy anything.”

Many on-page factors have lost importance since the early 2000s.

But here’s what logic tells us: If you want to rank for a term, simply using that word in your content and then making it bold (or italicized, or bold and italicized) every time you use it won’t be enough to lift you up. the ranking.

Muller, in 2021confirmed that text formatting could help both users and bots see what you want highlighted on a page.

“It’s essentially semantic HTML: it makes it easy for bots and users to recognize what you think should stand out on a page. Titles help, headings help, highlighting within text helps (like bold, strong, etc.), tables for tabular data, lists as lists, etc.

But in the next tweet, he also confirmed that it wouldn’t help with the rankings.

“These things don’t make your site move up the rankings, but especially when it comes to understanding pages better, the little things can help. Think of it more as a relative guide within the page; if you have 5 ‘SEO points’, what should they be used for on this page?

In a Google SEO office hours from the same date, Mueller discussed an argument about whether the bold parts of his paragraph could improve your SEO.

After referencing Matt Cutts’ video from 2012, he explains that semantic HTML allows you to give a part of the page more meaning with proper markup.

“Usually we try to understand what the content on a web page is about, and we look at different things to try to figure out what is really emphasized here. And that includes things like the headers on a page, but it also includes things like what’s bold or emphasized within the text on a page.

So to some extent, that has a little bit of added value in that it’s a clear signal that you actually think this page or this paragraph is about this topic here.

And usually that aligns with what we think the page is about anyway. So it doesn’t change that much. The other thing is that this is, to a large extent, relevant within the web page.

So if you go and say, well, I’ll make my whole page bold and then Google will think my page is the most important, then by making everything bold, essentially nothing is bold because it’s all the same.

Whereas, if you take a bunch of sentences or words within your full page where it says, this is really important to me, and make them bold, then it’s much easier for us to say, well, there’s a lot of text here, and this is potentially one of the most important points on this page. And we can give it a little more value

And essentially what it goes into is the whole semantic HTML thing where you give a little bit more meaning to a page by using appropriate markup for the page. And from our point of view, that’s good. It helps us understand the page a little better.

So if you want to keep it down to a one word answer, does bolding important points in a paragraph help SEO? If it does. It helps us better understand that paragraph or that page.”

Text format as a ranking factor: our verdict

Ranking Factor: Possibly

As you can see, text formatting can affect how search engines determine the most important content on a page.

However, bold content on a page is unlikely to be the element that lifts it above the competition in search results.

Still, proper markup will help users and search engines find the most important points in your content.

You can learn more about text-level semantics and how to use these elements appropriately in the WHATWG Community HTML Living Standard resource provided by Apple, Google, Mozilla, and Microsoft.


Featured image: Paulo Bobita/Search Engine Journal

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