Header tags are just ONE of over 200 ranking signals! These tips can give you an edge but will not directly improve your rank.
If you are here in the hopes of finding some kind of “magic trick” where improving your HTML header tag will catapult you to the top of the search engines – you might as well bounce off here.
There is no such magic.
If you are here in the hopes of learning why header tags are important and how this header element can help improve your overall ability to rank in conjunction with your other on page optimization techniques like improving meta descriptions – then read on!
Read This Disclaimer First!
- Your HTML header tag is NOT a major ranking factor.
- Not every page needs H2-H6 tags – only use them if they make sense to help your READER.
- There is no “right or wrong” with header tags – but there are “recommended practices” that can help you improve your rank if the rest of your onsite SEO is good.
- If your header tags are awesome it won’t matter at all if you have a lot of other technical, speed or optimization issues.
I NEVER write my headers for the search engines – I write them for my readers. Actually, every post I write is for my readers – below is my methodology for post writing;
- Readers: every page or post I write is with the reader usability in mind first and foremost – this includes content, headers, title and even internal links.
- Accessibility: creating a good header structure can help the visually impaired better scan your content with a screen reader.
- Search Engines: the last thing I care about when writing my content and headers.
You can have the BEST header structure possible and still not rank well.
Remember header tags are just one of hundreds of items that determine rank. It is a small piece of the puzzle – but getting them right is just one less thing you need to worry about later!
What Exactly Are Header Tags?
Header tags are used to define various areas of content within your page or post and are shown in the HTML. These tags are part of the body content and can be styled using CSS.
Below is the benefits these HTML tags have:
- For the search engines – it helps them to better understand what your page is about.
- For your readers – it helps them be able to scan your content easily to see what they can expect to find in the article.
Do Search Engines Care About H1-H6 Tags?
Yes, but they are not a major ranking factor and just changing a header tag will usually have minimal affect on rank. But as noted by John Mueller – they are used to better understand what your content is about.
QUOTE: “We do use H tags to understand the structure of the text on a page better” John Mueller, Google 2015
Giving your article a clear hierarchy is one of the best on-page optimization steps you can take as a good user experience is priceless.
What Do They Look Like?
Header tags are defined in the code using HTML (as you can see below on the left) and on the post or page will be reflected typically with larger or more defined fonts (as shown below on the right).
Most themes do have the H1 through H6 tags styled in the stylesheet to have the H1 as the largest font and then decrease in size in increments for each header tag. So your H1 may be 36px and your H2 may be 30px and H3 may be 24px and so on.
How it looks as code
<h1>Everything You Need To Know About Cats</h1>
<h2>The Physical Health Of A Cat</h2>
<h2>The Mental Health Of A Cat</h2>
<h2>Cat Proof Your Home</h2>
How it might look on your site
Everything You Need To Know About Cats
The Physical Health Of A Cat
The Mental Health Of A Cat
Cat Proof Your Home
When Should I Use Heading Tags?
H2-H6 tags should be used to break up your content areas only when they are needed! As an example – in this post our title is the H1, we use H2 tags to break out the sections and we are using just a few H3 tags to better define additional information that is directly related to the H2 it is under.
Think how your content would be addressed if it were a book.
H1 would be the title of the book
H2 would be the chapters of your book
H3 would be sub chapters of your book that go within a chapter
H4 may be an informational section within your H3 chapter
Shorter posts may not require them at all – longer posts should definitely have them. We most commonly use the H1, H2 and H3 – rarely have we used the H4-H6 tags.
How Many Tags Should Be On A Page?
This will vary based on the type of post or page you are creating – but there is no official right or wrong amount of header tags to use! As we say quite often – use what is needed to give your users a nice skimming experience – and see what your competitors who are ranking well are doing.
Typically every page should only have just ONE H1 tag – and this is usually going to be the title of the page – and it should include your main keyword and be ENGAGING!
While there is some controversy over how many H1 tags you can have as noted in the video below where it is said that multiple H1 tags are OK – we like to ensure there is only one for accessibility reasons.
There is no value in having more and to keep your page or post structured well, one is all you need! After all, books do not have more than one title do they?
Remember Google is not the only search engine – and while they may be OK with multiple H1 tags – others recommend only one. If you have a page ranking that does have multiple H1 tags – just leave it alone!
H2 – H6 Headers
You can have as many of these as you NEED to make your article easy to read and understand – there is no limit or minimum.
Remember you DO NOT have to add these to your content if they do not warrant it.
