Archive for April 7th, 2011


10 Step SEO # 4: Headline Tags

Okay, okay. I know that this one is out of order. I mean, normally, 4 follows 3, not 6b.  Sigh. Oh well. You do what you can.

First, a definition for those of you a  little bit newbie at HTML, page design, and SEO. In the source code, headline tags (also called headings) look like this: <h1>Text</h1>. They come in sizes from <h1> to <h6>, with <h1> being the largest. In basic default HTML, when you wrap a headline tag around a bit of text, that text is set apart from the content above and below with a line break and the font size is changed to reflect the importance value assigned to the tag in use.

Headline tags organize text. That’s all they were designed for and that’s what they do best. Think of it as wrapping an outline around your content to make it easier to scan.  The <h1> tag tells what the page is about at a quick glance. The <h2> breaks that content down into major sections. The <h3> subdivides further. And so on.

The <h1> tag is the second most important on-page place to fit a keyword.  Only the title tag holds more importance. Because it is supposed to identify the entire page’s content, there should normally only be one <h1> per page. You can use as many of the others as you need, but it pays to use them correctly. That is <h1> comes first, then an <h2> to divide that content then an <h3> to divide each <h2> content further.

The reason this strategy pays is a ridiculously complicated-sounding concept with an over-inflated opinion of itself:

Latent Semantic Indexing

(Notice my clever use of a headline tag.) You don’t need to know what that means. Trust me, there’s a butt-load of nasty math involved. What you should know is that to a sophisticated search engine, LSI is a method of identifying the meaning of content based on the proper use (among other things) of headline tags. So when the spider comes to call, it will try to decide how important your page content is based to a significant degree on the headlines: what they say, how they relate to each other, and whether or not the key phrases inside them add up to meaningful, relevant content. Which, we suspect, is how Google decides whether a page is of sufficient value to deserve a high search result rank.

So, then. The proper use of headlines can make a big difference. Here’s one way to use them properly. Identify your page content’s keyword phrases. Make sure that they are related to each other thematically, and that they are truly relevant to the content on the page. Use Google’s AdWords Keyword Tool (or something like it) to find out how much traffic potential each one has. Pull out the top 4 or 6 traffic-producing phrases. (Use some common sense to eliminate any that are too competitive.) Rank them from highest traffic to lowest. Make the highest traffic term your <h1> (and this one should also be prominent in your page title). The next two down the list earn an <h2>. If you still a couple of good ones left, work them into <h3> tags. You will probably never need to use any of the others, but they are sometimes employed to set apart some

special concept that just needs to jump off the page.

The trick to all of this is that you need to work these headlines into your content in a way that makes sense. It has to make sense to human readers, and it has  to make sense to search engine spiders.

Here’s a page that uses headlines effectively:

Now after all that, here’s the practical truth, in a few easy bullet points:

  • Always use your best keyword in an <h1> tag
  • Make sure your <h1> relates directly to the <title> tag and to the link text leading to the page
  • Use <h2> tags with relevant keywords to break up large blocks of text
  • Use <h3> tags only if you have HUGE blocks of text that need further refining
  • Leave the <h4>, <h5>, and <h6> tags to the pros

And don’t think you’re stuck with the default HTML formatting for your headline tags. It’s a pretty simple matter to use the magic of CSS to format them any way you like.

More Articles about Headline Tags

Structure Documents with Header Tags
W3 Schools H1 to H6 tags
Penn State Web Accessibility Standards