You want to learn how to use header tags for SEO. I hear you. But let me start with a story:
(I promise it’s worth the wait.)
A few years ago, I got a new SEO client. It was a personal injury law firm.
They wanted to dominate the local rankings for keywords related to their practice areas, like all new law firm SEO clients.
But they had something really specific they were concerned about:
They were in Texas. But they were ranking for stuff like this:
Now, there’s a Cleveland in Texas. But I suspect most people could drive through it without realizing it:
And this firm definitely did not want to rank for those “Cleveland” keywords.
They were confused. They thought their last SEO provider must have been so incompetent that they ranked them for a city in the wrong state.
But that wasn’t it.
It was an issue with their header tags. See, I did some sleuthing. I wanted to solve this for them right out of the gate.
Here’s what I found:
One of their offices was on a street called “Cleveland Avenue.” Interesting, but it shouldn’t have caused this problem.
Then, I looked at the HTML code. That’s where I found it:
Their last SEO provider (who built their website) put the address in the website’s footer. As an H1.
That’s the most important header tag. It tells Google what the page is about. And there’s only supposed to be one per page.
This site had “Cleveland” in the H1 of every single page.
I changed it right away — removed the footer header tag. In two weeks, the issue was gone. No more Cleveland rankings.
That’s the power of header tags.
That’s your story for today. Now, let’s get into it.
Here’s how to use header tags to improve your rankings and get more traffic from Google.
Learn more about our on-page SEO service.
Big step back: What the H1 is a header tag?
It’s an element in HTML code — the base code that makes up websites. There are six header tags, from levels one to six.
They look like this:
Typically, header tags make the text inside of them look like a section heading or headline of some kind.
But what’s more important than that is what they tell search engines:
Header tags tell Google what your content is about and, therefore, what it should rank for in search results.
As a general rule, the lower the number on the header tag, the more important it is. Google thinks what’s in an H1 is more important than what’s in an H2 and what’s in an H2 is more important than what’s in an H3 — and so on.
You set header tags directly in your word processor or content management system (CMS). Here’s what it looks like when you’re writing content in Google docs:
Simply putting header tags in the content on your website isn’t enough. Not if you want to beat your competitors.
With these SEO best practices for header tags, you can get ahead:
Google thinks header tags are important. That means it’s reading the header tags on your landing pages and in your blog posts really, really closely.
So, put the most important thing — the keywords you’re targeting — right where you know Google will see it.
In other words, optimize your header tags for the keywords you’re targeting.
If you’re creating a practice area page that you want to rank for “San Diego dog bite lawyer,” get the words “San Diego dog bite lawyer” into your H1.
The H2s and H3s are also great places to put your keywords. And don’t forget to put keyword variations in the header tags, too.
You can have a dozen H2s or H3s on a page or post. But there can only be one H1.
This is THE header tag. It’s the big one, so it looks like the page title. Use it as such.
Meanwhile, there is some debate about how Google views content with multiple H1s. In the past, professional SEOs thought it could harm your rankings.
Today, the risk of multiple H1s is thought to be a bit more understated. It’s going to confuse Google, whose bots are going to crawl your pages and try to understand what they’re about.
And confusing Google’s bots is never a good thing. It almost always dilutes your ranking power.
So, stick with one — and only one — H1.
Headers add structure to text.
The H1 acts as the title. The H2s are the main sections. The H3s are the subsections under those main sections. And so on.
This is important for both readers and search engines.
Think about it:
Most readers are going to scan your content. They’re looking for answers. Headings and subsections help them find those answers more easily.
Meanwhile, header tags are pieces of code. They communicate in a language search engine bots can understand.
If you want Google to “get” what you’re saying, you’ve got to have header tags.
They don’t just add structure. Header tags also add visual appeal to walls of text.
A 1,000-word blog post is kind of long. Read it all without sections and headings, and it’s going to feel really long.
And nothing makes web users leave a webpage faster than being bored or unable to find the answer to their query.
So, when you’re dealing with a huge wall of text, break it up with header tags.
Most online readers scan content. That means they scroll faster than they can read.
They’re looking for the section that’s going to answer their query. Header tags can give them that signal.
But you’re only going to encourage the reader to stop scanning if your header tags are interesting.
You need to stop the scroll and draw them in.
If you’re capitalizing all the words in your header tags on your homepage, do the same thing on your blog posts and landing pages.
Don’t mix it up. It looks unprofessional.
Remember: Header tags are an element of your website and content that most visitors will see. Even if they don’t read a word of the paragraph text, they’ll see the headers.
That means the header tags are your chance to appear professional, put together and grammatically sound. Take advantage of that opportunity.
Header tags aren’t paragraphs. So they shouldn’t be as long as paragraphs.
Keep your header tags short. Usually, fewer than seven words is a great rule of thumb.
Because of a few reasons we’ve already covered:
Ever seen a featured snippet? Here’s one:
What do you notice about it?
It’s BIG. It’s eye-catching. It’s an awesome search engine results page (SERP) opportunity for you to capture.
And you can increase your chance of getting a featured snippet placement by strategically deploying your header tags.
If you’re answering a question with a blog post, set your header tags up as a list of answers to that question.
For example: The blog post is titled “What Are the Top Causes of Brain Injuries?”
And your header tags (H2s) are:
Do that well, and you just might snag a featured snippet (and the tons of traffic that comes with one).
This was the lesson from the story I told you at the beginning of this article: Keep header tags where they belong (and ONLY where they belong).
Where do they belong, exactly?
In your content. That’s the blog posts and landing pages.
Not in your footer, header, sidebars or navigational menus. Just in your written content.
Using header tags in places other than content is common. Usually, it’s the fault of a web designer who is using the tags for aesthetic purposes.
Don’t do that. It’s a fast way to confuse Google and weaken your ranking power.
Keep the header tags in the content, and you’re golden.