Does Google Care if Paragraph Text is Wrapped in < p > Tags?

From time to time the POP team receives support tickets saying "POP isn't counting the keywords on my page because they aren't in <p> tags." Since many users have questions about this subject we thought it was worth taking a look and seeing how Google is handling this type of text.

We set up the test like this..

Hypothesis: Paragraph text not wrapped in <p> tags has less value.

As this test falls into the category of "what happens when?," we ran a few different scenarios to see the results and whether Google favors a certain scenario over others.

We aimed to answer the the following questions:

  1. Will a page rank for a keyword when that keyword wasn't in <p> tags? To find out we put two different keywords on the same page, one wrapped in <p> tags and one just inside the <html> tag but with no <p> tags.

  2. Is there a ranking preference for pages that had keywords in <p> tags vs pages that had keywords not wrapped in <p> tags? In this second test we also played with <h> tags in conjunction with <p> tags. We included <h> tags into the mix to try to avoid any ranking limitations. Four different kinds of pages were optimized for the same keyword. Keywords were placed either in the <p> tag, in the <h> tag, in both tags, or in none of them.

Here is what we discovered

These are the results for ranking: All pages had one keyword in the <p> tag and one other keyword outside of the <p> tag.

SEO test set up

The pages were ranking for the keyword in the <p> tags within two days. On day two only one page was ranking for the keyword that was placed outside of the <p> tags. Keep in mind that each page had two keywords. If the page is indexed for one keyword, it proves that Google has crawled the page.

These are the result for ranking position: Some pages had only <p> tags some had only <h1> tags, some had both tags and some had none of those tags in them. The table shows the distribution.

SEO test set up

You can see that when it comes to ranking position the clear winner is having your keyword in both <p> and <h> tags. Both pages that have the keyword wrapped in <p> AND <h1> tags rank on position 1. The rest of the pages that have the keyword either in <p> OR <h1> tag rank on position 2 or lower. It looks like a pattern is trying to form, it's just not clear enough with two sets of tests.

Final Takeaway

There is no compelling reason to not use <p> tags. Further, as there's a chance you could be hindering your pages, especially when it comes to ranking, we recommend to avoid the issue altogether and use <p> tags. Additionally, we would recommend you edit any of your pages that are optimized but don't currently have <p> tags included.

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