Understanding Heading Tags for Search Engine Optimization

The DIY Guide to SEO – Part 1 – Heading Tags

This is one part of a multi-part series of articles for on-page search engine optimization.

Before we dive into the nitty gritty, we just want to point out that there are a gazillion things you can do to try to improve your search results, but we are just going to focus on the most important on-page SEO tactics that any user (not developer or SEO expert) can do themselves.

Don’t forget to download the complimentary DIY SEO Checklist.

PRO TIP: Before you even begin creating your website content, clearly identify the main topic and goal for every web page.

Heading Tags

Heading tags are used to tell both search engines and users what your page is about by clearly defining topics. Heading tags range from h1 to h6, with h1 being the most important.

When search engines scan the content of your site, they pay close attention to text contained within the heading tags. Typically, every page of your website would have one h1 tag that identifies the main topic of your page, with h2, h3, h4 etc… used as subheadings. (Note – notice the title “Heading Tags” above? That’s an h2 tag.)

For example, say you operate a garden center. Your h1 heading is probably very likely to include the phrase “garden center” and your heading structure might look something like this:

H1 (City name) Garden Center
– H2 Annuals
– H2 Perennials
– H2 Trees & Shrubs
– – H3 Fruit Trees
– – H3 Evergreens

While the heading tags go all the way to h6, the most widely used tags are h1-h3.

An excellent way to check to see if you are using heading tags appropriately is to write them all down. Any reader (and search engine!) should be able to get the full jist of what your site is about just by scanning your heading tags.

Typically, heading tags are sized in accordance with their importance, with h1 obviously being the largest. It’s important to point out that one of the biggest SEO fails is the temptation to use heading tags in order to style text to be larger in size. This is not only poor practice, but it can really mess up your SEO and impact your search engine rankings.

Say for example you were having a big sale and wanted a large banner on your site that said something like, “Big Summer Blowout!” Many novice users would use that as their h1 tag because by default WordPress would automatically style it in the largest text.

If you’re a search engine and the coding on your page is telling it that main topic of that page is about “big summer blowouts,” what are the odds potential visitors looking for garden centers are ever going to come across your site in the search results? Not very good.

There are appropriate ways to style text that have nothing to do with heading tags and it’s vital to understand that one should not place text in a heading merely to manipulate it’s font size.

How to Implement Heading Tags

Heading tags can be implemented in a variety of ways in WordPress. Many themes have heading tags built into certain fields that will automatically apply a specific tag to that section. Headers or main titles are commonly structured this way. It’s important to understand what tags your WordPress theme may be automatically applying so that you can ensure your on page SEO makes sense.

You can also manually apply heading tags in the text editor of WordPress. Be sure to use the “text” tab and not the “visual” tab to do this.

To apply a tag, you use an opening tag <> and a closing tag </>, like this:

<h3>Your Heading Here</h3>

Looking at Your Source Code

With so many automated features built into WordPress themes these days, how can you even tell what tags your theme might be automatically applying?

This is a great question with a relatively simply answer – you look it up! Every web browser (Chrome, Safari, Firefox, etc…) has the ability to show a page’s source code by simply right clicking on the page and selecting “show page source” or “inspect element” (although the wording may vary from browser to browser.)

There’s a lot to take in when you view the source code, but start scrolling for big blocks of text that you can recognize from your page. Here’s an example of the above section from this article:

viewing source code

NOTE: If viewing the source code is not an option in your browser, you may need to take one extra step and enable that browser’s developer tools.

Understanding exactly how your text is being translated and tagged in your theme is vital to SEO success, so if you’re serious about making improvements on your site take a few minutes to explore your source code.

Seriously Confused About Optimizing Your Website for Search Engines?

You aren’t alone. Not optimizing your site is one of the biggest reasons why websites fail, and there are A LOT of them that do. Send us a quick note through the contact form below and we’ll be happy to help you out.

Jessica Dohm

Jessica Dohm

Founder, Dohmain Designs

About the Author

Jessica is the Director of Digital Marketing and Owner of Dohmain Designs. She is a small business sales and marketing expert specializing in business growth through intelligent website design and sales & marketing automation.

Jessica is a Certified Infusionsoft Partner, marketing automation and CRM expert with over 15 years of professional sales and marketing experience. In 2011, she combined that experience with innovative website design and created Dohmain Designs. She has worked with biotech giants, overseen the digital marketing for a popular Discovery Channel hit TV series, and helped hundreds of clients grow their business. Prior to creating Dohmain Designs, Jessica worked in the fast-paced biotech sector focusing primarily on technical sales and marketing, as well as providing complicated sales-focused CRM training across various disciplines.

Jessica is a member of her local Rotary Club where she has previously served as the Membership co-chair and currently serves as the Public Relations chair. Jessica truly believes in the "Service Above Self" Rotarian philosophy and strives to dedicate her time and talents to helping others, both in her personal and professional relationships.

She is located in the Minneapolis / St. Paul area and works with clients all across North America. If you'd like to get in touch with Jessica, simply complete the contact form below.

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