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A Brief Guide to Heading Tags

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If you asked a room full of SEO professionals what their advice would be to improve the quality of their site, you would probably hear some of the following:

“…high-quality backlinks…”
“…well-written content…”
“…meta-data, alt tags, consistent file naming structure…”

One of the fundamentals of SEO that may get overlooked is the correct use of heading tags. Heading tags are the bits of code in your html (h1,h2,h3,h4,h5,h6.) that represent either an introduction or section breaks throughout your content. You are not limited to how many heading elements are used, but there is a limit to how many should be used. Search engines use headings when crawling content to determine the page’s topics and helps to structure and organize the information to help your visitors digest the content. This is how a browser displays each heading differently:

<h1>Heading</h1>

<h2>Subheading</h2>

<h3>Sub-subheading</h3>

<h4>Fourth level heading</h4>

<h5>Fifth level heading</h5>

<h6>Lowest level heading</h6>

Using Heading Tags

Think of a newspaper headline as an <h1> tag. It should introduce the most important topic and should include as many keywords, albeit naturally, as possible. <h2> is a subheading that relates to the <h1> but introduces a new concept. An <h3> would be a sub-subheading that relates to <h2>. Here’s an example of how heading tags should be used when organizing content:

<h1>Fourth of July Traditions</h1>

<h2>Fourth of July Fireworks</h2>

<h3>Different Types of Fireworks</h3>

<h4>Firecrackers<h4>

<h4>Smoke Bombs</h4>

<h4>Fountains</h4>

<h4>Sparklers</h4>

<h2>Fourth of July Cuisine</h2>

<h3>Main Courses</h3>

<h4>Hot Dogs</h4>

<h4>Hamburgers</h4>

<h3>Side Dishes</h3>

<h4>Corn on the Cobb</h4>

<h4>Coleslaw</h4>

Best Practices when using Heading Tags

You should establish a heading structure and adhere to it for each page of content. This way, you are serving visitors well organized content and providing search engines with a hierarchy that can be crawled and deemed either relevant or irrelevant. You should use heading tags sparingly. If too many appear on a page, search engines might be confused about your content, and your trust might be damaged. Don’t use heading tags for non-heading elements, use CSS selectors to emphasize separate non-heading elements.

The h1 tag should be used only once on each page. If your site is using more than one h1 for separate topics on the same page, consider using separate pages for each topic. As search engines crawl site, they are comparing your page to every other page on the same topic. If two disparate topics are in the same page, the search engine won’t be able to decide if your page is an authority on the topic and may be found deeper in results than intended. Using the same heading for multiple pages will confuse readers and they may move on to a better, more well-organized site.

Another aspect that could get overlooked is accessibility. If headings are used in the incorrect order or without consideration, users that rely on assistive technology to read webpages may get confused about the content if the relationship of the headings are not clear.

If you think your site may be heading in the wrong direction, contact us today to see how we can help.

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