Many school marketers are confused about the use of headings in their web copy, and rightfully so. There is considerable misinformation about headers and header tags, so I thought I’d take some time to clear things up.
What Are Header Tags?
Header tags are coding elements (think HTML) that represent headers (or headings) on a webpage, whether it’s a website page or blog post. There are six levels of header tags, H1, H2, H3, H4, H5, and H6. The code is written as
Your Header Goes Here
The H1 tag is assigned to the main title of the page or post. H2 — H6 are sub-headers on the webpage under the main title. Generally, each level uses a smaller font than the level proceeding it, and some levels might use bold, italic, or other typographic elements.
Headings are very important for both people and web bots; in general, the header should provide context for the copy written below. They make the page easier for people to scan and dive deeper into the copy underneath the header.
Background on Header Tags for SEO
In the early 2000s, a mandatory element of search engine optimization (SEO) was to ensure every webpage included your keyword in your H1, H2, and H3 elements. This was required if you wanted your webpage to rank in Google.
Despite it no longer being a necessary SEO practice, many SEO practitioners and copywriters still think they need to include keywords in their header tags. Headings are still important to understand the topic of the paragraph following the header for both human and web bots, but the idea that you need to “seed” your headings with keywords is outdated.
Furthermore, SEO best practices over fifteen years ago dictated web copywriters put their most important keywords in the highest level headers and least important keywords in the lowest level headers. That meant H1 headers were considered more important as a ranking factor than H2 headers and H2 headers were more important than H3 headings, etc.
The idea that H1, H2, and H3 tags were the most important was a real ranking factor in the past. But it’s been over ten years since hierarchical levels of header tags were crucial for SEO.
How to Use Header Tags the Right Way
In today’s online marketing world, content is king. Ok, I know that is a trite saying, but it’s still true. The reality is that content marketing can deliver success to schools. In the past, marketing focused on technical SEO and link building. But today, it’s all about content.
And, even though the old way of using header tags for SEO has changed, they’re still important. Header tags can still indirectly influence your search engine ranking but not because you’re stuffing keywords into them. They’re important because they help visitors and web bots read and understand your content better.
Here are seven ways to use headers to improve your content and, surreptitiously, improve the ranking of your site and blog.
- Use headers to give your content structure
Your header tags provide structure to your webpage and context for each section. The header will give the reader a condensed concept of the content under it.
A helpful way to think about header tags is to compare them to an outline. Your H1 heading introduces the topic of what your article is about. The H2 headings are the main sections of your article, and the H3 — H6 headings are subheadings within each section.
- Use headers to make your content scannable
Internet readers are notorious for scanning a webpage or blog post and stopping when they find something interesting. After all, there is so much information on the internet no one could ever read it all. So scanning makes sense.
Research conducted by Nielsen Norman Group found that people rarely read web pages word for word. An article that’s scannable is 58 percent more likely to perform better, including being shared more often.
- Use keywords in your header tags
I know I just told you using keywords in your header tags was an irrelevant and antiquated SEO practice. It’s true the way keywords were used in header tags in the past is no longer relevant, but in terms of understanding content, it IS still helpful.
Let me explain. Google still reads headers to gather context for the subsequent section and page overall. So if you use a keyword in a header, as long as it’s appropriate and will make sense to human readers, it will still help your article overall.
The idea is to use keywords appropriate to the context of the copy.
Making sure your copy is readable and understandable to humans is the most important factor. If your keywords fit into your headers naturally, then that’s great. If they don’t, don’t use them.
Remember that a good user experience will translate into good SEO.
- Optimize headings for featured snippets
A featured snippet is a short “snippet” of text shown at the top of a search engine results page (SERP). The purpose of a featured snippet is to answer a search query quickly and right at the top of the page. The content of a featured snippet comes from web pages in Google’s index. There are different types of featured snippets, such as definitions, tables, steps and lists.
Featured snippets offer more click-throughs from organic search results, meaning you don’t have to pay for the snippet to be seen. Featured snippets get, on average, 8 percent of all clicks.
Headings impact featured snippets in two ways. First, if you use a long-tail keyword optimized for voice search as a header and then answer the query directly below in a paragraph format, Google is more likely to pick up your content for a featured snippet.
The second way you can use headings is to use short, small headings as an outline of different list items. Google is more likely to pick up these list items and create its own bulleted or numbered list as a featured snippet.
- Only use one H1 tag per page or article
Google has said it’s perfectly fine to use more than one H1 tag. However, that doesn’t mean it’s a good practice from a user perspective.
H1 tags tend to be large because they’re intended to be a page headline. If you use multiple H1 tags, it will confuse readers. And that means they’ll bounce off, fast. And you don’t want that.
Want an easy way to find pages that are missing an H1 tag or have multiple H1 tags on them? Use a crawler tool (like Screaming Frog) and toggle to the H1 tab. You can even filter to export the pages you want to fix. You can use this feature for checking H2 tags also.
- Keep your header tags consistent
A good rule of thumb in terms of your user experience is to maintain consistency. Header tags done consistently help your site/blog look aesthetically organized and easy to understand.
Another tip is to keep your headings short and concise. You can further explain and clarify your idea in your ensuing paragraphs. A good rule of thumb is to keep your headers to around 70 characters.
The more you can display your content in a consistent manner, the happier and more engaged your audience will be with your site.
- Make your header tags captivating
People read headings more often than copy word-for-word. A compelling heading will be more likely to capture the attention of a reader. Think of your heading as a “hook” to draw your reader into your content. Be sure your headings fit with your main topic so that you’re answering the user’s search intent.
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This post first appeared on SchneiderB Media.