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How To Use Header Tags: SEO Best Practices

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How To Use Header Tags: SEO Best Practices

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Header tags are still a strong signal for SEO. Google’s John Mueller said it himself:

“[W]hen it comes to text on a page, a heading is a really strong signal telling us this part of the page is about this topic.”

Header tags are a simple yet critical part of SEO. Use them wisely and you’ll please the search engine gods, as well as your users.

Here are seven best practices to follow when crafting yours.

What Is A Header Tag?

Header tags are HTML tags that tell a browser what styling it should use to display a piece of text on a webpage.

If we looked up the HTML for the heading above, it’d look something like this:

<h2>What is a Header Tag?</h2>

Like headings in print content, header tags are used to title or introduce the content below them. HTML header tags follow a hierarchy, from <h1> to <h6>.

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  • H1 tags are used to denote the most important text, such as the main theme or title of a content.
  • H2 and H3 tags are commonly used as subheadings.
  • Finally, H4, H5, and H6 tags may be used to provide further structure within those subsections.

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Header tags are helpful for users and search engines. For your users, they give them a preview of the content they’re about to read.

For search engines like Google, they provide context on what your page is all about and provide a hierarchy. Think of header tags as chapter titles in a book. Give them a quick scan, and you’ll have a pretty good idea of what the content covers.

Header tags are important for SEO because they help Google understand your content, but also because they make your page more user-friendly – by making your content more readable and accessible.

Now, let’s get to the best practices.

1. Use Header Tags To Provide Structure

Your header tags provide structure and context for your article. Each header should give the reader an idea of the information they can glean from the paragraph text that follows below.

A helpful way to think of header tags is by comparing them to a table of contents for a non-fiction book:

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  • Your H1 introduces the topic your page is all about, just as a title tells a reader what a book is all about.
  • The H2s are akin to book chapters, describing the main topics you’ll cover in sections of the article.
  • Subsequent headers, H3s to H6s, serve as additional subheadings within each section, just as a book chapter may be split up into multiple subtopics.

When drafting a blog article or landing page, think about the main ideas you want your visitors to come away with.

Those are your header tags. Use them to help you write your outline.

2. Break Up Blocks Of Text With Subheadings

A scannable article is a readable article, and a readable article is one that’s more likely to perform well in the search engines.

That’s because Google likes to reward content that’s user-friendly. Content that’s easy to read is, by definition, more user-friendly than content that isn’t.

When an article is scannable, users might actually stick around to read it, instead of bouncing back to Google. Plus, they’ll also be more likely to share it with their friends.

While social signals aren’t a direct ranking factor, the more an article is shared, the more likely it is to naturally earn backlinks, which are a ranking factor.

3. Include Keywords In Your Header Tags

As Mueller told us, Google uses header tags to gather context for your page.

As with anything Google pays attention to, that means it’s worth including keywords in your header tags.

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This does not mean you should shoehorn keywords in at all costs. Be judicious, not spammy.

You’ve probably noticed that many of the header tags in this article contain keywords.

In fact, the H2 for this section literally includes “keywords!” But, the keyword I’m actually referring to is “header tags.”

That’s one of the target keywords for this article, so I’ve included it in many of the H2s. I haven’t included it in every single H2, though, because that kind of repetition can turn off readers.

Your page should be readable, first and foremost. If keywords fit naturally, then you can go ahead and include them, as well.

Always think of your user first. Then, optimize for Google.

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4. Optimize For Featured Snippets

Sadly, header tags are an afterthought for many marketers (here’s hoping this article changes that!).

But they can make a sizable impact on your chances of scoring a coveted featured snippet.

Here’s how.

Paragraph Featured Snippets

Got your eyes on a paragraph featured snippet?

Optimize your header tag to match a long-tail voice search keyword. Then, answer the query directly below, placing the text within <p> paragraph tags.

