Gather round soldiers, up 2, 3, 4, up 2, 3, 4… We are on a covert mission to discover whether there is any weight or value placed on keywords in bold and italic tags. The final objective of this mission is not only to debunk myths but with your help and comments to finally bury them.
The value in regards to SEO is not the only factor that we will be analysing, the effect bold and italic tags has on usability and their ability to convert customers will also be considered.
Beliefs are split into two camps; some people believe that the bold tag is now ineffective whereas others still believe it holds value. Within the SEOmoz ranking factors, the contributors (various respected industry figures) draw the conclusion the bold tag has a moderate importance. Opinions and attitudes here range from “Has some weight as a ranking factor, but not very much”, “I’m still doing it sometimes, but I’m really starting to wonder why” to “We focus on communication to the user; we never bold terms in an effort to rank for them”
These opinions contrast particularly to the views from 3-4 years ago, where contributors to the SEOmoz ranking factors (2005) commented: “I think that this is still very important” and “H1 and BOLD are still vital indicators of important factors.” The belief was the algorithm used to determine that any keyword placed within a bold tag would be given value as to determining what the page is about. The question is, has Google now realised this was being manipulated for the search engines and not for the user as was its original intention? Additionally, is the bold tag now obsolete?
Why and How to utilise the bold tag
Personally I believe that the bold tag still holds slight value and should be incorporated within on-page content. Search engines spiders can read and understand html code so it seems logical that the assigned keyword within a bold tag would carry a degree of importance to the page. This question still remains to be decided whether it carries any ranking weight but undeniably it does carry visual weight.
The usability of a website is a big feature of converting visitors into customers. Bold tags are vital for catching readers that scan, reinforcing the belief that they have found the right page. Various eye tracking data indicates users are drawn to breaks in the text, including bold and italic fonts.
Furthermore, when online users read or scan text, they apparently will only re-evaluate their scan strategy when they detect particular formats. One of the main factors, that subconsciously make users eyes stop and evaluate; is bold tags. So even if they hold no weight within search engines, I feel it is vital to ensure you give your website the best possible chance to connect with visitors.
Research always shows that user behaviour when consuming information on the internet follows a very basic pattern. In Jakob Nielsen’s words; site visitors don’t read; they scan. His study found that only 16% of people will read a post word by word. The implication is that readers need to be able to extract the key messages of a post at a glance, and not have to work for it. This means that content must be made scannable. Roll out the red carpet; cue the brass band and the victory march parade! Welcome home Bold…
So to end, I was recently watching the film American History X and related to the part in the script when he said “it’s always good to end a paper with a quote, if someone else has already said it best. So if you can’t top it, steal from them and go out strong”.
“The biggest lesson wasn’t news to me, but it might be to your boss: your visitors are not rational and organized and linear. You can’t count on them sitting still and hearing your story from beginning to end. They won’t. The answer is not to try to change human nature. It’s to embrace the hunting skills that people are bringing online (and to their daily offline media consumption) and to make your media match their needs.”
The following resources can help you monitor how well your online content is doing in terms of time spent on page and users clicks.