Do you remember those days in grade school when your teacher asked you to create an outline before writing an essay? You might’ve found it tedious at the time, but in hindsight, you can see its purpose: providing a clear structure. You started with a main topic and then detailed supporting points, each with their own sub-points. This ensured that your essay had a logical flow, making it easy for the reader to understand your arguments and follow your thoughts.
In the digital world, header tags, also known as heading tags, serve a similar purpose for your website. Just as the outline guided your reader through your essay, header tags guide search engines through your web content. They provide a hierarchical structure, starting with the most important headline (H1) and followed by subheadings (H2, H3, and so on).
Heading tags are the outlines for search engines, enabling them to comprehend your page’s content and assess whether it matches a user’s search query. When utilized correctly, heading tags aren’t just helpful – they are crucial. They have the power to significantly influence your site’s ranking on search engines, determining whether your website remains lost in the depths of search results or climbs to the coveted first page.
But, how exactly do heading tags work, and why are they so vital for your SEO strategy? Let’s delve in to understand.
Here are the main points that we cover in the article below if you’re too busy to read the entire thing.
What are header tags?
Defining Header Tags: A Basic Overview
In the realm of HTML, the coding language used to create websites, header tags are the bread and butter of your website’s structure. Ranging from H1 to H6, a header tag categorizes and prioritizes the content on your website, effectively acting as signposts for both your site’s visitors and search engines.
What role do header tags play and are they important?
Header tags play a crucial role in providing a logical structure for the content on a page, and they’re used similarly to how you would structure a document. Just as a book has a title, chapters, and sub-chapters, a webpage has an H1 tag (the title), H2 tags (the chapters), and H3-H6 tags (the sub-chapters).
A Heading Structure Practical Example:
To illustrate, let’s look at a simple example of how these tags are used on a webpage but first in the form of an outline as mentioned above and then how it translates to a proper header structure
- The ABCs of Heading Tags
- What Are Heading Tags?
- Defining Heading Tags
- The Role of Heading Tags
- Importance of Heading Tags in SEO
- How Search Engines Use Heading Tags
- What Are Heading Tags?
H1: The ABCs of Heading Tags
H2: What Are Heading Tags?
H3: Defining Heading Tags
H3: The Role of Heading Tags
H2: Importance of Heading Tags in SEO
H3: How Search Engines Use Heading Tags
In this structure, the H1 tag identifies the main topic of the page. The H2 tags indicate major sections that directly relate to the main topic, and the H3 tags represent sub-sections within each H2 section. This hierarchy of information provides an easy-to-follow structure for users and a roadmap for search engines to understand and index your site’s content accurately.
By thoughtfully implementing these tags, you can guide visitors through your content while helping search engines understand the context and importance of each section.
Header Tags for On Page SEO Strategy
Imagine you’re trying to carve out your own unique space in the digital world. With millions of websites vying for visibility on Search Engine Results Pages (SERPs), your content needs to stand out to both your target audience and search engine crawlers.
That’s where your on-page SEO strategy, particularly the strategic use of header tags, comes into play. Header tags not only organize and structure your content for your readers but also guide search engine crawlers to better understand, index, and rank your pages.
When leveraged effectively, these tags become a powerful tool in your content marketing arsenal, amplifying your online presence and visibility on SERPs.
Read on to discover how you can effectively employ header tags for a superior SEO strategy.
How Search Engines like Google Use Heading Tags
Search engines like Google employ sophisticated algorithms to scan and index web pages, and heading tags serve as key markers in this process. These algorithms use heading tags as signals to understand the structure and content of your webpage.
An H1 tag, for instance, indicates the main topic or theme of the page. There should only be one H1 per page. Subsequent tags, H2 through H6, are treated as subtopics that provide more detailed information about the theme.
By correctly using heading tags, you help Google’s algorithm categorize your content accurately, improving your chances of ranking higher for relevant search queries. In essence, heading tags are a critical element of your site’s SEO as they guide search engine crawlers through your content, much like a roadmap.
Keyword Placement in Header Tags
Choosing the right keywords is crucial for successful SEO, but where you place these keywords is equally important. Inserting relevant keywords into your header tags can significantly improve your search engine ranking as these are prime spots that search engines pay attention to when understanding your content.
However, it’s important to strike a balance and avoid keyword stuffing, a frowned-upon practice where keywords are overused in an attempt to manipulate search rankings. Not only can this lead to a poor user experience due to unnatural and forced content, but it can also result in search engines penalizing your website, thereby damaging your SEO.
Therefore, while it’s beneficial to use keywords in your header tags, they should be incorporated naturally and meaningfully, and always with the reader’s experience and search intent in mind.
Pitfalls to Avoid: Common Header Tags Mistakes
Using Header Tags for Design Purposes Only
Most people assume header tags are simply a way to display larger or smaller blocks of text on their website depending on if they select H1, H2, and so on. We commonly see multiple H1 tags on a website because the designer wanted multiple large font sections of text. Unfortunately, this is commonplace, and doing this severely confuses search engines.
Overusing Keywords in Headings
While it’s important create header tags with your keywords for SEO purposes, overuse can lead to a practice known as keyword stuffing. This occurs when a webpage is loaded with keywords in an attempt to manipulate a site’s ranking on search engine results pages. Search engines, including Google, disapprove of this practice, and it can lead to penalties that negatively impact your site’s ranking. Furthermore, overusing keywords can degrade the quality of your content and hinder user experience.
Try to stick to one long-tail keyword per heading and sub heading.
Skipping Heading Levels
A common SEO mistake when structuring a webpage is skipping heading levels. This disrupts the hierarchical flow of content, leading to potential confusion for both readers and search engine crawlers.
