Anything and everything that helps improve user experience on your website contribute positively to SEO.
Heading tag is one such factor which when used properly gives your content a proper structure, makes it readable and gives right contextual cues to Google.
In short, no one can deny the importance of optimizing header tags for better search ranking opportunities.
As a direct benefit, they make your users happy. And as an indirect benefit, they make Google happy too.
In this blog post, we will cover 7 header tag SEO best practices.
A. First, what are Heading Tags in HTML?
As part of its meta tags offering, HTML offers 6 heading tags, from H1 to H6. The lower the numeric number, the more the relative importance of that title tag.
Therefore, content within H1 carries the most weight than what’s written within H6.
Google (and your website users) process the headers in the same way, to draw out the context from your web page.
Here’s how heading tags look like in HTML:-
<h1> This is Header Tag 1 </h1>
<h2> This is Header Tag 2 </h2>
<h3> This is Header Tag 3 </h3>
<h4> This is Header Tag 4 </h4>
<h5> This is Header Tag 5 </h5>
<h6> This is Header Tag 6 </h6>
The corresponding output looks as below. Notice that H1 appears as the biggest font while H6 as the smallest.
B. Why use Heading Tags?
1. To give structure to your content
Structured content refers to making physical and logical separations within the content, thereby making its consumption easy.
Heading tags help you provide a good structure to your content.
H1 tag helps provide an overall summary of the page, while H2 tags help break that summary into first level ideas, with further subheadings structured across H3-H6.
That way, one can create a logically coherent content that gets super easy to consume.
As an example, the title of this post is in the H1 tag, followed by multiple content ideas represented under the H2 tag.
A couple of these content items have sub-points (like the current content block) which are then marked as H3. Here’s a visual representation:-
H1 -> The All in One Guide to Optimizing Heading Tags for SEO
H2 -> Why use Heading Tags?
H3-> To give structure to your content
2. To make the content skimmable
Reality Check: Your average user reads just 20% of your web page (Source: Sumo).
That’s because our attention span has reduced to a mere 8 seconds, and it’s declining fast every year.
That means you have just a couple of seconds (I would say no more than 5) to catch your reader’s interest.
Can you do that by serving them a heap of 1000 words? Hell No.
You need to publish clearly formatted blocks of content, visually separating from each other.
Using proper headings indicate what a user can expect within each content block. That way, the user can quickly skim the content and go into the details wherever interested.
3. To help your SEO
Optimizing just your heading tags won’t make a significant difference to your SEO.
However, along with other on page SEO factors, optimized heading tags provide the context of your web page to Google, thereby helping it rank better.
Optimized headings, therefore, become all-important; they help Google in setting the relevance of your web page wrt the user search query.
C. 7 Best practices for Heading Tags
1. Follow the Inverted Pyramid Method
This is a tried and tested concept of communication, largely used in journalism but also relevant for web content writing.
Inverted Pyramid Principle lays the importance of using the most important communication element, in the beginning, followed by important details and background information thereafter. All these levels should be parallel and at the same logical level.
Using this technique makes it super easy for your readers to consume that particular piece of the content that is relevant to them.
That means they can enter and exit your content at any level within the triangle; without the need of reading the entire post.
Use your heading tags (H1 to H6) to create such a pyramid. You will see your engagement rates improving a lot.
2. Keep your headings logically parallel
All your H tags (placed at the same level) should convey a parallel idea. If not, they will confuse your readers (and the search engine).
Consider this particular content block where the H2 tag (‘7 Best practices for Heading Tags’) has seven H3 tags, all talking about heading tag SEO optimization.
The same is true for all H2 tags in this article. They are conveying parallel thoughts around the main topic of this blog post.
3. Don’t skip headers
As you understand by now, headings depict the relevant summaries of content blocks, in the order of their importance.
It’s not required to use everything from H1 to H6, but the majority of the content pieces will have H1, H2 and/or H3.
So go in this order only. Don’t use H1 followed by a couple of H3s (and missing H2s altogether).
Remember, you are creating a structured pyramid. There is no place of H3 unless there is an H2 available.
This not just gives a logical structure to your reader but also helps Google understand the coverage and depth of your content.
4. Include your keywords
Try to include your focus keyword within H1.
Reason: Your H1 is the summary of your content, and there’s no better way to show the topic you are covering than through your target keyword.
When it gets to H2 to H6, use your focus keyword only if it’s relevant and natural. You can bump these up with LSI/related keywords, though don’t try to over-optimize.
Staying natural will help provide a better signal to Google than stuffing your headings tags with unnatural keywords.
5. Use only 1 H1 Tag
A couple of years ago, John Muller clearly mentioned that you can have multiple H1 tags in your content.
However, most of the experts in the SEO community believe that there should be no more than a single H1 tag in your content.
The reason being that the H1 tag is the summary of your content, and providing multiple summaries of your content will dilute the essence (for both the user and Google).
So unless it’s thought through, don’t use multiple H1 tags.
There is no such limit on H2 – H6 tags though. They are extensions of H1, and by definition can be multiple.
6. Keep them short
When it comes to deciding the right character length of your headings, there can be no one single answer.
Just think from a user perspective and understand how they consume your content.
A three liner H1 tag is definitely not a crisp summary; it’s a detailed explanation.
Similarly, too lengthy H2-H6 heading tags may make your content non-skimmable.
Contrary, too short a heading may not give enough cues about the underlying content and may turn the reader away.
In the end, think like your user and write tags that are pleasant to the eye and easy to read.
7. Make it interesting
While it may not be possible in each and every case, but try to make your heading tags interesting and intriguing.
Give special attention to H1 as it is something that anyone rarely misses.
Let me reiterate, bumping up your heading tags with exact match keywords alone won’t help your SEO much.
You need to think for your end-user and use heading tags as a tool to make your content easily consumable.
That is what the core essence of heading tags is, and this is what actually impacts your SEO.