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How To Use Header Tags: SEO Best Practices

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How To Use Header Tags: SEO Best Practices

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:

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<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>.

  • 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.

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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.

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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?

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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.

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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.

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.

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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.

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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Google On Hyphens In Domain Names

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What Google says about using hyphens in domain names

Google’s John Mueller answered a question on Reddit about why people don’t use hyphens with domains and if there was something to be concerned about that they were missing.

Domain Names With Hyphens For SEO

I’ve been working online for 25 years and I remember when using hyphens in domains was something that affiliates did for SEO when Google was still influenced by keywords in the domain, URL, and basically keywords anywhere on the webpage. It wasn’t something that everyone did, it was mainly something that was popular with some affiliate marketers.

Another reason for choosing domain names with keywords in them was that site visitors tended to convert at a higher rate because the keywords essentially prequalified the site visitor. I know from experience how useful two-keyword domains (and one word domain names) are for conversions, as long as they didn’t have hyphens in them.

A consideration that caused hyphenated domain names to fall out of favor is that they have an untrustworthy appearance and that can work against conversion rates because trustworthiness is an important factor for conversions.

Lastly, hyphenated domain names look tacky. Why go with tacky when a brandable domain is easier for building trust and conversions?

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Domain Name Question Asked On Reddit

This is the question asked on Reddit:

“Why don’t people use a lot of domains with hyphens? Is there something concerning about it? I understand when you tell it out loud people make miss hyphen in search.”

And this is Mueller’s response:

“It used to be that domain names with a lot of hyphens were considered (by users? or by SEOs assuming users would? it’s been a while) to be less serious – since they could imply that you weren’t able to get the domain name with fewer hyphens. Nowadays there are a lot of top-level-domains so it’s less of a thing.

My main recommendation is to pick something for the long run (assuming that’s what you’re aiming for), and not to be overly keyword focused (because life is too short to box yourself into a corner – make good things, course-correct over time, don’t let a domain-name limit what you do online). The web is full of awkward, keyword-focused short-lived low-effort takes made for SEO — make something truly awesome that people will ask for by name. If that takes a hyphen in the name – go for it.”

Pick A Domain Name That Can Grow

Mueller is right about picking a domain name that won’t lock your site into one topic. When a site grows in popularity the natural growth path is to expand the range of topics the site coves. But that’s hard to do when the domain is locked into one rigid keyword phrase. That’s one of the downsides of picking a “Best + keyword + reviews” domain, too. Those domains can’t grow bigger and look tacky, too.

That’s why I’ve always recommended brandable domains that are memorable and encourage trust in some way.

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Read the post on Reddit:

Are domains with hyphens bad?

Read Mueller’s response here.

Featured Image by Shutterstock/Benny Marty

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Reddit Post Ranks On Google In 5 Minutes

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Google apparently ranks Reddit posts within minutes

Google’s Danny Sullivan disputed the assertions made in a Reddit discussion that Google is showing a preference for Reddit in the search results. But a Redditor’s example proves that it’s possible for a Reddit post to rank in the top ten of the search results within minutes and to actually improve rankings to position #2 a week later.

Discussion About Google Showing Preference To Reddit

A Redditor (gronetwork) complained that Google is sending so many visitors to Reddit that the server is struggling with the load and shared an example that proved that it can only take minutes for a Reddit post to rank in the top ten.

That post was part of a 79 post Reddit thread where many in the r/SEO subreddit were complaining about Google allegedly giving too much preference to Reddit over legit sites.

The person who did the test (gronetwork) wrote:

“…The website is already cracking (server down, double posts, comments not showing) because there are too many visitors.

…It only takes few minutes (you can test it) for a post on Reddit to appear in the top ten results of Google with keywords related to the post’s title… (while I have to wait months for an article on my site to be referenced). Do the math, the whole world is going to spam here. The loop is completed.”

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Reddit Post Ranked Within Minutes

Another Redditor asked if they had tested if it takes “a few minutes” to rank in the top ten and gronetwork answered that they had tested it with a post titled, Google SGE Review.

gronetwork posted:

“Yes, I have created for example a post named “Google SGE Review” previously. After less than 5 minutes it was ranked 8th for Google SGE Review (no quotes). Just after Washingtonpost.com, 6 authoritative SEO websites and Google.com’s overview page for SGE (Search Generative Experience). It is ranked third for SGE Review.”

