HTML is the abbreviation for Hypertext Markup Language. This standard markup language for the Internet describes the structure of a website. Every browser “reads” HTML and outputs these instructions on the screen or display – in the form of pages with fonts, images, videos, graphics, buttons and many other elements.

If you want to get an impression of HTML, you only need to call up any website in your browser. The instruction “Show page source code”, which can be called by right-clicking, shows the content of a website in the form of pure HTML. At first glance, this code seems cryptic. However, if you take a closer look (for example, using a special editor), you will see clear structures – especially consistent nesting. The DOM (Document Object Model) makes use of this nesting: Each individual element of a website, for example a paragraph, an image or a link, can be accessed using markup and programming languages such as CSS or JavaScript. In this way, the individual elements can be formatted, but also hidden, animated or dynamically changed.

How HTML works

HTML consists of individual tags that define the structure of an HTML document. These tags determine the beginning and the end of the respective elements. The end tag is provided with a slash (/) for this purpose:

<h1>This is a heading</h1>.
<p>This is a paragraph</p>.

The distinction between the head and the body of a document is essential. The Body contains the actual content – primarily text, images, videos, and design elements. The Head is interesting for programmers and designers, but also for SEO experts. Here you can find references to scripting languages like JavaScript (<script>), formatting languages like CSS (<style>) and descriptive information about the page content (<title>, <meta> tags for content details, keywords, the author, etc.). Especially the <title> tag is important from the SEO point of view. Because the content of this tag is not only displayed on the browser tab. As a rule, the title serves Google as a heading for individual search results.

So HTML is primarily used to define the semantic structure of a website. All elements of a website can be displayed with HTML in a simple and above all cross-platform way.

From HTML 1.0 via XHTML to HTML5

The history of HTML is as old as the World Wide Web. In 1992, the first version was published (HTML 1.0), which was still intended exclusively for text display. The highlight of this new markup language was the anchor tag (<a>). In a simple way you can link to other pages with it. One click – and immediately another document appears, possibly stored on a server thousands of miles away. This possibility of fast linking is the real secret of HTML’s success.

After several syntax adaptations in the 1990s (HTML 2, 3, 4), the W3C (World Wide Web Consortium) published a new development in 2000: XHTML – Extensible HTML. This HTML version was essentially oriented to the meta language XML. However, the project was abandoned in 2014 in favor of HTML5. HTML5 provides very simple ways to integrate multimedia content – for example, videos, audio files, diagrams, graphics and dynamic visual effects. The entire structure of a website (navigation, footer, articles, etc.) can be easily clarified with HTML5.

HTML5 was primarily developed in response to the growing importance of mobile devices. A website whose source code is HTML5-compliant is also advantageous for search engine optimization. Google registers the different versions of HTML and CSS and thus evaluates, among other things, the topicality of a website.

Explanation of the most important HTML tags:

Tag  & Meaning
<html> The introductory tag for each HTML document.
<head> The “head” of the document for individual technical instructions
<body> The actual document that is output by the browser
<h1>, <h2>, <h3>… headings of various orders.
<p> paragraph
<strong> Emphasis, bold (formerly <b>).
<em> emphasis, italic (formerly <i>)
<a> link
<table>, <tr>, <td> table, table row, table cell
<ol>, <ul> Numbered list, list with bullet points.
<li> A single list item

Tags can contain attributes, for example an ID (<p id=”erklaerung”>) or a class (<p class=”roteSchrift”>). The IDs or classes can be used to access the respective elements using JavaScript or CSS.

HTML, JavaScript, PHP & Co.

In addition to HTML, CSS, JavaScript and PHP play a major role in the layout and functionality of a website.

CSS (Cascading Style Sheets) is used to design HTML documents.
JavaScript is a programming language that was developed especially for websites. Ajax and jQuery use JavaScript as a basis.
PHP (Personal Homepage Tools or Hypertext Preprocessor) is a very powerful programming language that acts on the server side. PHP can create or modify HTML documents. In interaction with databases (especially in online stores) PHP shows great strengths.

The final formatting of the individual elements is done with CSS (Cascading Style Sheets). Example:

A CSS file contains the following command: p { color: red; }
Any HTML document that references the CSS file in question will show all paragraphs (<p>) in red.

Google also reads HTML

The robots of search engines like Google analyze HTML. They examine the source code not only for the frequency of certain keywords, but also for where they appear. The placement of keywords plays a decisive role in the thematic relevance of an Internet page. For example, if the keyword “flowers” appears in an h1 heading (i.e. a first-order headline), this is a very strong indication that the entire text is about flowers.

Google’s algorithms only capture the HTML source text. This also applies to images. The actual image file is less relevant. An alt attribute can be used to describe an image using HTML. This gives Google an indication of what is displayed on the image:

<img src=”flower.jpg” alt=”A red flower”.

Elements for texts in HTML

A website whose syntax conforms to HTML rules not only looks good. It is also evaluated positively by search engines. Four elements are particularly important for creating texts that do not require images or additional effects:

<h1>headline</h1> (or <h2>, <h3>, etc.).

If these four tags are used correctly, programmers and web designers will have no problem rehashing a text for the web and integrating it into a web page. The final design is done with tools like CSS or JavaScript. If you want to learn HTML, you can find a lot of tutorials for this on the Internet.


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