Headings and why you should use them

This is a republish: we’ve made some minor changes to it. We decided to republish it, because this post and its content are still applicable and important now.

This post just had to be written. Somehow we have a chapter about Headings in all (!) our site reviews. Usually the website owner can’t change a single thing about the heading setup of the website, as he is unwilling or just lacks the knowledge to change the theme of the website. But headings do matter.

There are two ways headings can structure your content. In classic HTML, there would be 1 H1 tag on each page, maybe a couple of H2’s etc and these would all combine to form an outline of the entire document.

In HTML5, each sectioning tag (for instance <section> and <article>) starts again with an H1. This was done to make it easier to combine several components onto one page and still have a valid outline. It makes sense from a clearly theoretical perspective, but it’s lots harder to understand and we generally recommend against using it. This article explains what’s “wrong” with it.

Structuring the entire page

In the case of HTML4, it seems logical to use one H1 per page, of course being the main title of that page. In most cases, that’s not your brand name or website name (on your homepage it probably is, and that’s fine). On this page on yoast.com, it’s “Headings and why you should use them”. That is what this content is about. I’m not going to talk about Yoast here, so no need to make that the H1, right? Here’s what Matt Cutts has to say about it:

On a category page that H1 would be the category name and on a product page the product name. It’s not that hard, indeed. That is why we still recommend using the H1 this way.

H2 is for subheadings of that H1. Use it to divide content into scannable blocks; both Google and your visitor will like it. H3 is for subheadings of that H2, preferably. Sometimes I use H3 for blocks that should be H2, but just don’t hold that much information for the visitor, like the closing heading on this post, where I will ask you to comment on my statements – perhaps you don’t agree and we could have a nice discussion about that ;-)

I want to emphasize that this all isn’t new. Over the last six or seven, maybe even more years, not much has changed in the way we recommend using headers.

Without headings, it is all Chinese

Without headings, it is all Chinese

What I dislike most, is when people use headings to style certain elements of a website. “Call us at 0123456789″ and use H1 to style the phone number. Your web designer knows better than that. Have him add a class to your CSS file for that. Even Google’s SEO Starter Guide mentions this. Second, when people just squeeze an entire paragraph in an H2 or H3. That happens more often than you think. Sales pages or landing pages love that practice. We don’t.

Look what headings we found in the attic

Have you used any H4s, H5s or H6s lately? Alright, using an H4 could be useful if your text is longer than a 1,000 words and you want to add an extra layer in the page structure. And the H4 could be used for sidebar or footer headings that don’t include that keyword you want to rank for, but any other use of these headings seems unnecessary. Funny thing is that a lot of themes just did not pay that much attention to these headings as well, sometimes making H5 text smaller than paragraph text.

You should style them to make them look more important than regular text, but don’t overdo this. These headings are extras, I think. Used in the early days of the internet, but more and more useless these days. I wouldn’t mind if we would get rid of at least H5 and H6 altogether, to be honest. Using three, four headings at most is structure enough for me.

Headings and SEO

You are going to ask this: what value do headings have for SEO? Well, we feel that the value is less than it was, but headings still help Google to grasp the main topics of a long post. As mentioned, Google might scan your post as well and why not make that as easy as possible?

There are other things like great content and schema.org markup that will help your rankings more than a great heading structure, but in the end, using a nice heading structure isn’t that hard and helps your visitors as well. So please, at least use a heading structure and the way we described it above is easy enough for everyone to use.

What are your  thoughts on headings?

As promised: we are really looking forward to your thoughts on headings. They should be in any theme, but to what extent? Drop your 2 cents in the comments!

This post first appeared as Headings and why you should use them on Yoast. Whoopity Doo!