If you’re doing research on on-site SEO techniques, you’ll probably find many articles claiming that putting keywords in bold (by using <B> and strong <STRONG> HTML tags) and italic (<I> and <EM> tags) has a positive impact on web pages’ rankings.
But is that true? Will you improve your Google rankings by simply bolding targeted keywords? This article aims to provide comprehensive insights into the best practices for utilizing bold and strong tags, the correlation between their presence and page rankings, and their consideration in SEO analysis tools.
Keep reading to know the answer of these questions.
Definition of BOLD / STRONG and ITALIC/em tags?
There are 4 very common HTML elements, that people use to style in bold or italic text within HTML documents:
- <b> and <strong> display the content in bold and
- <i> and <em> usually display it in italic.
It’s very easy to apply any of those. The text you want to change goes between the two tags:
<b>your text here</b>
<strong>your text here</strong>
In these two examples, the browser will display the text in the same way – in bold.
That’s why many webmasters, who are not HTML savvy, use these elements as substitutes (<b> instead of <strong> or <strong> instead of <b>).
Difference between <b> / <strong> and <i> / <em> tags
Although they have the same effect, the HTML elements <b> and <strong> and <i> and <em> are not exactly the same.
- <b> and <i> are used to define bold and italic text, without any extra importance. Basically they are telling the browser what the text should look like, without emphasizing its content.
- <strong> and <em> are used to define a semantic emphasis.
- <strong> defines bold text, with added semantic “strong” importance.
- <em> defines emphasized text, with added semantic importance.
In other words, these HTML elements are telling us that the text is important.
<b> and <i> and defines bold and italic text, but <strong> and <em> means that the text is “important”.W3C
- <b> and <i> will tell the browser what the text should look like while
- <strong> and <em> indicate a semantic emphasis, which can be conveyed by screen readers for people with accessibility issues.
How Google treats BOLD, STRONG, and Italic tags?
Google treats the <b> <strong> tags and <em> and <i> tags in the same way in terms of ranking and how pages are indexed.
In a video from 2006, Matt Cutts said that there was no difference in how Google treats the <strong> and the <b> tag when it came to ranking, scoring, or other search factors.
In a more recent video, from the end of 2013, he came back to the same question, saying that “Things might have changed since 2006, but I really kind of doubt it”. He added the same is true for or the <em> and <i> tags.
Are BOLD, STRONG, and Italic tags important for SEO?
There’s no official confirmation that Google uses these tags as ranking factors.
Therefore there’s been a lot of speculations on this subject: some SEOs will advise you to use bold, others will tell you not to bother with it.
The truth is that we could only GUESS if bold and italic have any effect on page rankings or not.
In their most recent study on the search engine rankings factors, MOZ.com asked 120 leading search marketers to rate how important they think that the use of bold and italic on keywords was. Their answer was 2.8 out of 10 (1 meaning “No importance” to 10 meaning “Very Important).
Therefore, the “keyword present in bold, italic, em tag” didn’t even make it to the final list of the search engine rankings factors for 2013.
This suggests that the correlation between the presence of bolded keywords on a web page and its rankings is even lower than 0.02.
According to the same study, even important on-site SEO elements, such as the usage of keywords in the Title Tags and Meta Descriptions have a positive correlation of only 0.10 – 0.13.
And Search Metrics’ annual ranking factors study doesn’t even analyze the usage of bold and italic.
For some reason, however, SEOmoz’ On-Page Grader is looking at the presence B and STRONG tags when grading how well a web page is optimized:
The same stands for Yoorank and many more web applications which analyze on-site SEO elements.
Why you should still use bold and italic on your website?
In my opinion, even IF the use of bold and italic within pages had any impact on rankings, it is so minute, that it’s better to spend your time on other SEO techniques. But this doesn’t mean that you should completely neglect the usage of these HTML elements.
In November 2021, Google’s John Mueller confirmed that bolding important text can help SEO as it allows Google to understand the content better and by making it clearer what the page or paragraph is about. When he was asked the question if there are any SEO benefits of using bolded text, or is it purely a stylistic choice, he replied that bolded text does help SEO. He adds that Google can usually figure out what’s important on its own, but bolded text makes the message more clear.
“So usually we do try to understand what the content is about on a web page, and we look at different things to try to figure out what is actually being emphasized here, and that includes things like headings on a page.
But it also includes things like what is actually bolded or emphasized within the text on the page. So to some extent that does have a little bit of extra value there, in that it’s a clear sign that actually you 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.”
However, he clarifies that the impact of bolded text is relative to the rest of the content on the page. Bolding all text on a page would add no value at all, as it essentially diminishes the emphasis. Therefore, while bolding important pieces of text in a paragraph can improve a webpage’s SEO and make the content easier for Google to understand, it’s essential to use bold text strategically, emphasizing only the most critical information, such as headings, subheadings, and important content. Overusing bold text can make the content appear spammy and detract from the user experience, which can negatively impact SEO.
When we use bold and italic tags, it’s also important to consider the accessibility of bold text, as some users may have difficulty reading bold text, especially those with visual impairments. Therefore, while bolding keywords can help improve readability, keyword optimization, and visual hierarchy, it should be used thoughtfully to enhance the user experience and not as a standalone SEO strategy.
