In years past, optimized header tags were a staple of any search engine optimization plan. But, while keyword-stuffed header tags aren’t as critically important as they once were – optimized header tags still play a vital role.

A large part of this is because header tags can impact your website’s visibility and performance in two primary ways:

  • They can indirectly influence search engine rankings by making your content easier to read and navigate
  • They can directly influence search engine rankings by providing valuable keyword rich context about the arrangement, intent, and meaning of the words on your website. If there’s a good structure to the page, Google has an easier time matching your content to Google search phrases. On top of this, it might also have an easier time choosing your website for special treatment (more on that below).

Before we get into 5 best practices to follow for your website’s header tags, let’s answer one basic question first: “What on earth is a header tag?”

1. What header tags are, and how you should use them

On every web page, there are HTML elements that send a variety of signals to both real human brains, and the “brain” of search engines like Google and Bing. We refer to them as “search engine bots”. A header tag is simply a “heading” – indicated by <h1> for “Header 1”, <h2> for “Header 2”, and so on (all the way to <h6>). This top-down hierarchy is intended to categorize information by order of importance.

The different types of header tags

H1: Think of an <H1> tag as the title of an Album or book. This is the most important heading, and it tells your readers (and search engine bots) what to expect. Would you keep reading if you expected classic rock but ended up hearing gospel?

You should always have an H1 (only one of them, though)

Otherwise, you force search engines to skim your content to attempt to understand your intent.

H2: H2’s are a bit like chapters in your book – or song titles on a music album. If your page is about Community Association Management, a natural <h2> might be about a relevant topic – such as your location or a service you provide for your communities.

H3-H6: After the <h2>, headings are more like subheadings, and can be used more stylistically. Just like a movie or book might be separated into separate sub-plots or sub-topics, these headers help organize your content into logical sections o it’s easier to skim for humans and machine.

2. The human element: using headers to make your text more readable

At the end of the day, the most important metric for your website is engagement. If users have an easy time reading and engaging with your website, you’ll have a leg up over your competition.

The easier an article is to skim, the better it will do in search.

It’s this simple: when a website visitor quickly bounces back to the search results because the information on your page was too hard to skim – the search engines know.

3. The robot element: utilizing keywords in header tags

There was a time when stuffing all sorts of keywords in your header tags was an effective way to get found online. This isn’t necessarily true anymore. A keyword in your header tag won’t help like, say, a link from a prominent industry website. But they are still important, and they still play a role. Don’t have many links from reputable industry websites? Then it becomes even more important to follow best practices like these.

Not all of your header tags will include keywords. Because your first goal should be to make it readable. If a keyword would make sense to guide the attention of a reader – go for it! Write and design for your users first – and then think about how you might be able to optimize the experience for search engines.

4. Try to optimize for search snippets

For the past few years, one of the ways header tags can be seen making a direct impact in search results has been with featured snippets. We covered search features in our last SEO post about The Latest Search Engine Updates CAMS should be aware of

Put simply, they are the instant answers, images, map, and shopping results provided by Google for a wide variety of search queries

To accomplish this, find a “long tail” search keyword with a featured search snippet, create a page with that keyword as an <h1> and do your best to come up with the best answer to the query in the paragraphs below. This can work really well on FAQ pages.

5. Favor the reader, but don’t forget the bots

If you think of your header tags like both “reminders” to keep reading and “signposts” of where to skim depending on what the reader cares about – you’ll see better website engagement (and ideally – better traction). This means coming up with consistent header tags that use the same font, structure, and capitalization. But it also means trying to make them interesting.

An interesting header can keep your reader intrigued and give your website much better engagement – and its even better if you can smoothly work a keyword in while you’re at it. This can be especially important for the H1 tag – because it’s often the first place your readers make the decision to keep reading, or not.

The bottom line: SEO isn’t doing one thing right. It’s a neverending math equation.

SEO is something you can always use to make an impact on your marketing approach. From creating valuable content that your visitors can use as a resource and share, to identifying opportunities to own the answer for a given topic. It’s simply a matter of experimenting, understanding your audience, and seeing what kind of content and experience works best and gets you found the most. It’s not always predictable, it’s not always easy. But finding the right tactic for your niche can be incredibly valuable.