Even if you’re not a hot-shot web developer, you can implement a programming element called headings into your articles that will help improve SEO. Headings are a feature used in web programming that provide the structure both search engines and human visitors use to understand what’s important on a webpage. With SEO it’s always important to remember the human element because the search engines are designed to emulate human behavior when scanning sites.
What Do They Do?
While writing content for websites, you may have noticed paragraph formatting fields in WYSIWIG editors contain descriptions like “heading 1,” “h3,” or “<h5>.” If you’ve ever selected one of these paragraph formats, you probably noticed that the text gets bigger or smaller depending on the heading value you select. The resizing is a visual cue designed to help human readers identify important content on the page, but behind the scenes the headings designate grouped content. They function like chapter titles, section headings, and subsection headings in book text. HTML allows for six levels of headings on a page that look like this in the code: <h1><h2><h3><h4><h5><h6>. Lower numbered tags designate more important content.
Using Heading Tags
If you’re using a WYSIWIG editor, you can apply heading status to text by highlighting the text and selecting a heading option form the editor’s format menu. Most articles will never go past one or two heading levels. You should apply your highest level heading to your article sections and your second level heading to your subsections. For example, let’s say you’re writing an article about dogs.
A proper layout looks like this:
Heading 1: Dogs
Introduction text for the article
Heading 2: Big Dogs
General information about big dogs
Heading 3: Rottweiler
Information about Rottweilers
Heading 2: Little Dogs
General information about little dogs
Heading 3: Corgi
Information about Corgis
Heading tags should not be used on sentences or blow-up quotes. Use heading tags sparingly and only when they make sense for the best results. Using heading tags just for style purposes will actually count against SEO.
Where to Start
Heading tags are flexible and sort by being greater than or less than values, as opposed to being in strict numerical order. If the page only uses “h2” and skips “h1,” the “h2” takes on the top level value. Search engines and viewers won’t notice if you skip “h3” either, so starting with “h2” and skipping down to “h4” is perfectly acceptable.
Websites that hire freelance writers typically already implement some sort of heading system on their site. If you reuse an already in-use heading, you could mess with the behind-the-scenes structure. Sites are likely using “heading 1” already and have a lesser chance of already using “heading 2.” Therefore, starting with “heading 3” is a safe bet as it gives you four levels to work with and avoids stepping on existing headings. If you’re familiar with HTML coding, you can view the page code and see how they’re used to know for sure.
Words of Caution
You should only use headings in your article content if the site platform implements a WYSIWIG editor that supports headings. Incorrectly coding headings can harm SEO and cause unwanted technical problems.
Dan S is a former news journalist turned web developer and freelance writer. He has a penchant for all things tech and believes the person using the machine is the most important element.