It’s true, not only does that specific post (Google SGE Review) rank in the top 10, the post started out in position 8 and it actually improved ranking, currently listed beneath the number one result for the search query “SGE Review”.

Screenshot Of Reddit Post That Ranked Within Minutes

Anecdotes Versus Anecdotes

Okay, the above is just one anecdote. But it’s a heck of an anecdote because it proves that it’s possible for a Reddit post to rank within minutes and get stuck in the top of the search results over other possibly more authoritative websites.

hankschrader79 shared that Reddit posts outrank Toyota Tacoma forums for a phrase related to mods for that truck.

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Google’s Danny Sullivan responded to that post and the entire discussion to dispute that Reddit is not always prioritized over other forums.

Danny wrote:

“Reddit is not always prioritized over other forums. [super vhs to mac adapter] I did this week, it goes Apple Support Community, MacRumors Forum and further down, there’s Reddit. I also did [kumo cloud not working setup 5ghz] recently (it’s a nightmare) and it was the Netgear community, the SmartThings Community, GreenBuildingAdvisor before Reddit. Related to that was [disable 5g airport] which has Apple Support Community above Reddit. [how to open an 8 track tape] — really, it was the YouTube videos that helped me most, but it’s the Tapeheads community that comes before Reddit.

In your example for [toyota tacoma], I don’t even get Reddit in the top results. I get Toyota, Car & Driver, Wikipedia, Toyota again, three YouTube videos from different creators (not Toyota), Edmunds, a Top Stories unit. No Reddit, which doesn’t really support the notion of always wanting to drive traffic just to Reddit.

If I guess at the more specific query you might have done, maybe [overland mods for toyota tacoma], I get a YouTube video first, then Reddit, then Tacoma World at third — not near the bottom. So yes, Reddit is higher for that query — but it’s not first. It’s also not always first. And sometimes, it’s not even showing at all.”

hankschrader79 conceded that they were generalizing when they wrote that Google always prioritized Reddit. But they also insisted that that didn’t diminish what they said is a fact that Google’s “prioritization” forum content has benefitted Reddit more than actual forums.

Why Is The Reddit Post Ranked So High?

It’s possible that Google “tested” that Reddit post in position 8 within minutes and that user interaction signals indicated to Google’s algorithms that users prefer to see that Reddit post. If that’s the case then it’s not a matter of Google showing preference to Reddit post but rather it’s users that are showing the preference and the algorithm is responding to those preferences.

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Nevertheless, an argument can be made that user preferences for Reddit can be a manifestation of Familiarity Bias. Familiarity Bias is when people show a preference for things that are familiar to them. If a person is familiar with a brand because of all the advertising they were exposed to then they may show a bias for the brand products over unfamiliar brands.

Users who are familiar with Reddit may choose Reddit because they don’t know the other sites in the search results or because they have a bias that Google ranks spammy and optimized websites and feel safer reading Reddit.

Google may be picking up on those user interaction signals that indicate a preference and satisfaction with the Reddit results but those results may simply be biases and not an indication that Reddit is trustworthy and authoritative.

Is Reddit Benefiting From A Self-Reinforcing Feedback Loop?

It may very well be that Google’s decision to prioritize user generated content may have started a self-reinforcing pattern that draws users in to Reddit through the search results and because the answers seem plausible those users start to prefer Reddit results. When they’re exposed to more Reddit posts their familiarity bias kicks in and they start to show a preference for Reddit. So what could be happening is that the users and Google’s algorithm are creating a self-reinforcing feedback loop.

Is it possible that Google’s decision to show more user generated content has kicked off a cycle where more users are exposed to Reddit which then feeds back into Google’s algorithm which in turn increases Reddit visibility, regardless of lack of expertise and authoritativeness?

Featured Image by Shutterstock/Kues

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WordPress Releases A Performance Plugin For “Near-Instant Load Times”

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WordPress speculative loading plugin

WordPress released an official plugin that adds support for a cutting edge technology called speculative loading that can help boost site performance and improve the user experience for site visitors.

Speculative Loading

Rendering means constructing the entire webpage so that it instantly displays (rendering). When your browser downloads the HTML, images, and other resources and puts it together into a webpage, that’s rendering. Prerendering is putting that webpage together (rendering it) in the background.

