By now you may have heard the term HTML5 in your online travels. But do you know what HTML5 really is?
It’s important to know because HTML5 gives you more choices for a richer website, along with additional features. You’re likely to be hearing more about it.
In fact, your next website may be written in HTML5. So you’ll want to be informed so you know enough to communicate properly with your Web developer, and consider your options for your website.
So, What Is HTML5?
HTML has been around since the beginning of the Internet. It is a language that serves as the building blocks for websites. HTML is the code that makes the images appear on the page, aligns those images, makes the text normal or bold, specifies what font the text should be, and much more.
Since the 1990s, there have been 4 versions of HTML. We are now transitioning to version 5, which is what we are here to talk about today.
Planning for HTML5 started back in 2004 by the World Wide Web Consortium , and a decade later, a relatively small number of websites use HTML5. This just goes to show that this process of upgrading HTML versions is not an overnight thing. It takes years (not to mention some controversy and a breakaway group of dissenters ).
But when HTML5 starts to become more widely used, HTML4 won’t be pensioned off to a sunny island. HTML5 and HTML4 are built on top of one another and each will peacefully co-exist with one another, bringing their own set of features.
HTML4 and HTML5 are co-existing right now. Some older browsers can’t read HTML5, though. (To test if your browser is HTML5 compatible, visit this site .)
So you’re probably already asking what the benefits of the new HTML5 will be. Let’s take a look at some key benefits.
Addressing The Flash Problem
If you have an iOS device, then you will already know that the device is not able to use Flash. Android has its own Flash issues too. With Android you may need workarounds to see Flash elements of a site or a flash video. This is disruptive to the user experience if parts of a website remain off-limits due to a software incompatibility.
HTML5 allows you to make fancier effects and animation, and fancier webpages, without the need for Flash. HTML5 can be seen as an alternative to Flash, not a replacement.
HTML5 will have the potential of making websites faster and more interactive. Examples of this include playing streaming video on a website MUCH faster. Sites such as YouTube are already offering HTML5 video players. (However, you must switch it on yourself  as it’s not a default setting).
Or it may mean playing audio on a website without plugins, using code to draw on a website (with your finger or a stylus pen), or dragging and dropping files onto a website (such as the uploading feature on WordPress).
A great example of HTML5 is Chrome Experiments , a website run by Google, which shows some of the things that HTML5 is capable of. The examples on this site are made with something called WebGL, and this is a HTML5-related technology which creates 3D objects and animations.
Better Semantic Markup
Semantic markup is not a creation of HTML5 – it has been around for a while now – but HTML5 improves upon it.
What is semantic markup? Let’s try to break it down without getting too technical and getting lost in the details. In the old days, a website had information but there was no way for a search engine to make sense of that information. It merely indexed what it found but there was no context attached to give that information any meaning. A phone number was just a string of random numbers.
With semantic markup however, data is interpreted in its proper context, so a phone number is identified as a phone number, the opening times of shops are identified as shop opening times, and so on. This makes search engines able to better understand your queries and deliver more accurate information. So you could ask Google when Walmart in your area closes, and it will bring up the times.
Perhaps the most well known semantic markup example is Google authorship . Whenever you search for something on Google, blog posts and articles often come up with the photo of the author to the left.
Also, say you’re looking for a law firm in New York? Semantic markup on search engines now has the contact details, along with a marker leading you to a Google map for directions. You can even read reviews, and view the company’s Google Plus page.
So semantic markup has the potential to make the web much more useful. Semantic markup can also include video, testimonials, and details of products for sale.
And remember, adding Google Authorship to get your picture next to your articles in the search results is easy. Google explains it all step-by-step here .
To get some other things into your site, Search Engine Land has a great outline  which details features such as marking up the address, contact details, payment types accepted, and hours of operation, on your site. That gives a taste of what kind of data you can make show up in the search results about your business.
How Can Businesses Get Started With HTML5?
So the question you’re probably now asking is “what do I need to do?”. The first thing to stress is that you don’t have to do anything right now. Your website may go along perfectly fine without HTML5.
But if you have a business which heavily relies on an online or mobile presence, it won’t hurt to start planning and going over options with your Web developer.
Consider what features you need and how they could help your business. HTML5 may or may not be the right choice to bring those features to your online presence.
But keep in mind that it might be counterproductive to be cutting edge if your customers aren’t there yet. The CTO of Small Business Trends, Leland McFarland, has some advice on the whole HTML5 issue:
“Remember, your customers may be using old browsers. It’s not just a matter of what you or your developer want. A goal should be to make your site accessible to as many readers or viewers as possible. If some of your audience won’t be able to see that cute animation because of an older browser, do you still have an alternative they can see? Perhaps a page with text and a few image captures? Ask your developer to build that alternative in so that everyone can have a good experience on the site.”
Your Analytics data for your website (such as Google Analytics) should be able to tell you the kinds of browsers and devices your audience primarily uses. That should give some idea of what your audience’s needs are. One of your first considerations should be delivering what they want and need. But also consider the kind of new audience you’d like to attract. For example, HTML5 might be able to draw in and retain more people using Apple devices.
HTML5 is the future, and has the power to add additional functions to your online presence. As a small business owner or manager, it will help if you get ahead of the curve, learn more about HTML5, and start planning for how to use it.
HTML image  via Shutterstock; screenshots