Finaly, when adding bold consider your users and the way they consume your content. Normally website visitors “scan” content. So you should use bold and italic tags to style your content in order to make it easier to read and consume by your users. This improves their user experience and they will easily engage with your content.
Best practices for the usage of bold and italic tags
If I’m asked if there’s an official best practice for the use of bold and italic, I would refer to official HTML standards.
According to the official HTML 5 specification:
- headings should be denoted with the <h1> to <h6> tags,
- emphasized text should be denoted with the <em> tag,
- important text should be denoted with the <strong> tag, and
- marked/highlighted text should use the <mark> tag.
The HTML 5 specification states that:
- The <b> and <i> tag should be used as a LAST resort when no other tag is more appropriate.
- The <i> tag can be used to indicate a technical term, a phrase from another language, a thought, or a ship name, etc.
- The <b> tag can be used to bold text on the page, but it’s recommended to use the CSS “font-weight” property to set bold text.
People tend to scan webpages instead of reading every word. Bolding keywords and key phrases may not have an impact on your page rankings, but it will definitely help the readability and consumption of your content. By styling the most relevant phrases and keywords with bold and italic tags, you are helping the user to understand your content faster, which will provide a better user experience and even reduce page bounce rate.
FAQ Regarding the Use of Bold, Strong and Italics Tags in SEO
My goal with this article was to provide comprehensive insights into the best practices for utilizing bold and strong tags, the correlation between their presence and page rankings, and their consideration in SEO analysis tools. By exploring these FAQs, you can gain a deeper understanding of how to strategically employ bold and strong tags to enhance both the visibility of your content and the experience of your audience.
1. What are the HTML tags used to style text in bold and italic?
The HTML tags used to style text in bold are
<strong>, while the tags used to style text in italic are
<em>. It’s important to note that the
<i> tags are used to define bold and italic text without any extra importance, whereas the
<em> tags are used to define a semantic emphasis, indicating added importance. When using these tags, it’s essential to consider their semantic meaning in addition to their visual styling.
2. Is there a difference between the
<strong> tags, and the
Yes, there is a difference between these tags. The
<i> tags are used to define bold and italic text without any extra importance, while the
<em> tags are used to define a semantic emphasis, indicating added importance. Search engines and screen readers interpret
<em> tags with more significance than
<i> tags, as they provide semantic meaning to the content.
3. How does Google treat the
<em> tags for SEO purposes?
Google treats the
<em> tags similarly in terms of ranking and how pages are indexed. While these tags can visually emphasize content, their direct impact on SEO rankings is not explicitly confirmed by Google. However, using these tags appropriately can still contribute to a better user experience and improved accessibility, which indirectly affects SEO.
4. Are the bold, strong, italic, and emphasis tags important for SEO according to Google?
There’s no official confirmation that Google uses these tags as ranking factors. While there has been speculation about their impact, their significance for SEO remains uncertain.
5. What do leading search marketers think about the importance of bold and italic usage for SEO?
According to a study conducted by MOZ.com, leading search marketers rated the importance of bold and italic usage at 2.8 out of 10, indicating low perceived significance.
6. Is there a correlation between the presence of bolded keywords and page rankings according to studies?
Studies suggest that the correlation between the presence of bolded keywords on a web page and its rankings is very low, even lower than other important on-site SEO elements. While Google’s John Mueller acknowledges that bolding important text can help SEO by making it clearer to Google what the page or paragraph is about, he also specifies that the impact of bolded text is relative to the rest of the content on the page.
7. Do SEO analysis tools consider the presence of bold and strong tags in their evaluations?
As we saw above, some SEO analysis tools, such as SEOmoz’ On-Page Grader and Yoorank, consider the presence of bold and strong tags when grading how well a web page is optimized. However, the while SEO analysis tools may consider the presence of bold and strong tags, it’s important to use these tags thoughtfully to enhance the user experience and not as a standalone SEO strategy.
8. Should bold and italic usage be completely neglected for SEO purposes?
Bolding keywords and key phrases may not significantly impact page rankings, but it can improve readability and content consumption, leading to a better user experience and reduced bounce rate. So, it’s important to use bold and italic text strategically, emphasizing only the most critical information, such as headings, subheadings, and important content.
9. What are the best practices for using bold and italic tags according to HTML standards?
According to the official HTML 5 specification, headings, emphasized text, important text, and marked/highlighted text should be denoted with specific tags. The
<em> element indicates emphasis, not italics as such. It shouldn’t be used to italicize something that isn’t meant to be emphasized; instead, use
<i> for non-emphasis italics. On the other hand, the
<strong> element indicates strong importance, not bold as such. To bold a word that doesn’t merit strong importance, use the
<b> element. This suggests that tags like
<strong> are important for understanding pages, and using them appropriately according to HTML standards is crucial for creating accessible and well-structured content3.
10. How do bold and italic usage enhance user experience and content consumption?
Bolding keywords and key phrases may not significantly impact page rankings, but it can improve readability and content consumption, leading to a better user experience and reduced bounce rate.
I am a digital marketing consultant and SEO expert based in Hong Kong. With a track record spanning over 11 years, I have helped numerous clients from China, Europe, and around the globe achieve results. In my blog, I share my experience and proven methods in SEO, PPC, and digital marketing strategies.