For example, jumping directly from an H1 to an H3 heading may cause a search engine to miss important context about your content. Similarly, it can disrupt the reading experience, as users may find it challenging to follow the content’s progression.
Instead, it’s important to maintain the sequence of heading tags – starting with only H1 per page for the main topic, then moving to H2 for major subtopics, and using H3 for details within those subtopics.
This ensures a logical flow of information, aiding readability for users and search engines so they can accurately index your content, which can positively affect your website’s ranking in search results.
Not Using Header Tags
Neglecting to use headers in your webpage structure is a missed opportunity for both SEO optimization and user experience(ux) . Without headers, both Google and Bing will find it challenging to understand and categorize your content effectively, which will negatively affect your site’s ranking .
From a user perspective, a lack of headings results in a monolithic block of text that can be difficult for your site visitors to navigate or digest. Readers often skim content by reading the headings first to understand if the material is relevant to them.
Without headers, your content could lose its appeal, and readers may leave your site prematurely, increasing your bounce rate. Thus, the strategic use of header tags is vital for effective SEO and fostering a positive user experience.
How to Audit Your Site for Header Tag Usage
Generally speaking, a header tag audit will be part of any good technical seo audit. There are plenty of companies that do these audits for free, Ecommerce Maven, included.
That being said, there are also free plugins for Google Chrome that will show you any given page’s headers.
Our favorite is Ahrefs Chrome Extension which can be found here
How to use Ahrefs SEO Extension to find your Header Tags
- Install the Ahrefs extension from the above link
- Click the “a” logo in your Chrome extension bar
- Navigate to the CONTENT section
- Look under the HEADINGS area
Header Tag Case Study
Here is an example of two local Long Island plumbing contractors
Example 1 – Eddie’s Plumbing Service
Example 2 – Snake the Drain Plumbing Service
Can you guess which website ranks higher? If you guessed, the one with one H1 tag that says “Plumbing Services in Northport,NY” , you’d be correct. Let’s talk about why that is.
In example 1, it’s extremely easy for Google to figure out what this website is about – a plumbing company in Northport, NY that has Free Estimates, Renovates Kitchens, Does Heater Replacements and Commercial Plumbing
In example 2, Google needs to figure out if this website is about Customer Satisfaction, Snaking a drain, or Asking Questions. Furthermore, if we look at the supporting H2 tags it also looks like this could be a site about customer satisfaction for plumbing services, drain services, or emergency services or if it’s telling anecdotal stories about Louie snaking a drain
What about Domain Authority?
Experienced page owners might say, “But maybe Eddie’s has better domain authority”. Don’t worry, I went ahead and checked that for you.
As you can see below, Example 1 actually has a lower DA than Example 2
A Better Content Strategy for Example 2’s headers
Let’s try giving Example 2 a better header tag structure…
H1: Northport, NY Plumbing Service
H2: Snake the Drain is your trusted Northport Plumber
H2: Plumbing Services We Offer
H3: Emergency Plumbing Services
H3: Clogged Drain Repairs
H3: Sink & Faucet Installations
H2: Why Choose Snake the Drain for your next Plumbing Job
H2: Contact us for all of your plumbing needs
Headers Provide Structure
This is just one example of how to structure this page but there are many different ways that you could do it that will help Google understand the intent of your web page.
One H1 tag per Page
First, notice that we only have one H1 tag per page. Now, Google can be pretty sure that this specific page is about a plumbing company in Northport, NY.
Notice that we’re using our target keywords in the H1 tag, and then we can add secondary supporting keywords into our sub headings. Our H2 and H3 tags are now supporting our H1 tag.
This is what SEO professionals refer to as technical SEO best practice.
With this formula, we can build pages specific to the user’s search intent. For example, now that we have a general page about our Northport Plumbing Company, we can make individual pages for the individual services that we used for H3 tags.
Take for example “Emergency Plumbing Services” – for this dedicated page, we could make the one and only H1 tag “Emergency Plumbing Services in Northport, NY” , and we would use H2 h3 etc for the different types of emergency plumbing services that we provide.
Understanding and implementing proper header tag structure is integral to an effective SEO strategy. It not only improves the user experience but also plays a crucial role in optimizing your site’s visibility and ranking.
From clearly defining your H1 tags to represent the main topic of your page, and creating H2, H3, and so on, each level of heading plays a pivotal role in how search engines like Google interpret and index your content. It’s an artful blend of structuring your content for both human users and search engine bots.
It’s essential to avoid common mistakes, such as using multiple H1 tags, keyword stuffing, or skipping heading levels. Doing so can not only confuse Google’s algorithms but also deteriorate the user experience.
I hope our detailed exploration of headers and our practical case study has demonstrated that the effective use of header tags is far more than just a design consideration. It is a powerful SEO tool that can significantly enhance your website’s performance in organic search.
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Can I use more than one H1 tag on a page? Why or why not?
No. You must only use one H1 header tag for each individual page of your website. The H1 should be the main topic of the page. Use H2, H3 and so on for respective supporting topics.
I've not been using heading tags on my website. Can I start now, and will it improve my SEO?
Yes – better late than never! After you update your pages you should resubmit your sitemap or request re-indexing of individual pages in Google Search Console to speed up the Google updating your rankings.
How many heading tags should I use on a page?
The most important thing is to only use one H1. Generally, 2-5 H2’s, and as many h3, h4’s, and so on as it takes to support your H2’s. As long as you follow the structure outlined above, you will be fine.
What tools can I use to check my website's use of heading tags?
We recommend the Ahrefs.com Chrome extension to check your website’s heading tags.
Is it essential to include keywords in every heading tag?
No. That being said, you definitely want to include them in your H1 and H2’s wherever it makes sense but don’t feel the need to force it. H3’s, H4’s and so on are less critical.