Page headings are essential components of any web page. They provide structure to your content, making it easy to read and digest, and they play a crucial role in your search engine optimization (SEO) strategy.
This blog post is the third in our series about maximizing your search engine optimization. In the first two posts, we learned to craft page titles and meta descriptions. This time, we’ll explore the importance of using headings effectively for SEO, the role of accessibility in heading structure, and how to fix and avoid common errors for optimal results!
Table of Contents
- H1 is the most important – be sure to use it
- H2 and maybe H3 could be deemed important in SEO
- Keep your headings in order – H1 through H6 – no jumping from H2 to H4 for example
The Importance of Headings for SEO
Search engines use headings (basically section titles like the above The Importance of Headings for SEO) to understand the structure and hierarchy of your content. This helps you provide an easy-to-follow journey for the customer reading through your page. Also, search engines like Google and Bing use headings to determine what your page is about and how it should be indexed in search results.
You can usually focus on using just three levels of headings on your page: H1, H2, and H3. (H1 being the top-level heading).
For example, here’s the list of headings from the blog post you’re reading right now, laid out hierarchically for your understanding. It looks a lot like a table of contents at the front of a book; you’re essentially organizing the information on your webpage the same way.
Search engines use headings (basically section titles like the above The Importance of
<H1> Writing Effective Page Headings: A Guide to Improving Your SEO and Accessibility
<H2> The Importance of Headings for SEO
<H2> The Importance of Headings for Accessibility
<H2> How to Modify Heading Styles Without Compromising Accessibility
<H2> Best Practices for Website Headings
<H3> Heading Lengths
<H3> H1 Tags
<H3> Can Your H1 Tag and Page Title Be the Same?
<H3> How to Use H2s, H3s, and More Tags
<H3> Use Relevant Keywords in Headings
<H3> Optimize Headings for Featured Snippets
<H2> A Common SEO Error with Headings to Fix
<H2> A Common Accessibility Error with Headings to Avoid
<H2> The Best Tool to Optimize All Your Existing Headings
<H2> Wrap-Up: Optimizing Headings for SEO and Accessibility
You’ll find that your website builder or Content Management System (CMS), like Squarespace, WordPress, etc. may automatically apply a larger font size to the H1 tags, then progressively smaller for H2, then H3, etc. This can also help the reader visually recognize the order they should be reading your page content. Here’s a condensed version of how that might look on the page using our example above:
Writing Effective Page Headings: A Guide to Improving Your SEO
The Importance of Headings for SEO
The Importance of Headings for Accessibility
In addition to SEO benefits, proper heading structure is crucial for accessibility.
Headings help screen readers navigate your content and understand the structure of the page. Screen readers also use headings to provide users with an overview of the content and allow them to navigate the page quickly and efficiently (a lot like using a table of contents, as we said earlier!).
How to Modify Heading Styles Without Compromising Accessibility
You can modify the appearance of your headings by default font, size, weight (e.g., bold), and so on. It’s vital to make headings aesthetically pleasing to grab attention, navigate the page easily, and ensure a positive user experience. The key is to always use headings the same way across all pages of your website, so if you’re going to change their aesthetic appearance, do it at the default level–not on individual pages.
You can use Cascading Style Sheets (CSS) or, much easier for people who aren’t web designers, your CMS, to change the default settings.
When thinking about your default headings, be mindful of how they’ll appear on tablets and mobile devices, too–not just computers. Your CMS will likely let you preview how the headings on an example page will appear for computers, tablets, and smartphones.
Best Practices for Website Headings
Here are the guidelines you need to know to use page headings effectively on your site.
There’s no definitive evidence about heading length and SEO. Some experts suggest keeping them to 70 characters or less. Even if that’s not true, it’s important to be mindful that each heading is meaningful and not a run-on sentence. Prioritize how you’d label or title that section for the reader to understand and it should work well in terms of length.
The H1 tag is the most important heading on the page and should accurately describe the overall content. Only use one H1 tag on a page. Make sure your H1 tag is also unique compared to any other page on your site.
Can Your H1 Tag and Page Title Be the Same?
Yes, your H1 tag and page title can be the same. In fact, many CMSs mark your page title as an H1 tag, too, by default, so you don’t have to worry about it!
How to Use H2s, H3s, and More Tags
Using H2 and H3 (if needed) tags will further help to organize your content for the reader. It will also signal how search engines should interpret the page and which sections are the most important.
You can use multiple H2 and H3 tags. Always ensure that H2s come before H3s on a page to maintain the hierarchy.
If you want to use even more heading tags (H4, H5, etc.), you can if it makes sense for the content. HOWEVER– make sure you don’t skip any in the hierarchy. For example, don’t skip from H2 to H4. The next hierarchical step from H2 is always H3; then, you can use an H4, and so forth.
Optimize Headings for Featured Snippets
Do you know about Google’s featured snippets?
Featured snippets are those short blurbs that Google will present you on the search engine results page, either in paragraph or list form. Paragraph featured snippets are the header and accompanying paragraph from your page. List featured snippets are generated from the headers on your page. Take a look at the following screenshots, and you’ll know what we’re talking about.
Featured snippets are invaluable for your webpage because they’re eye-catching and preview the value a visitor will find on your page, making them more likely to click yours over any other result.
You can optimize for featured snippets by providing headings that reflect commonly searched questions, could work as a standalone list, and are written in question format (with the following paragraph containing the answer).
A Common SEO Error with Headings to Fix
Using identical headings–especially H1s/page titles–across multiple pages limits your opportunities for search engines to understand the content on your pages. It makes it seem like the pages may be duplicates or they all contain the same content, therefore not providing value to a potential searcher. So, if you want a strong appearance on search engine results pages, carefully mind your headings!
A Common Accessibility Error with Headings to Avoid
As shown in the example below, using an incorrect heading structure can be confusing, like putting H3s before an H2.
If your site visitor can visually see the difference between your heading levels, like in font size, having them out of order sends mixed signals about the importance of your content and what to read first.
Even when it’s visually imperceptible, screen readers will still be negatively impacted by an incorrect heading structure. Using H3s at a higher level than an H2 is an accessibility error that can harm the experience for users with disabilities trying to navigate the page. It’s like the table of contents being out of order–how can someone access the information they’re looking for when that’s the case?
The Best Tool to Optimize All Your Existing Headings
Screaming Frog: Audit your website’s headings with Screaming Frog. (There’s a free version of this tool that we love!)
First, use it to crawl your website and analyze your H1 and H2 headings. You’ll see them all with issues identified, including missing or duplicate headings, excessively long headings (that can probably be optimized), multiple H1 headings on the same page, etc.
Much like how we suggest using this tool for your meta descriptions, you can export the results of your audit as a CSV to make improvements, then manually update your website’s headings or use a plugin on a CMS like WordPress.
Wrap-Up: Optimizing Headings for SEO and Accessibility
Using proper heading structure is crucial for SEO and accessibility. By following best practices for headings and ensuring consistency across your site, your content will be easy to navigate and optimized for search engines.
Ready for the final blog post in our series about on-page SEO? Learn all about interlinking to maximize your search results.