Are Formatted Words a Google Ranking Factor?

Formatted Words
Formatted Words CREDIT: THE WEBMASTER
Jonathan Griffin
By Jonathan Griffin, Editor, SEO Consultant, & Developer.

While we have no independent confirmation from Google, a Patent registered in 2014 indicated that larger fonts, boldening, or italicized text (formatted words) are taken into consideration when assessing how relevant the page is to the users’ search query.

Will using formatted words improve your Google rankings?

We took an in-depth look at what the Googlers \ Experts had to say:

Larger fonts or bolded or italicized text may be weighted more than matches in standard text

A US Patent filed in April 2012 (Patent US 8818982 B1 (Granted Aug 2014)), and granted in August 2014, relates to how formatted words can be used to determine the Information Retrieval (IR) score.

This is essentially a method for determining the relevance of the documents to specific queries, and as such, documents with higher IR scores may rank better for those terms.

The IR score not only applies to bold, italic, or larger text but also applies to position on a page. For example, footer text may be given less weighting.

Concerning the Information Retrieval score (a measure of how relevant a document is to a search query), the Patent says:

To return the “best” results of a search, it is important to measure, in some fashion, the quality of documents, such as web documents. One existing document quality measurement technique calculates an Information Retrieval (IR) score that is a measure of how relevant a document is to a search query.

The IR score can be weighted in various ways. For example, matches in a document’s title might be weighted more than matches in a footer. Similarly, matches in text that is of larger font or bolded or italicized may be weighted more than matches in normal text.

A document’s IR score may be influenced in other ways. For example, a document matching all of the terms of the search query may receive a higher score than a document matching one of the terms. All of these factors can be combined in some manner to generate an IR score for a document that may be used in determining a quality of the results from an executed search.

Is there a difference between the "strong" / "b" and "em" / "i" tags in terms of SEO?

Although <em> / <i> and <strong> / <b> are each the same, respectively italicizing or bolding text, there are some important difference:

  • <b> and <i> are used to define bold and italic text without adding extra importance. They exist purely to style the text, and nothing more.
  • <em> is used to emphasize text, but also adds semantic emphasis.
  • <strong> is also used to emphasize text, adding “strong” importance.

Despite the semantic differences, there may not be any differences for SEO purposes.

In a video, Matt Cutts reiterated advice provide back in 2006, where he said that their is no difference between “strong” and “b”, or “i” and “em”. One note of caution is that he said things might have changed since 2006, but “I really kind of doubt it.”

Google’s Starter Guide states that italics and bold denote emphasis.

The Google SEO starter guide states the following:

  • <em> - An HTML tag denoting emphasis. According to standard, it will indicate emphasis through the use of italics.
  • <strong> - An HTML tag denoting strong emphasis. According to standard, it will indicate emphasis through the use of bold print.

A screenshot of the relevant part of the guide is below:

Google SEO Starter Guide indicates strong and em tags are important
Google SEO Starter Guide indicates strong and em tags are important CREDIT: GOOGLE

The fact that they are mentioned explicitly in the starter guide indicates some importance.

Formatted Words FAQ

What are formatted words?

There are a number of HTML elements that format text:

<b> Bold text </b>
<strong> Important text </strong>
<i> Italic text </i>
<em> Emphasized text </em>
<mark> Marked text </mark>
<small> Small text </small>
<del> Deleted text </del>
<ins> Inserted text </ins>
<sub> Subscript text </sub>
<sup> Superscript text </sup>
These elements display as follows:
  • <b> Bold text
  • <strong> - Important text
  • <i> - Italic text
  • <em> - Emphasized text
  • <mark> - Marked text
  • <small> - Small text
  • <del> - Deleted text
  • <ins> - Inserted text
  • <sub> - Subscript text
  • <sup> - Superscript text

You can find a list of some other text level formatting here.

The Google SEO starter guide only comments on the most common HTML formatting elements, namely “strong” and “em”:

  • <em> - “An HTML tag denoting emphasis. According to standard, it will indicate emphasis through the use of italics.”
  • <strong> - “An HTML tag denoting strong emphasis. According to standard, it will indicate emphasis through the use of bold print.”

A Google Patent (which we discuss further below) includes font size in the same list as “em” and “strong”.

<span style="font-size:20px">Font size on a px or em basis</span>
Which displays as follows:
  • Font size on a px or em basis

It is unclear whether HTML formatting such as marked text, subscript, superscript, or even font color influence rankings. As such only formatted text expressly mentioned by Google forms part of our conclusions.