If you are writing a personal post for example that does not serve a purpose to educate or inform a heading tag may not be needed.
If you do have multiple levels of heading tags they should be used in order – so if you have an H1 for your title – do not use an H3 to create your first “section” – make it an H2.
Then under the H2 you can create and H3 and so on. For accessibility and user experience it is better to keep them in the numerical order and have them nested underneath each other.
Should My Header Tags Have Keywords In them?
Again, while headers do not have a huge singular impact on SEO – the search engines do look at them to get context for your page. So using keywords/phrases and variations can help you.
Your H1 should include the main keyword/phrase you would like to rank for. This tag has the highest weight and should be highly relevant to your keyword.
For the H2-H6 headers keywords should only be added if it makes sense – and should be variations of the H1 keyword or phrase – not the same!
DO NOT stuff keywords for the sake of putting them in there as that can lead to over-optimization which is just as bad, if not worse than under-optimization.
When I create H2 tags for example I read it out loud – does it make sense to a user if that H2 makes it as a site link or part of a featured snippet?
The above tip is one I recently gave to a blogger that I completed a website audit for. She has a food blog – which is one of the most difficult niches in my opinion. She was struggling to grow her blog and wanted to see what she could improve.
While she did a lot of the suggestions from our audit – one of the areas she did improve on greatly were her header tags. While others were telling her to make sure she did not use keywords in them – I suggested she do – with the caveat she check what the competitors were doing.
She added header tags to pages that had none – some of her pages only had a H1 and then an H2 for her recipe card. On a few recipes I checked during the audit I noticed top ranking competitors had better header structure and gave her the suggestion to work on them.
I recommended she try:
H1 for the title
intro paragraph to entice the reader to learn more
H2 like “How To Make Recipe Name”
H3 for “Ingredients”
H3 for “Instructions”
Next H2 would be the recipe card title.
The results below are NOT just from rewriting her header tags – but are a part of the overall success of the audit.
Header tags help the search engines understand the structure and content of the page – and if you are using them in a table of contents (TOC) they can really help you have more visibility in the search engines.
Take a look at a personal example below from our own website. This result is for the term “meta description examples” and we rank #2 for that term – outranking some very competitive sites like Shopify and Search Engine Watch.
We acquired “sitelinks” for this post – those are the links below the meta description. Guess what those terms are? Yep, they are H2 tags.
Notice they all have the term “Meta Description” in them.
Imagine how those site links would look without the keyword in there – although I do not think we would even have those sitelinks without the keyword being in our H2.
But what if we had those H2 tags as:
“What is it”
Those would not be as engaging to a searcher would they?
So in a post where you have a TOC and hope to get sitelinks it makes sense to try and use keyword VARIATIONS in your H2 tags.
It is also great to see that I am the only result that has these sitelinks!
Now let’s take a brief look at the page itself to see how the content was broken out. I am using a table of contents which I do recommend if it makes sense – for example it would NOT make sense on a recipe post. But if you have a huge amount of content – you should have it.
H1 – Meta Description Examples & Writing Guide (my book title so to speak)
H2 – What Is A Meta Description (chapter)
H2 – Meta Description Basics (chapter)
H3 – Do I have to have a meta description? (sub-chapter)
H3 – Do meta descriptions affect my rank? (sub-chapter)
H3 – Will the search engines always use the description I write? (sub-chapter)
H2 – Meta Descriptions Gone Wrong (chapter)
H2 – Tips for Writing Meta Descriptions (chapter)
H3 – What Not to do with them (sub-chapter)
H3 – Simple tips to writing a great description(sub-chapter
This is good for the search engines because they can see the sensical way the content is being delivered and my readers can easily go to section that is most relevant to them and just bypass the ones that are not.
So as you can see a lot of my headers do have the word “meta descriptions” in them – but they should be to have them make sense to the READER. I did not write them this way for Google – but for my readers. <——- I cannot stress this part enough.
H2 Can = Featured Snippet
These are great for those “best of” posts – you do typically need an organic rank position on the first page to grab a featured snippet so if you do and want to steal the featured snippet, H2 tags can help.
When I type in “best pen holder” I get the featured snippet below. There hierarchy is very clean with just a H1 tag for the title and then an H2 tag for each of the items they are talking about that appear in the list.
But I See Competitors Ranking With…
It upsets all of us to see people ranking with crappy websites, poorly written content or formatted horribly. But it happens.
Yes – you will see websites ranking multiple H1 tags.
