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The Basics of Semantics

Semantics is a word which strikes fear into many a designer’s heart, but it need not be a difficult or complicated topic. It concerns meaningful expression, avoiding presentational markup and using appropriate and meaningful tags where possible.

Essentially, designing and writing HTML code in a semantic way is as simple as keeping your HTML concerned with the content of the page and not the layout. Some of the simple steps below will help you to ensure that you stay semantically pleasing to search engines, spiders and visitors

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Title tag

Ensure that your page title tag is descriptive and meaningful. Ensure that it changes for each page of your site to reflect the content on that page.

Headings

It’s possible to define your page’s headings with div and span tags, but that doesn’t convey any meaning that it is a heading. Using h1 to h6 tags to differentiate and style the headings on your page is much better.

Tables and Forms

By default, tables and forms are not very semantic and can be very general. They also lack accessibility for those using non-standard browsers. For tables, ensure that you use the thead tag to explain the columns of your table. For forms, adhere to using the label tag to describe what each input, checkbox etc is there for.

Images

It seems like it gets said over and over again, but use alt attributes for all your images to ensure that they are described within the page content – both for the benefit of search engines and disabled users.

Seems straight forward… but why?

Using semantic code won’t make your website look any different and it won’t directly benefit your readers in any way. One direct effect you may see is that search engines spider your website in a more correct and effective way.

Also, semantic coding is paving the way for the future. New devices, software and applications will be around in the next 5, 10, 100 years that still use the content on the web to power them. Semantics set the standard which future systems will adhere to and interpret, so future proof yourself!