December 16, 2014 | Sarah Danks
What are H tags?
Today I’m going to discuss <h> tags. What are they? Well, for starters, you just read one. <h> tags are also known as H tags, Head tags, Header tags, or, in very simple terms, they’re headlines and sub-heads on a web page. They range in importance from <h1> (the most important) on down to <h6> (the least important). While you don’t have to use all six H tags, it’s important to note their descending order so as to use them properly. I.e., you wouldn’t start out your web page/blog post with a <h4> tag.
Are header tags important for SEO?
Are <h> tags — namely, the <h1> — important for search engine optimization? As with many things, you can argue yes OR no. Many experts believe that within the on-page ranking signals, <h1> is a factor but a very minor one. You can also argue the importance of this tag in terms of sheer usability. Think about it: when someone lands on a web page, what’s the first aspect they notice after the design? Most likely the “biggest words on the page,” which means your <h> tags (and especially the <h1>) have to pack a punch.
And, by “punch” I don’t mean some snarky advertising copywriter has to write all your headlines. A page’s <h1> tag is the most important tag on the page, so it needs to convey the right information to readers. After the <h1>, all the rest of the H tags work together to weave an easily-scannable page so readers can quickly deduce the content’s purpose. So, are header tags important? You betcha.
But don’t take my word for it. I’ll defer to David Ogilvy on this one:
“On average, five times as many people read the headline as read the body copy.”
In my first entry-level search engine optimization position I learned the basics of SEO, including:
- keyword research,
- writing descriptive title tags,
- crafting succinct meta descriptions, and
- on-page optimization tactics, such as proper use of <h> tags.
Yes, 10 years ago SEO was quite different in that we wanted the keyword to appear on the page pretty much “as often as you can squeeze it in there,” but still within readability standards. Also, your <h> tags weren’t just to visually break up the page; they were weighted more heavily for ranking factors, so we wanted them as chock-full of keywords as we could get them.
In today’s world of search optimization, the point of <h> tags is somewhat the same as it was back then — especially the <h1> — which is to reinforce the page’s theme. Plus, of course, <h> tags also break up content to make it easier to read or scan, and “At The End Of The Day” (learned from my time in Corporate ‘Murica)…
…the entire point of online marketing is, after all, to cater to your users.
That being said, it’s 2015 and the main reason we use <h> tags is to encourage visitors as they look through our content that, yes, it’s relevant and yes, they want to consume it. Essentially they’re eyeball touch points designed to keep visitors interested as they scan the copy. Period.
What do I put in my header tags?
On a web page about <h> tags, if the H1 tag reads, “Your single source for measuring up to high expectations,” what do you think readers will get as a takeaway?
For starters, I think they’ll be very confused about what the content will tell them, since the <h1> didn’t tell them…well, anything. That headline could be used on ANY page. And if your <h> tags can be used anywhere, you’re not doing them correctly! Your <h1> tag — or any of the <h> tags, for that matter — is no place to get cutesy. Well, go ahead and get cutesy — but your visitors probably won’t like it. They prefer, instead, a dose of clarity.
As Oli Gardner of Unbounce wisely said,
“If you only read the (sub)headlines, does your page make sense? If not, you have a clarity problem. Without clarity, all you have is confusion, and there’s nothing an attention-seeking back button loves more than confusion.”
Although Oli was talking specifically about paid search landing pages, his advice holds true for ANY web page or blog post. If your readers don’t know what your page is about at a glance, odds are they won’t stick around long. And the main way they initially learn what your page is about after they’ve landed is by scanning headlines. Basically, to use H tags properly, just tell your readers what the next batch of content contains.
It’s pretty simple.
How to write good <h> tags
So, how to go about constructing good headlines and sub-heads on your page? Easy. First and foremost, write your content — whether it’s a PPC landing page, blog post, web page or what have you. Now it’s time to add some <h> tags. Remember when I wrote about <title> tags? I said the <title> tag sums up your entire web page in one phrase. Well, your <h1> tags do something similar, except they do it right on the page (versus within the SERP). In tandem with its brethren (<h2> through <h6>), they’re used to break up ideas/subjects in the body copy. (Kind of like I’m doing in this post.)
Keep in mind: your headlines don’t dictate your content; your content dictates your headlines!
So, here’s an example:
<h1>Stuff You Need to Successfully Ride a Horse</h1>
<p>We’re not saying you’re the next Olympic dressage gold medalist, but heed this advice and you just MIGHT master the art of riding, which is the ability to keep a horse between you and the ground. You’ll need a few things to make this happen, of course.</p>
<p>Yup, helps to have one of these.</p>
<p>Lots and lots and lots of it, as any horse owner knows.</p>
<p>The better to steer you with.</p>
<p>Easier to keep your balance with, you noob.</p>
<h2>A Place to Ride</h2>
<p>Whether just in the pasture, in a fancy arena or out on the trail, riding a horse can be very fun. And therapeutic.</p>
Etc. etc. etc.
You get the idea.
Something else to consider while writing your H tags is all the good advice in Kayla’s post on writing good email subject lines. Sure, it’s not about writing <h> tags, but it’s great advice for writing ANY type of headlines, IMO. I.e., keep in mind things like: don’t rush; be clear; make sure there’s a benefit to adding it; and keep it simple.
But wait, there’s more…
This is basically <h> tags at a glance. This pretty much pertains to any web page, but of course depending on how your blog platform or CMS is laid out, you can end up with a set structure that’s a bit different than what I’ve outlined here. For example, our blog is set up such that there’s already a pre-determined <h1> tag on every page. Our blog post headers — those that would normally be a <h1> — are actually <h2> tags. If you want to get way more technie about your H tags, feel free to nerd out here.
So, go ahead and take a look at your website’s or blog’s <h> tags. How do they measure up?