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HTML Basic Tutorial

HTML uses tags to communicate to the client (browser) how to display text and images. Tags are contained in < > symbols. In most cases you start with the beginning tag, put in the word or words that will be affected by this tag, and at the end of the string of word(s), you place a closing tag.

For example, to create a title for a document you would do the following:

 <title>My First HTML Document</title>

The closing tag normally contains a "/" before the directive to indicate the termination of the action.

HTML tags are not case-sensitive, although URLs generally are. In most cases (with the exception of preformatted text) HTML collapses many spaces to one space and does not read blank lines. However, when you write your text you should leave several blank lines between paragraphs to make editing your HTML source document easier.

The HTML tag

Although not currently required by all clients, the <html> tag signals the point where text should start being interpreted as HTML code. It's probably a good idea to include it in all your documents now, so you don't have to go back to your files and add it later.

The <html> tag is usually placed on the first line of your document. At the end of your document you should close with the </html> tag.

The Head tag

Just like the header of a memo, the head of an HTML document contains special information, like its title. The head of a document is demarcated by <head> and </head> respectively.

For the purposes of this class, only the title tag, below, should be included in the document head. A typical head section might look like

<title>My First HTML Document</title>


A title tag allows you to specify a Document Title in your browser window. When people make hotlists, this title is what they see in their list after they add your document. The format is:

<title>My First HTML Document</title>

Remember, the title usually doesn't appear in the document itself, but in a title box or bar at the top of the window.

The Body tag

Like you might expect, the body tags <body> and </body> define the beginning and end of the bulk of your document. All your text, images, and links will be in the body of the document.

The body should start after the head. A typical page might begin like

<title>My First HTML Document</title>


There are up to six levels of headers that can be used in your document, h1 through h6. Header 1 is the largest header and they get progressively smaller through header 6. Below are each of the six headers and how they usually appear in relation to one another.

<h1>This is a header 1 tag</h1>

This is a header 1 tag

<h2>This is a header 2 tag</h2>

This is a header 2 tag

<h3>This is a header 3 tag</h3>

This is a header 3 tag

<h4>This is a header 4 tag</h4>

This is a header 4 tag

<h5>This is a header 5 tag</h5>
This is a header 5 tag

<h6>This is a header 6 tag</h6>
This is a header 6 tag

Headers, as you notice, not only vary in size, they are also bold and have a blank line inserted before and after them. It's important to use headers only for headings, not just to make text bold (we cover the bold tag later).


In HTML, a paragraph tag <p> should be put at the end of every paragraph of "normal" text (normal being defined as not already having a tag associated with it).

    <p> causes a line break and adds a trailing blank line

    <br> causes a line break with no trailing blank line

As a convenience to yourself and others who might have to edit your HTML documents, it's a very good idea to put two or three blank lines between paragraphs to facilitate editing.

Preformatted text

The preformatted text tag allows you to include text in your document that normally remains in a fixed-width font and retains the spaces, lines, and tabs of your source document. In other words, it leaves your text as it appears initially or just as you typed it in. Most clients collapse multiple spaces into one space, even tabs are collapsed to one space. The only way to circumvent this is to use the preformatted tag. Visually, preformatted text looks like a courier font.

<pre>this is

               an example
               of a    preformatted
        text tag</pre>

And this is how it displays:

this is

an example
of a preformatted
text tag

Boldface and Italics

You can add emphasis to text by using the boldface and italic tags or the emphasis and strong tags.

There is an underline tag as well, but most people don't use it since text that is linked is often underlined. The potential for confusion and the archaic nature of underlining in general make it a poor marker for emphasis.

When using these tags, you usually cannot (and probably should not) have text that is both boldface and italics; the last tag encountered is usually the tag that is displayed. For example, if you had a boldface tag followed immediately by an italic tag, the tagged word would appear in italics.

Physical tags

   This is a <b>boldface</b> tag.
This is how boldfacing appears.

    This is an <i>italic</i> tag.
This is how italics appear.

Logical tags

   This is a <strong>strongly emphasized</strong> tag.
This is a strongly emphasized tag.

    This is an <em>emphasized</em> tag.
This is an emphasized tag.

There is a subtle distinction between the above "physical" tags which merely change the displayed font, and "logical" styles which are used (or eventually will be) to make types of emphasis client specific (for instance, using the <em> tag would make text red). While either style is fine, be aware that differences in these two kinds of tags may be more apparent with advances in HTML.


There is an easy way in HTML to have numbered, unnumbered, and definition lists. In addition, you can nest lists within lists.

When using lists, you have no control over the amount of space between the bullet or list number, HTML automatically does this for you. Neither (as yet) do you have control over what type of bullet will be used as each browser is different.

Unnumbered lists

Unnumbered lists are started with the <ul> tag, followed by the actual list items, which are marked with the <li> tag. The list is ended with the ending tag </ul>.

For example, here is an unnumbered list with three items:

<li> list item 1
<li> list item 2
<li> list item 3

Here is how that list would display:
  • list item 1
  • list item 2
  • list item 3

Numbered lists

Here is the same list using a numbered list format:

<li> list item 1
<li> list item 2
<li> list item 3

Here is how that list would display:

1. list item 1
2. list item 2
3. list item 3

Definition lists

Definition lists allow you to indent without necessarily having to use bullets.

<dt> This is a term
<dd> This is a definition
<dd> And yet another definition
<dt> Another term
<dd> Another definition

And here is how this would be displayed
This is a term
This is a definition
And yet another definition
Another term
Another definition
Nested lists

Finally, here is a nested list within an unnumbered list (we could just have easily had a nested list within a numbered list).

<li> list item 1
 <li> nested item 1
 <li> nested item 2
<li> list item 2
 <li> nested item 1
 <li> nested item 2
<li> list item 3
 <li> nested item 1
 <li> nested item 2

Here is how that list would display:
  • list item 1
    • nested item 1
    • nested item 2
  • list item 2
    • nested item 1
    • nested item 2
  • list item 3
    • nested item 1
    • nested item 2


The blockquote tag indents the text (both on the left and right) inside the tags. The blockquote tag looks like this:


and displays like this:

Blockquoted text is often used for indenting big blocks of text such as quotations. The text will be indented until the ending tag is encountered. Again, note that the text here is indented on both the left and the right margins.


You can center text, images, and headings with the center tag:

<center>This is a centered sentence</center>

This is a centered sentence.

The center tag automatically inserts a line break after the closing center tag.

Horizontal Rule

To separate sections in a document, you can insert a horizontal rule tag <hr>. A horizontal rule is displayed as follows:


The <address> tag normally appears at the end of a document and is used most frequently to mark information on contacting the author or institution that has supplied this information. Anything contained within the address tag appears in italics. The address tag is another example of a logical tag, and although it currently does nothing but make text appear in italics, this could change as HTML code advances.

Here is an example of how an address might appear:

Introduction to HTML <a href="">My Email </address>

And it would appear as:

Introduction to HTML My Email


It is possible to include comments in a source HTML document that do not appear when seen through a browser. This is most useful for giving warnings and special instructions to future editors of your document.

Comments take the form:

<!-----This comment will not appear in the browser----->

The comment can even break lines

<!----This comment won't be seen by
anyone either even though it's broken between lines--->


Should you want it, there is a strike-through tag which displays text with a strike.

This is struck through text

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