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Header Tags For SEO Best Practices

Header Tags For SEO Best Practices

When we talk about header tags in SEO we are referring to the H1s, H2s, H3s etc that can be found in your website editor as a way to format text.

Using header tags correctly within your page content is vital for SEO as it provides crucial structure to pages that search engines use to understand the topic.

In this guide we will be outlining how best to use header tags for SEO. With clear explanations about how each header tag should be used and examples of properly used headers.

What Do The Different Header Tags Mean?

There are 6 types of headings:

  • H1
  • H2
  • H3
  • H4
  • H5
  • H6

The H1 (Heading 1) acts as the main title of the page.

There should only be one H1 tag per page and every page should ideally have one.

H2s are used for subsections of the H1, H3s act as subsections of the H2s and so forth.

The majority of pages typically only require H1s, H2s and H3s, although more comprehensive pages may utilise smaller header types too.

The reason for the different header tags is to structure your page into sections that make sense for both the reader and for search engines.

Remember, search engines like styles that are primarily good for user experience. Headers help you provide that experience.

A properly structured page using headings should look something like this:

  • H1 – Title of the page
  • H2 – Key point of the topic
  • H2 – Key point of the topic
  • H3 – Subpoint of the preceding H2
  • H3 – Subpoint of the preceding H2
  • H2 – Key point of the topic
  • H2 – Key point of the topic
  • H3 – Subpoint of the preceding H2
  • H4 – Subpoint of the preceding H3
  • H2 – Key point of the topic/Conclusion

Optimal headings should be around 20-70 characters in length.

Long headings dilute the weight of signals being sent to search engines as the keywords included account for less and less percentage of the total heading as it gets longer.

Example: Good Use of Headers

Website that uses headers well

If you’re ever not sure about how to use headers, it can be a great idea to check out authoritative websites that produce a lot of resource-type content (i.e. not news).

The Citizens Advice website is a great example as are brands such as the Money Advice Service or Which?.

In this example we can see a page about buying a used car.

Buying a used car comes with a lot of considerations and ways to purchase. This means that a page with this much information should structure the content well using headers to make it easier for readers to understand.

And that’s exactly what The Citizens Advice website has done.

If you follow the link you can see how the page is laid out. The headings look like this:

Example of headers best practices

Notice how the title is H1, and then by default the headings used are H2s.

H3s are used when going into more detail on a particular H2. In this instance the H2 is ‘Check a car’s history’ and the H3s are subpoints of that theme such as “Check the MOT”.

Also notice the length of each heading which is ideal for titling sections. Some could be shorter, sure, but broadly they are looking sharp.

Using Keywords In Header Tags

Keywords in header tags is a bit of a misunderstood concept. Yes they are powerful, but only when they are organic and natural.

Search engines have come along way since the days of keyword stuffing where site owners would put their target keyword in every conceivable place.

These days search engines understand semantic language which means that words related to the overall topic help to build up a bigger picture and are more important than solely using the overall target keyword repeatedly.

if you are writing an article on skiing, for example, your content will probably include words such as ‘slopes’, ‘snow’ and ‘equipment’ in a natural way.

Search engines expect to see this and reward pages that are comprehensive about a topic, evidenced by the visibility of semantic keywords.

So when you are using keywords in your headers, the key is to make sure they are accurate descriptors of the upcoming paragraph. Most of the time this means a semantic keyword will be included.

If it’s not, have a think about how a semantic keyword can add value but don’t stress if it’s not possible to fit it in naturally.

Header Keywords For Featured Snippets

Whilst optimising headers for keywords you should make a note of any popular user questions on each subpoint. Organising your headers and the subsequent text can help you achieve the coveted featured snippet.

How?

Best practice is to exactly match the common search query in the header and then use the paragraph below to concisely sum up the answer.

Of course, you will want to go into more detail below that brief summary, but Google will typically only use around 50 words in the featured snippet so you want to be as concise as possible.

You can also use headers to achieve the unordered list (bullet points) or ordered list (numbers) featured snippet types.

This is done simply by using each header as a list point to answer the overall search query. For example:

  • H1 – Best types of cheeses
  • H2 – Mozzarella
  • H2 – Parmesan
  • H2 – Brie
  • H2 – Cheddar
  • etc.

Search engines are able to understand this structure and reward your page with the coveted position 0 with the featured snippet.

Using Headers For Readability

If you look at your page and there are too many big walls of text, is probably time to insert some headers.

Knowing what you now know about strategic placement, adding in headers is great for a users ability to read the content easily. Roughly 79% of users scan-read a page, so your heading tags play an important role in drawing them to stay on the page.

Now, readability technically isn’t a direct ranking factor. But it certainly is an indirect one.

Think of how much longer a user will stay on the page, how likely they are to share it and how likely they are to click your internal links if they’re able to easily read the content.

There are certainly huge benefits to using header tags for readability.

How Not To Use Header Tags

Stop sign

It’s also important to mention how not to use header tags.

As an SEO agency we encounter lots of websites that make similar mistakes and it’s easy to spot why it seemed like the correct decision at the time.

It can be frustrating for site owners to only learn how to use header tags after they’ve written loads of content on their site.

Here are some of the common misuses of header tags…

Using Headers For Styling Purposes

We get it, the H1 is bigger or styled better than the other headers and that might make it look more attractive to use throughout your content.

This simply comes down to the way the headers have been styled, something that search engines do not see when they are crawling your pages.

If you feel that your headings don’t look great when you use them in the content, simply change the style. If you have access to do this yourself, great! Otherwise it’s a simple fix to be made by a developer.

It’s important not to just select headers because of how they look visually on the page. Remember the tips discussed in this guide.

TL;DR: Don’t use headings based on how they look visually.

Lack of Header Structure

Many people will use headers based simply on how important it is in the context of the whole page, and that shows some understanding of using headers, but it’s not entirely correct.

Importance is a great way to structure headers, but only if it is taking into account, not only the whole page, but what comes before and after it.

For example, using an H3 for a less important point is great. But if it is sat under an H2 then this implies that it’s a subpoint of the previous point. If it’s not a subpoint, then it’s not structured correctly.

Using the example of the ‘Buying a used car’ header tag structure again, and focussing on this section:

  • H2 – Check a car’s history
  • H3 – Check the car’s details with the DVLA
  • H3 – Check the MOT and history
  • H3 – Get a private history check

Currently the H3s are structured to relate to back to the H2.

If we were to change “Check the MOT and history” to an H4 because we felt it was less important, that would imply that it’s a subpoint of “Check the car’s details with the DVLA” rather than of the H2.

TL;DR: Make sure you use the correct heading in the context of the headings around it.

Using Multiple H1s

Now, technically, search engines have no problem with multiple H1s, but it’s about what you’re communicating to them and best practice for doing so.

Best practice would dictate using an H1 to title your page, encompassing your target keyword(s). But if there is another H1 somewhere then search engines will consider that as well when they’re trying to determine what this page is about.

The most common reason we’ve seen for this is that page elements such as widgets or sidebars have an H1 accidentally inserted. Think “Recent posts” or “Sign up now”.

However, many website owners simply have this issue due to recklessness, simply inserting any old header when writing the content.