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Dec 6, 2009

Header Tags – What are they ? Where and How to Use Them Effectively

Most of us already know that header tags H1, H2, H3….H6 are an important SEO element in on-page optimization. But how important ? Can we add more than one H1 header tag on a page ? How often should H1 tags be repeated ? Where on a page should it occur ? More questions than answers, right ? Let’s try and answer a few.
How important are headers compared to other on-site optimization factors ?

First off, take off your SEO hat please. Header tags, as webmasters know are used for highlighting important titles on a page. Its been like that for years now. They are more or less like the ‘subject line’ on an email. The gist of what the content is.
For the same reason headers have been used extensively, either manually added or included as they were a part of a CMS or the web design software.
So, if you look at them from a users perspective, headers are anything that appears in large font, as a short description or title of the content, to skim through. Which is pretty much okay, that’s the way we have seen headers on the web all these years.
But looking at it from the SEO perspective (put on your darn hat pls), headers are much more than just large fonts or titles. They are the crux of the content, they are SEO elements search engines take time to read through and understand (figuratively speaking).
So yes, considering the on site optimization factors, headers are important. (We’ll also see how not to abuse them later on.)
Are they just text appearing in large sized fonts ?

Apparently not, even though they could be. Well, technically header tags normally appear as large size fonts because most of the browsers treat them that way. So unless you’ve worked on it, headers appear in comparatively large font to the content, because that’s what you see visually.
To the search engines, they are just text appearing between the header tags. Be it H1 or H2. Search engines might treat them differently based on their value, but font size is only a visual thing.
Where should you place H1, H2 header tags in terms of SEO ?

This is an important question. Regardless of what their font size is, or what the value is, its about where the header tags are placed that matters most. Usually, H1 tags are used for the titles of articles, placed often at the beginning of an article. But less attention is given to the supporting headers H2, H3 and beyond which are either under-utilized or not used at all.
If you select a normal HTML page without SEO being done, you could see that there mostly would be an H2 and may be an H3. Only very few CMS’s use other header tags, or they have to be included manually.
From my experience I’ve seen that H1 tags are best placed at the beginning of the article. Preferably the first header tag to be crawled, they should explain what the content is all about. Obviously use of primary keywords are welcome here.
H2 and H3 tags too perform well if used within the content, contextually, if I can call it that way. That is within the main article, as a subheading or as a paragraph title, where the secondary keywords can go. It supports the main title or the H1 in all possible ways.
Many a times, CMS’s including WordPress places H2 and H3 tags on the sidebar headings and not on the content (which obviously has to be done manually). This in a way, takes away possible attention from the content. Using the other header tags (H2, H3 and beyond) within the content is much recommended.
How can you effectively use header tags ?

As I mentioned earlier, to search engines, header tags are nothing but a piece of text that appears within the H1 / H2..H6 tags. And we know that if you use them with the default values on any CMS, they appear as large fonts, the biggest being H1 and then growing smaller from there.
You can control this by using CSS styles. Suppose you have a subheading within the main content, somewhere towards the middle of it and your primary keyword is used there, you would want to use an H1 on it and grab all the attention. But if you use the normal formatting options, the main title , which might be somewhere on the top of the article is likely to get an H1. To fix this, you could use the H1 on the title lying within the middle of the content and use CSS styling to make it appear with a smaller font. This way, the visual appearance isn’t affected. The main title remains the biggest, and the subheadings appear as usual with smaller fonts.
A word of caution here. Don’t overdo it as it may look “manipulated”. Use it only when required and in a healthy way, where ever applicable.
So, what are your thoughts ? How well have you been using header tags ?

1 comment:

  1. In my opinion header tags are very important in seo. It has given the second importance when compared with all other factors in on-page seo. header tags seo

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