Yes, you will see them ranking with no H2 tags – or a hierarchy that makes no sense at all.
Google is a machine – there is no rhyme or reason sometimes for why a page ranks well for a keyword. Just understand it is constantly evolving and the more buttoned up you are in ALL areas of optimization – the better chance you have of jumping in that spot when Google realizes the page is not good.
Also there are so many other factors to ranking – and header tags are a small part.
- Do not repeat a keyword in multiple header tags – EVER
- Each page should only have one H1
- H2 should come after H1 – H3 should come after H2 etc.
- Do not wrap sentences in header tags – it should just be a few words.
Stalk Your Competitors
One of the best ways to know what search engines like in terms of content for a keyword/phrase is easy – see what the top ranking pages are doing!
By understanding how your competitors are creating their content you can modify yours to be similar in format. If they are ranking well – in part it is because search engines can understand what the content is about.
There are a few awesome tools that will allow you to see how your top competitors are creating their pages to help guide you as you improve or create yours.
Tool 1: SEO Content Hero
Right now this is a free tool – and it is an awesome one!
Enter your main keyword that you want to rank for and click submit.
When the report is done you will get a XLS spreadsheet of data that will help you better understand what the top ranking competitors for that terms are doing. You can see related searches you can use in your post, the content count of each post and see their usage of the header tags on their ranking page.
Tool 2: SEO Ruler
This is a Chrome add-on that will scrape a page and show you all the important information for that page including headings, schema, meta description and more.
Below is how you will see the data when you click the ruler extension – but then you can select specific areas like headings to get more details about the exact headers they are using.
Great HTML Header Tag Usage Example
Below is a great example of a post that this website owner recently did that we are so impressed with! A pretty awesome example (with a few minor tweaks needed) – of how to properly layout a post into categories and sub-categories with headings.
Big Dog Mom: Mastiff Puppy 101
Sample post: https://bigdogmom.com/raising-a-puppy/
She pretty much nailed her use of heading tags in this post! She has a great balance of using the keywords relevant to “mastiff puppy” and has the organizational structure of the post in perfect sync with the important aspects of owning a puppy.
Her H1 for the post is: Mastiff Puppy 101: Wild Puppy to Gentle Giant, Guaranteed!
Then the H2 tags are sub-categories like “Finding A Breeder”, “Puppy Socialization” – then below that there are H3 tags to further refine the details of each of those H2 sections.
1. We did find a few small issues like under Finding a Reputable Breeder – the title is a H2 – but then the sections underneath it like “Go To A Local Dog Show” – is in an H4 – when it should be a H3″. While changing this to a H3 may not have a direct affect on rank – it will be a best practice that can help you overall! You always want to keep your H1, H2 and H3 tags in order. You can hide them from the TOC if you want —
2. Recommend the URL be /raising-mastiff-puppy instead of /raising-a-puppy since it is so breed relevant
Testing Header Tag Changes
As with EVERYTHING SEO related – testing is key!
Try optimizing your header tags for a post today but be sure to track EVERY CHANGE YOU MAKE so you can revert back if your results are not good.
Read your post out load – look at it with one of the tools above or if you use Gutenberg there is a cool way to see all of your content laid out.
Simply click the little round i icon at the top of the post and you will see the hierarchy of your page. As you can see below I get a great outline of my post and all the header tags I am using. I can see a clear hierarchy of topics related to the main title.
You can now make your changes – resubmit the URL in Google Search Console and then wait a bit and see if you see any positive changes in rank – click thru’s – featured snippets and more!
Header Tag Summary
For those that hate reading and just want the bullet points – here you go! While we prefer you read and understand the how’s and why’s for the recommendations – we get it, you are busy!
- Header tags are not a major ranking factor
- No matter how great your header tags are – if you are not well optimized, fast or do not have quality backlinks the header tags will make little difference
- H1 tags have more weight than H2-H6
- Only one H1 tag should be used per page for best practices and accessibility
- H1 tag should have the keyword or phrase you want to rank for
- As many H2 – H6 tags can be used as needed to improve user experience
- H2 tags can use variations of your H1 keyword to further refine the content for your readers but will not add a huge ranking bonus
- H3-H6 not necessary to use keywords or phrases unless it really adds a benefit for your readers
- A good H2-H6 hierarchy can help you grab featured snippets or sitelinks
- If you have a lot of H2-H6 tags – we recommend using a TOC plugin
- See how your top ranking competing pages are using header tags – and emulate