For example, Search Engine Journal won this featured snippet for “How to remove default search engine in Chrome?”, in part thanks to their keyword-optimized H2:

Screenshot from search for [how to remove default search engine in chrome], Google, October 2021
FeatureSnippetsScreenshot from SearchEngineJournal, October 2021

List Featured Snippets

You can also use header tags to outline different items in a list.

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Google can pull from your subheadings to create its own bulleted or numbered list for a featured snippet.

Here’s an example.

Search for [how to relieve migraine fast] and Google creates a list of answers using the H2s from this WebMD article.

Feature SnippetsScreenshot from search for [how to relieve migraine fast], Google, October 2021
FeatureSnippetsScreenshot from WebMD, October 2021

5. Only Use One H1

Let’s dispel a common SEO myth.

Google has said there is no problem with using multiple H1s.

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However, that doesn’t mean it’s an SEO best practice to use multiple H1s on a page.

Why not?

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H1s are big, and they look like titles to readers. Use multiple H1s on your page, and it starts to look a little out of control.

Want to make sure you don’t have any multiple H1s lingering on your site?

Run your domain through a crawler tool like Screaming Frog.

Toggle over to the H1 tab to see at a glance whether you have any pages that are missing H1s entirely or have multiple H1s.

Then click the Filter drop-down menu to export the ones you care about fixing.

Screaming Frog H1sScreenshot from Screaming Frog, October 2021

The same report is available for H2s. Huzzah!

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6. Keep Your Header Tags Consistent

In marketing and in design, your goal is to maintain a consistent experience for users.

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When a site achieves that down to the finest detail, it’s impressive.

Aim to impress with consistent header tags on your site.

If you choose to use title case format, stick with that across all your pages (and vice versa if you choose sentence case).

Also, keep your headings on the shorter side.

A header tag is not the place to write a paragraph of keyword-rich text for Google.

Instead, treat it like a mini-title for the following section of text.

A good rule of thumb is to keep your headers about the same length as your title tags (70 characters or less).

The more you can set expectations for your site visitors and consistently meet them, the happier (and more engaged) they’ll be.

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7. Make Your Header Tags Interesting

This rule applies to all your copywriting, not just the headers.

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Your initial draft may have bland headers that you use to create your outline.

That’s okay, but you should always review and revise your headers prior to publishing to make them compelling for your visitors.

Yes, your header tags make an article scannable. But ideally, they don’t scan the whole way through.

Intriguing header tags encourage visitors to take a beat and read for a while.

Place special importance on your H1 tag in particular. Users notice H1s.

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In large part, your H1 may dictate whether visitors bother to scroll down the page at all.

Do your best to write one awesome H1 tag that answers the user’s search intent and gets them excited about reading your article.

Stay Ahead With Header Tags

Write your headers well, and you’ll not only make your content more scannable, you’ll intrigue visitors to keep reading.

Plus, optimized header tags can help you win featured snippets and make it easier for search engines to understand your page.

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Be an SEO all-star. Get strategic with your header tags. Your site deserves it!


Featured image: Paulo Bobita/SearchEngineJournal

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B2B PPC Experts Give Their Take On Google Search On Announcements

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B2B PPC Experts Give Their Take On Google Search On Announcements

Google hosted its 3rd annual Search On event on September 28th.

The event announced numerous Search updates revolving around these key areas:

  • Visualization
  • Personalization
  • Sustainability

After the event, Google’s Ad Liason, Ginny Marvin, hosted a roundtable of PPC experts specifically in the B2B industry to give their thoughts on the announcements, as well as how they may affect B2B. I was able to participate in the roundtable and gained valuable feedback from the industry.

The roundtable of experts comprised of Brad Geddes, Melissa Mackey, Michelle Morgan, Greg Finn, Steph Bin, Michael Henderson, Andrea Cruz Lopez, and myself (Brooke Osmundson).

The Struggle With Images

Some of the updates in Search include browsable search results, larger image assets, and business messages for conversational search.

