Imagine you’re at a restaurant looking at the menu. You’ll probably start by skimming the various sections—appetizers, salads, pasta, seafood, desserts, etc—to find a category that sparks your interest. You pick one to start—pasta—and then browse through the names of various dishes. If the name of a dish catches your eye, only then will you stop to read through the full description of the dish. And thus you can pick what you want to eat by the time the waiter returns with your drinks.
Just as headings on menus allow you to order without having to read every word on the menu, SEO headings make it easier and faster for readers to navigate content on your website. Knowing how to use headings for SEO can improve the user experience, help you rank for keywords, and make your content more compelling. Now, let’s craft that menu.
What are Header Tags?
Headings separate your content into clear sections and make it easier for Google to crawl it. They stand out from the paragraph text because they are bigger, formatted like a title, and possibly even a different color or font.
From a copywriting perspective, the heading explains what the following section will discuss. From a technical perspective, it’s code that dictates how the text will appear. That means that all headings of a specific type will look the same.
There are several types of headings, including H1, H2, H3, H4, and so on. H1 is the biggest, with each subsequent heading getting smaller. As such, H1 will typically be used for the title of the page/post, with the smaller headings being used to section off the rest of the content. You can have as many tags as you like on a page (although we don’t recommend going too over the top).
Why SEO Headings Matter
There are several benefits to using a strong header tag structure in your content, including:
Headings serve as a guide map. The Nielsen Norman Group found that 79% of users skimmed a new page, while only 16% read everything on the page. And when scanning a page, headings are your best friend. They make it easy to see what this page is at a glance and whether it fits what you’re seeking. That way, you can skip right to the section that’s relevant to you or decide whether the page is worth a more thorough read. On the other hand, if a user can’t figure out whether your content will provide value to them based on a quick scan, they will probably leave your site in search of something better.
Even if a user intends to read every single word in your page or post, walls of text are intimidating. Headers provide an opportunity to break up the text into smaller, more digestible portions. This, coupled with other readability best practices such as short paragraphs and the use of lists, will improve the reading experience for your users, making it more likely that they retain what they read and seek out more of your content.
Headings are an excellent place to put keywords in your article. It demonstrates to Google that these phrases are important and header tags often provide a good opportunity to slip in keywords without sounding forced.
Headings help screen readers properly relay the text to users with accessibility needs. In fact, individuals who use screen readers say that headings are the most useful tool to help them navigate a page. Because heading text is bigger, they can also help individuals who struggle with smaller text.
Google loves clear, concise content, and that means that optimized headings can improve your chances of earning a snippet.
Heading Tag Best Practices
To make sure you’re getting all those yummy benefits of SEO headings, you need to put a little thought into it. When creating headings, consider these guidelines:
According to standard SEO rules, you should put your primary keyword in at least one header tag. Headers are also a great spot for secondary keywords and, since they’re in title format, it can be easier to incorporate keywords that might sound awkward in other placements, such as keywords in the form of a question.
Use H1 Tags Sparingly
Common advice says to use only one H1 per page, but this is no longer a hard and fast rule. Still, there’s no need to clutter a piece of content with endless H1s. They’re big and bulky, and readers may get confused if there are multiple H1s on a page. So, limit your H1 to the big, important stuff and use the smaller headings to drill down deeper.
Make Sure the Header Matches the Content
Never get so desperate to use a certain keyword that you write a heading that actually has very little to do with the section. Headings should accurately tell readers what you’re about to tell them. If users feel a disconnect between the two, they will likely leave your site.
Establish a Consistent Heading Structure
Generally, you should use headings in a hierarchical structure. That is, the most important, broadest heading would be H1. Next up is H2, then H3, and so on as you get more granular. But the most important thing is consistency. Establish clear guidelines for what headings you use when so that your pages match.
Check the Look of Your Headings
You’ll be using your headers a lot so, whether you’re working from a template or a custom site design, it’s worth double-checking that your header tags look how you want them to look. If, for example, your header text is too light to show up nicely against the background, you need to change that.
Keep Snippets in Mind
As mentioned earlier, a good header structure can help you gain those coveted snippets. To do this, you can place a long-tail keyword in your heading with a paragraph directly below that responds to the query concisely and directly. Or, you can use smaller header tags to create snippet-worthy lists.
Write Clearly and Concisely
A good rule of thumb in terms of header length is to aim for a header that doesn’t spill over into a second line. Long, wordy headers can be confusing and overwhelming for readers. Keep them straightforward and to the point.
SEO Header Examples
So, what might a good SEO header structure look like? Well, let’s say you have a home repair business and you’re writing a blog article called How to Fix a Leaky Faucet. Your keyword is the title: “how to fix a leaky faucet.” Your header structure might look something like this:
H1 – How to Fix a Leaky Faucet
H2 – Why is My Faucet Leaking?
H3 – Rust
H3 – Broken Valve
H3 – Water Pressure Too High
H2 – How to Fix a Leaky Faucet: Step-by-Step
H3 – Step 1: Turn Off the Water
H3 – Step 2: Take Apart the Handle
H3 – Step 3: Inspect the Valve System
H3 – Step 4: Replace Broken Parts
H2 – When to Call a Repairman
This basic structure is simple but clean. The H2 header tags represent the major sections of the article with lists within sections broken down using H3 tags. There’s no need to overcomplicate things here; the best header structure for SEO is the one that’s easy for your readers to follow.
How to Use Headings for SEO
So how do you actually implement header tags? A CMS such as WordPress makes it simple. Most WordPress themes include preset header options. In the classic editor, you can find headings, ordered from biggest to smallest, in the dropdown menu from “Paragraph.”
In the Gutenberg editor, you can add a new block and then select “Heading.” It will then let you choose from the different heading options.
And, of course, you can always use HTML to add your header tags. Simply go into the text tab of the classic editor or select “Edit as HTML” in Gutenberg, then use <h1>, <h2>, <h3>, etc. to specify the type of heading.
Get Your Header in the Game
We all see headings every day, and often it’s something we don’t give too much thought to. But headings serve as a breadcrumb trail leading your readers through your content. It shows that you’re taking care of them and considering what structure will be easiest to understand.
So, whenever you write or review a new piece of content on your site, take the time to check those headings. Once you understand how to use headings for SEO, it will be that much easier to take your customers’ orders.