H1 and H2 – Understanding Proper use of Headers

Content creators are always looking for better ways to provide content to their readers, but have you ever thought of search engines as one of your readers? If you are now doing so, that is great! Search engines are your most important readers, so making content that is easy for them to read is paramount.

From a search engine crawlers perspective, they want to know what you think is your most important content. For this, they try to look for simple HTML code that denotes that you have highlighted something at being important. The first is the <title> tag. The title tag, however, is not actually part of the visible part of your content, as it does not live inside the <body> area of your page. There is a way, with code, to get your "Title" to show in a page, but it is not native to your webpage's content, just because it is in the <header> of you website. Most WordPress templates today do put the title of your page in the <body> area of your website, and it is called through PHP. The title will then likely show in code as a being wrapped by a <H1> tag, and that should be your only H1 tag on the page.

Time to step back. What are Header Tags?

Think of every page of content you create as the manifestation of an outline you made to write a blog post about. I am having flashbacks to 9th grade English here. First, you make an outline of what you are going to write and then you add the content under your topics. Make sense?

So here is a sample outline:

Article Title

  1. Point #1
  2. Point #2
    1. Subpoint #1
    2. Subpoint #2
  3. Point #3

This is pretty straight forward, right? Html has 6 header levels that help visually make this come to fruition within a page; <H1> to <H6>, with the "h" Standing for the header. Titles and H1's are the most important tags your page and H6's are the least important tagged headers, but still more important than standard paragraph <p> text. Check this link out for more... 

In HTML This outline would look like this:

<h1>Article Title</h1>
<h2>Point #1</h2>
<h2>Point #2</h2>
<h3>Subpoint #1</h3>
<h3>Subpoint #2</h3>

How many H1 Tags should I use?

The simple answer is one. We tend to recommend to our clients that we only use one H1 tag on your page, and it should be the most important thing you want to tell the search engine about. In some cases, for large pages with many sections, having more than one H1 may be appropriate but should be used with <section> tags as well, but using H2 for those sections will hurt your SEO.

Now, at least one of you is thinking, why not just make the whole page an H1 tag and format it to look like paragraph text. Well, Google is already ahead of you! If your readers would not weight that text any more powerful than other text on the page, why would Google? We recommend sticking to one H1 Tag per HTML4 page. It is important to note, that HTML5 does have some allowances for more than one H1 tag, and it may be sensible in some instances, but your H1, even in HTML5, will have a better impact if there is only one.

Does the order of heading tags matter?

The simple answer is no. More on that from the Google webmasters in the video below. There is one side note here though. You should not skip heading tags in your code. For example, if your page has an H3 tag, it should also have an H1 and H2 tag. Some developers will use the lesser header tags as ways to easily format text, especially in WordPress. This may seem like a really smart way to make it easy for clients to format text, but it is not the correct way to code these changes for readability by search engines.

Breaking up Content

Headers are a function necessary to make your content more readable. Using headers to break your content up. When people visit websites, they are not coming to your site, in most cases to read a novel. Making your content look like an unending article is daunting for most people just looking for a quick answer or to absorb a new concept quickly. Using headers to break up this content allows users to see changes in the focus of your content and always them to take a break in longer articles.

A Quick Heading Recap

For most websites today, you can use the following as a guideline to using headers. There may be good reasons to break these guidelines for your site, but only do so if you know why you are not following the guidelines

  1. Headers are important to Google and should be to you
  2. Heading should contain keywords
  3. Use the H1 tag once per page
  4. Use Heading Tags like an outline and in order, H2 is a subheading of H1, H3 is a subheading of H2.
  5. Use Headings to break up content and ideas