Brad Geddes, Co-Founder of Adalysis, mentioned “Desktop was never mentioned once.” Others echoed the same sentiment, that many of their B2B clients rely on desktop searches and traffic. With images showing mainly on mobile devices, their B2B clients won’t benefit as much.

Another great point came up about the context of images. While images are great for a user experience, the question reiterated by multiple roundtable members:

  • How is a B2B product or B2B service supposed to portray what they do in an image?

Images in search are certainly valuable for verticals such as apparel, automotive, and general eCommerce businesses. But for B2B, they may be left at a disadvantage.

More Uses Cases, Please

Ginny asked the group what they’d like to change or add to an event like Search On.

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The overall consensus: both Search On and Google Marketing Live (GML) have become more consumer-focused.

Greg Finn said that the Search On event was about what he expected, but Google Marketing Live feels too broad now and that Google isn’t speaking to advertisers anymore.

Marvin acknowledged and then revealed that Google received feedback that after this year’s GML, the vision felt like it was geared towards a high-level investor.

The group gave a few potential solutions to help fill the current gap of what was announced, and then later how advertisers can take action.

  • 30-minute follow-up session on how these relate to advertisers
  • Focus less on verticals
  • Provide more use cases

Michelle Morgan and Melissa Mackey said that “even just screenshots of a B2B SaaS example” would help them immensely. Providing tangible action items on how to bring this information to clients is key.

Google Product Managers Weigh In

The second half of the roundtable included input from multiple Google Search Product Managers. I started off with a more broad question to Google:

  • It seems that Google is becoming a one-stop shop for a user to gather information and make purchases. How should advertisers prepare for this? Will we expect to see lower traffic, higher CPCs to compete for that coveted space?

Cecilia Wong, Global Product Lead of Search Formats, Google, mentioned that while they can’t comment directly on the overall direction, they do focus on Search. Their recommendation:

  • Manage assets and images and optimize for best user experience
  • For B2B, align your images as a sneak peek of what users can expect on the landing page

However, image assets have tight restrictions on what’s allowed. I followed up by asking if they would be loosening asset restrictions for B2B to use creativity in its image assets.

Google could not comment directly but acknowledged that looser restrictions on image content is a need for B2B advertisers.

Is Value-Based Bidding Worth The Hassle?

The topic of value-based bidding came up after Carlo Buchmann, Product Manager of Smart Bidding, said that they want advertisers to embrace and move towards value-based bidding. While the feedback seemed grim, it opened up for candid conversation.

Melissa Mackey said that while she’s talked to her clients about values-based bidding, none of her clients want to pull the trigger. For B2B, it’s difficult to assess the value on different conversion points.

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Further, she stated that clients become fixated on their pipeline information and can end up making it too complicated. To sum up, they’re struggling to translate the value number input to what a sale is actually worth.

Geddes mentioned that some of his more sophisticated clients have moved back to manual bidding because Google doesn’t take all the values and signals to pass back and forth.

Finn closed the conversation with his experience. He emphasized that Google has not brought forth anything about best practices for value-based bidding. By having only one value, it seems like CPA bidding. And when a client has multiple value inputs, Google tends to optimize towards the lower-value conversions – ultimately affecting lead quality.

The Google Search Product Managers closed by providing additional resources to dig into overall best practices to leverage search in the world of automation.

Closing Thoughts

Google made it clear that the future of search is visual. For B2B companies, it may require extra creativity to succeed and compete with the visualization updates.

However, the PPC roundtable experts weighed in that if Google wants advertisers to adopt these features, they need to support advertisers more – especially B2B marketers. With limited time and resources, advertisers big and small are trying to do more with less.

Marketers are relying on Google to make these Search updates relevant to not only the user but the advertisers. Having clearer guides, use cases, and conversations is a great step to bringing back the Google and advertiser collaboration.

A special thank you to Ginny Marvin of Google for making space to hear B2B advertiser feedback, as well as all the PPC experts for weighing in.

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Featured image: Shutterstock/T-K-M

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