What this plugin does is to enable the browser to prerender the entire webpage that a user might navigate to next. The plugin does that by anticipating which webpage the user might navigate to based on where they are hovering.

Chrome lists a preference for only prerendering when there is an at least 80% probability of a user navigating to another webpage. The official Chrome support page for prerendering explains:

“Pages should only be prerendered when there is a high probability the page will be loaded by the user. This is why the Chrome address bar prerendering options only happen when there is such a high probability (greater than 80% of the time).

There is also a caveat in that same developer page that prerendering may not happen based on user settings, memory usage and other scenarios (more details below about how analytics handles prerendering).

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The Speculative Loading API solves a problem that previous solutions could not because in the past they were simply prefetching resources like JavaScript and CSS but not actually prerendering the entire webpage.

The official WordPress announcement explains it like this:

Introducing the Speculation Rules API
The Speculation Rules API is a new web API that solves the above problems. It allows defining rules to dynamically prefetch and/or prerender URLs of certain structure based on user interaction, in JSON syntax—or in other words, speculatively preload those URLs before the navigation. This API can be used, for example, to prerender any links on a page whenever the user hovers over them.”

The official WordPress page about this new functionality describes it:

“The Speculation Rules API is a new web API… It allows defining rules to dynamically prefetch and/or prerender URLs of certain structure based on user interaction, in JSON syntax—or in other words, speculatively preload those URLs before the navigation.

This API can be used, for example, to prerender any links on a page whenever the user hovers over them. Also, with the Speculation Rules API, “prerender” actually means to prerender the entire page, including running JavaScript. This can lead to near-instant load times once the user clicks on the link as the page would have most likely already been loaded in its entirety. However that is only one of the possible configurations.”

The new WordPress plugin adds support for the Speculation Rules API. The Mozilla developer pages, a great resource for HTML technical understanding describes it like this:

“The Speculation Rules API is designed to improve performance for future navigations. It targets document URLs rather than specific resource files, and so makes sense for multi-page applications (MPAs) rather than single-page applications (SPAs).

The Speculation Rules API provides an alternative to the widely-available <link rel=”prefetch”> feature and is designed to supersede the Chrome-only deprecated <link rel=”prerender”> feature. It provides many improvements over these technologies, along with a more expressive, configurable syntax for specifying which documents should be prefetched or prerendered.”

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See also: Are Websites Getting Faster? New Data Reveals Mixed Results

Performance Lab Plugin

The new plugin was developed by the official WordPress performance team which occasionally rolls out new plugins for users to test ahead of possible inclusion into the actual WordPress core. So it’s a good opportunity to be first to try out new performance technologies.

The new WordPress plugin is by default set to prerender “WordPress frontend URLs” which are pages, posts, and archive pages. How it works can be fine-tuned under the settings:

Settings > Reading > Speculative Loading

Browser Compatibility

The Speculative API is supported by Chrome 108 however the specific rules used by the new plugin require Chrome 121 or higher. Chrome 121 was released in early 2024.

Browsers that do not support will simply ignore the plugin and will have no effect on the user experience.

Check out the new Speculative Loading WordPress plugin developed by the official core WordPress performance team.

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How Analytics Handles Prerendering

A WordPress developer commented with a question asking how Analytics would handle prerendering and someone else answered that it’s up to the Analytics provider to detect a prerender and not count it as a page load or site visit.

Fortunately both Google Analytics and Google Publisher Tags (GPT) both are able to handle prerenders. The Chrome developers support page has a note about how analytics handles prerendering:

“Google Analytics handles prerender by delaying until activation by default as of September 2023, and Google Publisher Tag (GPT) made a similar change to delay triggering advertisements until activation as of November 2023.”

Possible Conflict With Ad Blocker Extensions

There are a couple things to be aware of about this plugin, aside from the fact that it’s an experimental feature that requires Chrome 121 or higher.

A comment by a WordPress plugin developer that this feature may not work with browsers that are using the uBlock Origin ad blocking browser extension.

Download the plugin:
Speculative Loading Plugin by the WordPress Performance Team

Read the announcement at WordPress
Speculative Loading in WordPress

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See also: WordPress, Wix & Squarespace Show Best CWV Rate Of Improvement

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