The Importance of Proper Header Tags
If you want your website to rank on top of Google, there are lots of little details that you must get right. One of these that is easy to do well, and yet is often overlooked, is the proper use of header tags. Many people know these tags for their ability to change the size of fonts, but are unclear how this could help their website perform better on Google. In this article, we will explore the crucial role of header tags in relation to search engine optimization (SEO), their impact on enhancing user experience, common mistakes to avoid, and best practices for using them effectively.
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What Are Header Tags?
HTML header tags are small snippets of code which give your website’s viewers (including Google’s bots) important information about the structure of your content.
In the days of writing HTML code by hand, users would add this to their website manually – but nowadays the vast majority of visual website editors allow users to highlight a section of text and assign it to the desired heading level.
Heading tags are numbered – H1, H2, H3… terminating at H6 – and provide a hierarchical structure for organizing content on a webpage. These tags indicate the relative importance and organization of the content within a page, with lower numbers (H1 and H2 tags) carrying greater significance than the higher numbers.
Note: The H1 heading is different from the rest. This serves as your page title – which means both that there should only be one, and that it should be at the start of your page. For all other heading tags you can use as many as you like.
While the tags themselves are not visible to the reader, they do typically produce results that are immediately obvious. In most (but not all) website templates, each tag is associated with a different font size. The more important the tag (remember: lower numbers) the bigger the font.
To illustrate this, the next two H-tags in this article are called out so you can see the difference:
SEO Benefits of Proper Header Tags (H2)
The proper use of header tags is a part of SEO best practices, and their inclusion will greatly benefit your website in several ways:
Signaling Content Structure to Search Engines (H3)
Google’s website crawlers rely on header tags to understand the organization of your content. The H1 tag represents the main heading or topic of the page, while H2 and H3 tags represent subtopics and supporting ideas. This structure aids search engines algorithms in indexing and ranking your content accurately.
With the rise of more competent artificial intelligences, the importance of heading structure may eventually wane – but for now (and for the foreseeable future) it is still essential to use headings.
Enhancing Keyword Relevance and Content Discoverability
Including relevant keywords in your header tags helps search engines understand the topic of your content. This can improve your content’s visibility in search results when users search for those keywords. To this end, including some of your target keywords within your headers is generally thought to help improve your page’s search engine results page (SERP) ranking.
However, beware of stuffing keywords into heading elements in an effort to artificially boost your rankings. Online users have become increasingly savvy at identifying spammy websites that include more keywords than content.
The negative effect of using too many keywords extends beyond user satisfaction – and Google has been combatting keyword stuffed content since 2003. Over the years their methodology has changed – but in principle they are against the practice. Your best bet is always to deliver good, relevant content and only include keywords that fit naturally.
Improving Page Ranking Potential
Well-structured header tags contribute to a better user experience, which can lead to lower bounce rates and longer page visits. These two factors are incredibly important to Google because they both serve as good proxies of user satisfaction! By decreasing bounce rates and increasing page visit duration, your website will perform better in the SERPs.
Enhancing User Experience
As we just alluded to, the benefits of effective header usage goes beyond appeasing the algorithms – headers can actually make your website more pleasant to view!
Making Content More Readable and Navigable
Header tags break up long blocks of text, making it easier for readers to scan and understand your content. They serve as signposts that guide readers through the material, allowing them to find the information they need quickly.
Many website builders, like WordPress, can automatically generate a linked ‘table of contents’ section that is populated using headers. In these cases, H2s serve as ‘Chapters’ and H3s, H4’s and so on serve as subsections within these chapters.
Providing Clear Content Hierarchy for Readers
A well-organized hierarchy of header tags gives readers a clear sense of the content’s structure. This makes it easier for them to locate specific information and comprehend the relationships between different sections of your content.
Just like textbooks organize content into chapters to aid in comprehension, headers can make the structure of your website easier to see and understand. This, in turn, helps your audience find the content they are looking for.
Common Mistakes with Header Tags
To fully harness the benefits of header tags, avoid these common mistakes:
Using Multiple H1 Tags on a Single Page
Each page should have a unique and relevant H1 tag. Using multiple H1 tags can confuse search engines and hinder content organization.
Skipping Header Levels (e.g., H1 to H3)
Headings are always hierarchical. This means that H3s must be contained within their own H2, and H4s must be within their own H3. Skipping levels can disrupt the flow and organization of your content.
Note: it is perfectly acceptable to end a ‘chapter’ at an elevated heading level and return to your H2 level.
Over-Optimizing with Excessive Keyword Stuffing
While it’s essential to include keywords, overloading header tags with keywords can harm readability and SEO. Focus on using keywords naturally.
Best Practices for Using Header Tags
Follow these best practices for effective header tag usage:
Keep H1 Tags Unique and Relevant to Page Content
Your H1 tag should concisely describe the main topic or purpose of the page. The experts over at SEMRush recommend keeping your H1 tag short – 50 to 60 characters in length – although this is not a hard and fast rule.
Use H2 and H3 Tags for Subheadings and Supporting Ideas
Create a logical hierarchy with H2 and H3 tags to structure your content effectively.
In some cases, H4 tags may make sense for organizing your content, but for most websites it is rare to see H5s and H6s in use. For reference, this article never goes deeper than H3 (the level you are currently reading).
Keep Header Tags Short and Consistent
Ensure that your header tags are concise, descriptive, and consistent in style throughout your website. Headers are not the place to put entire paragraphs!
The Role of Header Tags in Accessibility
Many of us take for granted our ability to easily read and navigate websites, but for those who are visually impaired header tags also play a crucial role in improving web accessibility.
Assisting Screen Readers in Content Navigation
Screen reader users rely on header tags to navigate web content. Well-structured headers make it easier for them to understand the page’s layout and access information.
Instead of needing to listen to every single word of your website, good headers allow users with screen readers to essentially skim your article, find the content that is relevant to them, and jump right to that section.
Web Accessibility and SEO
According to Google’s John Mueller, web accessibility is not a direct on-page SEO ranking factor. However, features that improve web accessibility, including alt-text for images and using header tags, nearly universally improve SERP results.
Also, Mueller said in 2022 that Google has not ruled out adding accessibility as a ranking factor in the future. It’s always easier to include HTML elements from the beginning rather than trying to retroactively add them to dozens or hundreds of pages!
Header Tags: More Than Just Decoration
While the most obvious effect of header tags is that they change the size or color of a font – they really do so much more than that. Neglecting to use header tags, or using them improperly, will hurt your rankings on Google and make your website more difficult for users to navigate.
The key details to remember is that headings are hierarchical (no skipping levels!), there is only one H1 per page, and headers should serve as useful signposts for readers. Effective use of headers will help your page rank better on Google, but if you want to get to the top, consider working with a professional digital marketing company with a proven record for boosting SERP rankings!