SEO

December 9, 2021

Alex Lindley

Alex Lindley is an expert copywriter and on-page SEO strategist.

What the H1? A Full Breakdown of H-Tags for SEO

Good writing is good writing, for SEO purposes and otherwise. That’s the rule. But there are a ton of little factors and recommendations that, when applied correctly, can give your web content a nice boost in the search engine rankings.

Header tags (H-tags) are a great example of that. There’s plenty of confusion surrounding these plucky little HTML tags, and you can find them used in hundreds of ways across the internet. 

Let’s set the record straight. Here’s how to use H-tags for SEO.

Hungry for more on-page SEO knowledge? Check out our On-Page SEO Crash Course or contact Hire a Writer.

What Are Header Tags?

Header tags are headings and subheadings on website pages. They are a function of HyperText Markup Language (HTML), the standard documentation for all documents meant to be displayed online. That includes all the landing pages, blog posts and other content on your website.

On the front end, H-tags may be styled in a way that communicates their importance. For example, the most important header tag, the H1, may be the largest text visible on the page. It may be bolded or even in a different font face.

But on the back end, basic HTML header tags all look pretty much the same in the code, minus some additional Cascading Style Sheets (CSS) styling you might see:

<h1>Text to display to the reader</h1>

Replace the ones visible in the code snippet above with the number that corresponds with the level of H-tag you’re writing, and you have your H-tag.

Types of H-Tags

There are six levels, or types, of H-tags:

  1. H1s
  2. H2s
  3. H3s
  4. H4s
  5. H5s
  6. H6s

For SEO purposes, you can go with this general rule: the higher the number, the less important it is to your content’s ability to rank well in search engine results pages (SERPs). So, H1s are most important, and H6s are least important.

Why H-Tags Matter for SEO

Why do H-tags matter for SEO? Because they play a big part in how Google and other search engines “read” your content. Search engines figure out what your content is about — and where it should rank in the SERPs — by going through the content bit by bit. And H-tags are one of the first elements they look at.

In other words, strategic use and writing of H-tags can tell search engines that your content is about the keywords you would like the content to rank for.

How to Use H-Tags in SEO Writing

You have two considerations when you’re trying to understand how to use H-tags in your SEO writing. First, you have to actually get them on the page. Then, you have to understand which H-tags to use, when and where.

For the first part, that will depend on whether you’re writing in Microsoft Word, Google Docs, WordPress or an entirely different word processor. In Google Docs, you simply highlight the text you want to turn into an H-tag, go to the Styles dropdown and select the heading level you want. Here’s what it looks like:

The process is pretty much the same in Microsoft Word and WordPress. The interface just looks a little different.

Now, for the second, more important, part. Here’s how you should use H-tags in your writing for SEO purposes.

H1s: The Most Important

Every single piece of content you write for your website or, if you’re a freelance writer, your clients, should have one — and only one — H1. We’re starting there because this is one of the most common mistakes writers make with H-tags.

By a large margin, H1s are the most important textual element on any webpage to search engines. They are essentially titles. Check the title of this blog post (the one you’re reading right now) — that’s the H1. It tells Google what the content is about.

H2s: The Sections

Your H2s are your top-level section headings. They are incredibly important in SEO copywriting, although not as important as the H1. Each main section of your content should have an H2 title.

H3s: The Subsections

If you’re breaking some of the sections in your content into subsections, you’re going to need H3s. You can probably see the pattern here: H3s are an important SEO writing consideration, but they have less weight with search engines than h2s.

H4s: Getting More Granular

Usually reserved for in-depth, long-form content, H4s can break a lengthy H3 section into even deeper subtopics. Same deal — all H-tags, including H4s, matter for SEO, but the higher the number, the less important they are.

H5s and H6s: Rarely Useful

H5s and H6s used correctly in online content are rare birds. You would have to be writing a monster of a blog post to find these very deep subheadings useful. Still, they exist, and if you need to use them, they add a little more to the SEO value of your content than plain paragraph text might.

H-Tag Best Practices for SEO

With a basic understanding of H-tags and how to use them, let’s take a look at some H-tag best practices for SEO writing:

Stack Them Appropriately 

H-tags need to appear in order. The H1 should be the first text on your page, and the only H-tag that can appear next is an H2. Under your H2s, you can have H3s, and so on. Keep in mind that the order restarts per each H2 section. After the section concludes, you can begin a new major section with an H2.

No Aesthetic H-Tags 

All six types of H-tags have default styling in web browsers. Often, web designers who don’t understand the SEO value of H-tags will use them for aesthetic appeal. They want big, bold text to appear in the sidebar, so they use an H1. This is called aesthetic H-tagging, and it’s not a good idea. 

H-tags should be used as we have described here in your content only, and the aesthetic text should be styled appropriately.

Avoid H-Tags in Footers 

A few elements of your website appear on nearly every page. These include the footer, header, sidebars and similar elements. If at all possible, you need to avoid having H-tags in these places. 

That’s because H-tags in your site’s footer will appear on every page and post, meaning search engines will try to make them fit with the subject matter of every page and post. If you have an H2 in your footer that says “Sign Up for Our Newsletter,” you risk Google thinking that every single page on your site has something to do with a newsletter.

Include Keywords 

Search engines start with H-tags when they read and rank your content. That means you need to include your keywords in your H-tags if you want to have a chance of ranking for them. 

Don’t overdo it, of course, but try to work your target keyword and variations into a handful of your H-tags in each blog post or page you write.

Start with H-Tags, End with Better Rankings

If you’re trying to improve your on-page SEO, H-tags are a great place to start. They are relatively accessible to those with little to no SEO or digital publishing knowledge, and they have a measurable impact on your search engine rankings.

Still, H-tags are just one part of SEO and online copywriting. If you need help with your H-tags or anything else related to SEO writing, you’re already in the place to find it. Contact Hire a Writer.


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