SEO 101: Everything You Need To Know About Headings
Published on 20th December 2018
Getting search engine optimisation (SEO) right is essential if you want your website to show up in the results that are displayed when potential customers search for products or services like yours on Google. Using headings correctly on your website is a necessary part of any successful on-page SEO strategy.
A quick and easy way to optimise your website pages for search engines like Google, headings are also an important element of website structure, so should always be included within your pages regardless of the SEO value they bring.
In this guide, we’ll explain how and why you should be using headings on your website, providing you with all the information you need to improve your website’s ranking in search results.
Table of Contents:
What is a heading?
In SEO terms, a heading – also known as a header tag – is a headline or title that is used to break up content on a web page.
Headings help to provide a structure for the text on a page, organising the content into smaller sections so that it is easy for both visitors and search engines to navigate and understand.
There are 6 levels of header tags, and these create a hierarchy of importance throughout your website. The main heading is the H1 tag – this is the largest, most important heading on the page and carries the most SEO weight. This should give users an idea of what the whole page is about, and there should only be one per page.
For example, on this page, the H1 heading is ‘SEO 101: Everything You Need To Know About Headings’.
The H2-H6 tags are your sub-headings, with H6 being the least important. Most pages will only ever require H2 and H3 level headings. H2 tags should be used to separate out the different sections of a page, with H3 tags then used to organise the text in each of these sections into sub-sections, and so on and so forth.
On this page, ‘Table of Contents’, ‘What is a heading?’, ‘Why you should use headings on your website’, and ‘The dos and don’ts of headings’ are all H2 level headings. Where these sections are divided into smaller segments, the corresponding titles – e.g. ‘To structure your text’ – are set as H3 level headings.
Why you should use headings on your website:
1. To structure your text
Splitting your page content out into easily digestible chunks with clear headings will make it much simpler to read, allowing your website visitors to find the information they’re looking for as quickly as possible.
A page that doesn’t include any headings will be significantly more difficult for people to scan to see if it’s relevant to their needs, and many of your visitors are likely to leave your website just as quickly as they arrived if this is what they’re faced with.
Therefore, in the interests of providing a great user experience, it’s essential that you use headings to structure your website pages so that people know exactly what they’re going to find on there. This will indirectly benefit your SEO efforts too, as Google rewards websites that offer users a positive browsing experience.
A good heading structure will also have a more direct impact on your search engine optimisation, as well-organised content isn’t just easier for people to understand – it provides search engines with a much clearer idea about your website’s relevance too.
2. To target your keywords
It’s important to include your chosen keywords in as many prominent places on your website as possible, and your headings are no exception. (If you’re unsure which keywords you should be targeting, read our guide on how to choose the right keywords for your website.)
As headings are used by search engines like Google to determine what each page on your website is about, the text used within header tags is seen as more valuable than ordinary text. What this means is that Google will weight your headings more highly than other page content when trying to figure out whether a page is relevant to a user’s query.
Because your H1 heading is the most important heading on the page, this carries the most weight. It’s best practice therefore to include a long-tail keyword in your H1 heading to show search engines that this topic is addressed throughout your page.
As the second most important heading level, it’s also a good idea to use your keywords in any H2 headings where possible to reinforce the key themes of your page.
3. To make your website more accessible
Headings aren’t just an important part of your website’s formatting and your SEO strategy - they’re also a key consideration in making your website more accessible for the visually impaired.
Many visually impaired website visitors will use a screen reader to access website content, which will convert text to either speech or braille. This makes having a clear page structure a necessity as these users will rely on the headings to decide whether they want to read the rest of your page.
Screen readers can identify the H1 heading on a page, and will give users the option of skipping straight to this to learn what the page is about. The headings are used for navigation as well, with the ability to jump from one heading to the next so that users can easily find the part of the page they’re looking for.
Although this is an issue of accessibility, it will have an indirect bearing on your website’s position in search results too. After all, Google now considers usability more important than ever, and will rank your website accordingly. If headings are missing from your web pages – particularly your H1 headings – then your site is not delivering a great user experience.
The dos and don’ts of headings:
Headings really are one of the easiest ways you can optimise your web pages, and they don’t take a lot of effort to get right. Just bear these simple rules in mind when creating your headings and you’ll be able to make a difference to your site in no time:
DO stick to the hierarchy – As explained above, there are 6 levels of header tags, with H1 being the highest and H6 being the lowest. When different heading levels are used on a page, they form a hierarchy of content, highlighting the most important text through to the least important. If you were to jump straight from an H1 heading to an H6 heading for example, it would break this structure and make your content more difficult for search engines to understand. Instead, your headings should always be nested – an H1 followed by an H2, an H2 followed by an H3, etc.
DON’T try anything clever – It’s true that Google places greater importance on the text in your headings than on the rest of your content, but don’t think of this as an opportunity to game the system by placing all of your text within header tags. Headings should be clear and concise, and should provide structure to the rest of the text on the page. Making all your text into a heading achieves none of these objectives, and won’t help to optimise your site either – instead, this will be seen as a manipulative SEO tactic and could end up harming your website’s position in search results.
DO keep it natural – Similarly, overstuffing your headings with keywords isn’t a good look either. It’s more important that your headings read naturally and are grammatically correct than it is that they’re overly optimised, and any attempts to overdo it on the keyword front could again be seen by Google as a bid to unfairly influence the search results. As a result, Google may penalise your website with lower rankings. The best way to optimise your headings and keep them readable is to use words and phrases that are related to your keywords – search engines will still pick up on these, and it will show both Google and your visitors that the content is relevant.
DON’T get carried away – It’s crucial that you include headings throughout each page on your website to break up the text, but this doesn’t mean that you should be putting loads of H2 and H3 headings in your content just for the sake of it. Each heading must have a purpose, and in a short piece of text you won’t necessarily need sub-headings. In fact, the more headings you include in a page, the less value they’ll have. Think of it this way - if your heading isn’t introducing a new section or idea and helping visitors navigate your content, do you really need to include it?
By now, you should understand the importance of incorporating headings into your website. They’re vital for creating a great website experience for your visitors, and they’ll go some way to boosting your ranking in search results too.
For more on-page SEO advice, don’t forget to check out our guide to creating brilliant page titles and meta descriptions for your website.
If you’ve got the heading know-how, but not the website to apply it to, why not take a look at our web design portfolio to see how we can help.
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