Updated: Jul 13, 2020
Wondering how you’re supposed to be using heading tags effectively on your website for SEO?
In this ‘straight-to-the-point’ guide, I will tell you everything you need to know about using heading tags, including what they are, how to use them (and importantly, how not to use them), so you can get maximum SEO benefits from your content and provide a great user experience for your visitors.
Firstly, do heading tags matter for SEO?
The short answer is yes.
As a SEO copywriter, I’ve written loads of copy for websites over the years, including hundreds of blog posts for SEO.
It's safe to say that I've carried out my fair share of experiments to see which on-page elements affect rankings the most.
The use of search engine optimised heading tags was one of the experiments that proved effective, time after time.
So, including SEO-friendly heading tags on your web pages is important.
Not only do headings help visitors to your website understand the content of a web page, but they also help search engines to understand what your content is about so they can show it in relevant search results.
However, there are a few rules and ‘best practice’ guidelines for using headings correctly so you get the most SEO benefits from them, which I cover below.
What are heading tags?
Heading tags are tags in HTML (Hyper Text Markup Language) used in the code of a web page to help define the meaning and structure of your page.
They are the titles, headings and subheadings used on a page to tell users and search engines what the content is about, and provide logical structure and flow to a page – whether it’s a product page, landing page, home page, blog post, and so forth.
They also help to break up and segment the content on the page for a better reading experience, catering to the world of excessive skim-readers (guilty).
Heading tags for websites start at H1 (the most important heading tag) and go up to H6 (the least important heading tag).
Let’s look at the three most important heading tags for SEO, and how to use them properly for the best results.
How to use the H1 Heading Tag
The H1 heading tag is the most important of the heading tags in Google’s eyes, with H2 tags being next in line. However, it’s recommended to use these headings sparingly, and only when the headings are key to the comprehension and structure of a page.
Each web page and blog post should only have one H1 heading, which is the title of the page.
Therefore, it’s important that the H1 heading tag should contain your targeted keyword (in a natural way). If it doesn’t, you chose the wrong keyword!
The keyword/phrase you’re targeting should be your topic. To find the right keywords for your website, read my blog on how to do keyword research using free tools.
Here's an example of a H1 title tag on a web page:
How to use H2 Heading Tags
The Heading 2 tag (H2) is a subheading tag that you can use throughout your content. Your H2 subheadings should contain relevant variations of your target keyword, and be used sparingly, yet logically, to guide the reader (and search engine bots) through the content and highlight the key points you wish to make.
Here's an example of how H1 and H2 tags should be used together:
Let's say the H1 here is the title of the page, it should then be followed by a H2 subheading that's directly related to the H1 title, like so:
Pro Tip: Don't include multiple unnecessary heading tags on one page just to stuff in as many keywords as humanly possible, this annoys the user and looks spammy as hell.
Optimise the heading tags with keywords as long as it sounds natural and not written specifically for robots.
If you’re not able to naturally incorporate keywords that reinforce the title tag of the page and the page's topic and theme, LEAVE IT OUT.
Why am I yelling at you?
Because it’s important that you don’t keyword stuff your content. ‘Over optimisation’ will earn you a penalty, which means your website will be blocked from showing in search results, and search engines will ghost you and act like you don’t exist.
That’s obviously the opposite to what we are aiming for here…
How to use H3 Heading Tags
Heading 3 tags (H3) are also important subheadings to use throughout your content, and these should be used within sections that are headed by a H2 heading when it makes sense to have sub-subheadings (subheading inception!).
A H3 heading is a subheading of your H2 heading.
H2s are subheadings of your H1 heading.
Still with me?
The headings should be used in the correct order throughout your content. For example, the H1 should be followed by a H2, instead of jumping from H1 to H3.
There's a bit of a 'heading hierarchy' going on, which helps Google to understand what's more important.
While it’s commonly believed and written about by SEO ‘experts’ that H3 tags aren’t considered by search engines and only H1 and H2 headings are taken into account, my personal experience has proven otherwise.
In articles I’ve written that have claimed the ‘featured snippet’ position zero spot in Google (displays in a box before all other search results), these have included both H2 and H3 heading tags being pulled through by Google to feature in the featured snippet box.
Here’s an example of one of my featured snippets in Google:
In the featured snippet above about ‘how to plan a pub wedding’, the listed items are H3 headings, while 'Nina's top tips for planning a pub wedding' is the H2 heading.
That means that H3 is, in fact, important for SEO. (There you go little H3 – finally the recognition you deserve! Shame on you SEO ‘experts’ who don’t give H3 any credit...).
Use H3 heading tags as subheadings for your H2 headings when it makes sense to.
How to add heading tags to your website
Now that you know what heading tags are and how best to use them in your content, you’re probably wondering how to actually add them to a web page.
Don’t worry my dear DIY webmaster – it couldn’t be easier.
To add heading tags to your website, you need to access the back-end of your website using your content management system (like Wordpress, Squarespace, Wix, etc).
Working on the web page you wish to add headings to, simply highlight the text and choose the H tag option (or T title tag option for WIX blogs), and change the title to a heading tag type just like you would change it from regular to bold.
Here’s how to add a heading tag on your WIX website:
Often blog post headings are automatically turned into the H1 tag, so if you’re adding headings to a blog, you shouldn’t need to add the H1 manually, just the H2 and H3 tags.
If you’re using HTML to make changes to your web page content, you can wrap the text you want to turn into a heading with:
<h1> insert heading text here for your H1 heading </h1>
<h2> insert heading text here for your H2 heading </h2>
<h3> insert heading text here for your H3 heading </h3>
So there you have it, a simple guide to how to use heading tags correctly for SEO.
It's important to remember that heading tags are just one small aspect of SEO – there are hundreds of factors that search engines take into account when analysing a web page, and while heading tags may seem insignificant in the grand scheme of things, it’s important to get all the little things right in order to make a collective difference to your SEO efforts.
Step-up your SEO efforts with a little help...
If you’d like a SEO specialist to help get your business set up for success with a solid strategy, get in touch with me – Janelle from ContentQueen. I work as a freelance SEO consultant and charge by the hour, so I can do as much or as little as you’d like.
SEO is my area of genius. I have many years of experience in the field, and have helped numerous businesses to grow their online presence organically, without having to pay for expensive online ads.
I work remotely from Wellington New Zealand, and work with incredible business owners and entrepreneurs all over the world, including the UK, USA, Europe, Australia and New Zealand. I can do a little or a lot, depending on what your needs are and how you like to work.
Want to see if we’re a good fit for one another?
Get in touch by filling out my contact form and I’ll get back to you within 24 hours to let you know whether I can help you reach your SEO goals.
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