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How to Use Heading Tags: SEO Best Practices

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Heading tags are a frequently misused and underutilized element in technical SEO (search engine optimization). Today, I’ll be reviewing heading elements from h1 to h6 and explaining how and why they are a major ranking factor for your web pages. 

What Are Heading Tags?

Heading tags are bits of HTML markup that create a structure for your website that Google can easily read and understand. By building a logically structured hierarchy, tags create an outline of your page that is easy to scan when search engines are determining your page’s place in the search results.

Thanks to coding tools like those on W3Schools, we can easily demonstrate what an SEO heading structure looks like. In HTML code, this is what you would see:

seo heading tags in HTML code example

This would be the product of that code:

seo heading structure example

The most frequently used tags are h1, h2 and h3. Heading tags 4 through 6 are still an option but they are far less common. These are the different types of heading tags you'll have available when it comes time to mark up your content.

  • h1 Tags: the h1 heading should be reserved for the title of your page. You should only have one h1 tag as it signals the focal point of the page to search engines
  • h2 Tags: headings within your content should have h2 tags
  • h3 Tags: any subheading under an h2 should have h3 tags
  • h4 Tags: any subheading under an h3 should have an h4 tag
  • h5 Tags: any subheading under an h4 should have an h5 tag
  • h6 Tags: any subheading under an h5 should have an h6 tag

For example, this is the heading structure for the article you’re reading now:

H1 How to Use Heading Tags: SEO Best Practices
H2 What Are Heading Tags
H2 Why Are <h> Tags Important For SEO?
H2 Heading Tag Best Practices
H3 1. Stick to one <h1> tag
H3 2. Use headers to organize your content
H3 3. Make headers specific
H3 4. Incorporate target keywords into headings
H3 5. Use headings to get featured snippets
H3 6. Avoid using heading tags for font size
H3 7. Avoid marking whole paragraphs with heading tags
H2 Boost Your Visibility With a Solid Strategy

Why Are <h> Tags Important For SEO?

Heading tags help Google identify the structure of your page. Think of it like a table of contents that search engines can use to see the content of each page at a glance.

When Google wants to pull information for a featured snippet, it will refer to keywords as well as heading tags to identify the intent and content of your page.

If you want that #1 ranking, make sure your headings are specific and incorporate your keywords where appropriate. Specific headings are not only useful for SEO, they make your content reader-friendly, thereby improving the user experience.

Heading Tag Best Practices

Here are a few best practices to bear in mind when you’re writing your next blog post or optimizing your primary service or category pages on your website. 

1. Stick to one <h1> tag

As I mentioned earlier, the h1 is the most important heading. Don’t confuse search engines by labeling more than one item as the focal point of the page.

2. Use headers to organize your content

Headers make your content easy to scan and easy to read (for search engines and people alike). Steer away from giant blocks of text and go for easily digestible chunks of text separated by relevant headings.

3. Make headers specific 

The text isn’t really “easy to scan” if a person can’t gather the jist of your article just by skimming through the headings. Help them find what they are looking for by making your headings specific. This helps search engines, too!

4. Incorporate target keywords into headings

If you want your page to rank for the term “best lemon cake,” make one of your headings something like “How I Make the Best Lemon Cake.” Be cautious, however, of keyword stuffing. You don’t want to get dinged for overuse of target keywords.

5. Use headings to get featured snippets

Featured snippets are those blocks on the first page of search results that contain an instant answer to a user’s search query. While web surfers frequently take that answer without ever visiting the page, your site gets major points for having the most relevant and most valuable content. 

Use headings to your advantage by incorporating a long-tail keyword (typically these are questions) and then answering the question in the following content. This makes it extra easy for search engines to find answers to queries which, in turn, gives the search engine a reason to offer your site as a resource.

6. Avoid using heading tags for font size

Yes, changing the heading tag changes the font size, but you can easily change the font size back. While using headings for this purpose looks okay on the front-end, search engines are getting confused by the random tag assignments. While you won’t get penalized for out-of-order heading tags, you’ll have a significantly harder time ranking in search results with a disorganized heading structure.

7. Avoid marking whole paragraphs with heading tags

The perfect <h1> tag has between 20 and 70 characters. The reason being that search engines tend to truncate longer titles which can lead people to skip over your page if they aren’t sure what it’s about. 

While there’s technically no character limit on all other heading tags, you should keep to a similar ballpark. If you have full paragraphs marked as headings, you water-down the structure and your target keywords no longer stand out. 

Boost Your Visibility With a Solid Strategy

If you’re trying to rank on the first page, building a heading tag structure for your content is an absolute must. This applies to service pages too — not just blog content! If you need help aligning your content with SEO best practices, reach out to one of our experts. We love what we do and we’re ready to help!

Topics: blog optimization | Producing Content | how to organize blog content