What Are Heading Tags and Why Are They Important to SEO?

Table of contents distinguishes sections much like H1 tags.

Heading tags. They seem like a small little detail on your webpage, but they can have a big impact on how users and search engines understand your webpage content.

Many website publishers inadvertently get this wrong. In this article, I’ll explain:

What Are Heading Tags?

Heading tags are HTML code on a webpage that, when applied properly to title and subtitle text, help distinguish the parts of a webpage and tie ideas together. Using heading tags can help search engines and website visitors easily distinguish between a main section and a subsection on the page and how those sections relate to one another.

In a nutshell, you can think of heading tags as a way to set up the table of contents on a webpage.

So what do heading tags actually look like? There are different levels, namely H1, H2, H3, H4, H5 and H6. In HTML code, it would look like this for an H1:

<h1>Example Heading</h1>

Your website readers see the heading tags rendered as different-sized headings on the page. (Technical note: Each heading level’s font and size attributes are specified in your website theme or CSS.)

For example, for the article “What Is SEO Training?,” you can see the H1 tag on the code side of the page here:

HTML code displaying H1 tag.

And when you look at the webpage, that H1 tag serves as the title for the webpage:

H1 tag serves as title of webpage.

For another example, the H1 of this article appears at the top: ”What Are Heading Tags and Why Are They Important?” The next section — the one you are reading right now — starts with an H2 tag and reads: “What Are Heading Tags?”

Note about “title”: The H1 heading functions like a title for readers. So in WordPress, the text box where you type in the H1 heading at the top of the editor window has the label “Add title.”

WordPress post editor where you enter H1 tag.

However, don’t be confused. The page’s title tag (also known as the SEO title or the meta title) is a separate element, and you enter it elsewhere in the WP editor. (You can read more about title tags in our article: What Are Meta Tags?)

Why Are Heading Tags Important to SEO?

Search engines crawl webpages to understand better what they are about. One of the ways we can help search engines better understand the content on a webpage is through heading tags.

If you consider that heading tags act as a table of contents for a webpage, then you can see how scanning the heading tags on the page could quickly help the search engine know what the webpage is about.

Of course, search engines are always getting better at understanding webpage content. So heading tags alone do not make or break a webpage’s rankings.

However, many of the same principles that search engines were built on long ago for crawling and understanding web documents still apply today. Heading tags are a simple way to help them do their job.

Google advises using heading tags strategically. Google’s Search Engine Optimization (SEO) Starter Guide, it recommends heading tags as a way to emphasize your main topics and how they’re organized on the page:

Use meaningful headings to indicate important topics, and help create a hierarchical structure for your content, making it easier for users to navigate through your document. … Imagine you’re writing an outline … Similar to writing an outline for a large paper, put some thought into what the main points and sub-points of the content on the page will be and decide where to use heading tags appropriately.

Not only that but heading tags help you structure a webpage so that it is more primed for being selected as a featured snippet (also known as position zero). You can read more about that in our article: 3 Surprising On-Page SEO Techniques You May Not Know About

Finally, think about your website as a whole, like a book. Each webpage contributes to that book. Each webpage has a main topic (the H1), and contributes to a section (or chapter) of the website.

This concept is useful when thinking about organizing your entire site into a clear theme with a good hierarchy. You can learn more about that here: SEO Siloing: What, Why, How

How to Set Up Heading Tags

You want to set up your webpage so that both search engines and users can read it with ease and easily connect the dots on the topic you are writing about. Heading tags help you do that.

They create visual markers so that a reader knows, “Yes, this is a subsection about XYZ of the main topic.” For search engines, headers help them better understand the topic because the webpage is more organized. The benefit for SEO is increased relevance for searches.

The sequence of heading tags H1, H2, H3, H4, H5, H6 should be used in order to create a hierarchy. You can create subsections all the way to H6, but we typically don’t see webpages that go beyond the H4 tag as a practical matter.

An H1 heading tag should always correlate to the main topic of the page. Subsequent sections default to an H2 tag. You can have more than one H2 tag, but it’s not common to have more than one H1 tag, which represents the main topic of the page.

Further, if an H2 section has subsections underneath that, they would start with H3 tag, and so on. Confused yet?

To further illustrate, here is an example of a fictional article on how to make homemade cat food. The heading tags coincide with the main topic, its subsections, and the subsections of those subsections:

How to Make Homemade Cat Food (H1 tag)
Choosing Cat Food Ingredients (H2 tag)
Raw versus Cooked (H3 tag)
Choosing a Meat (H3 tag)
Poultry (H4 tag)
Rabbit (H4 tag)
Beef (H4 tag)
Supplements (H3 tag)
Fish Oil (H4 tag)
Safflower Oil (H4 tag)
Flax Oil (H4 tag)
Putting It All Together (H2 tag)
Top 5 Cat Food Recipes (H3 tag)
Final Thoughts on Making Homemade Cat Food (H2)

Be sure to use important keywords in your heading tags, whether H1, H2, or H3 or so on. This can strengthen the relevance of the webpage for a search query.

The Do’s and Don’ts of Heading Tags

Finally, here’s a handy list of do’s and don’ts when it comes to heading tags:

  • Do include an H1 on every webpage. Each webpage should have at least one heading tag because every webpage has a main topic.
  • Do use heading tags in hierarchical order on a webpage. This keeps web content organized and easy to understand.
  • Do make sure each heading tag is unique, concise, and compelling to the reader.
  • Do include important keywords in your heading tags, especially the H1.
  • Don’t use excessive headings. Too many can dilute the theme of the page. Use them strategically as a table of contents instead.
  • Don’t put buttons or navigation links into heading tags.
  • Don’t use headings as a way to style text that isn’t an appropriate header. If you simply want the formatting of the webpage to change, use CSS instead. Also, don’t use headings when bolding the text might do instead.

Now that you know what a heading tag is and why it’s important to SEO, take stock of your webpages. Are they set up to maximize the value of heading tags?

There’s a lot more to know about optimizing webpages for SEO, so check out our SEO Guide to keep the learning going.

If you could use expert assistance with your SEO projects, I invite you to contact us for a free consultation today.

FAQ: How do heading tags contribute to optimizing webpage content for better SEO?

Heading tags are pivotal in optimizing webpage content for better SEO outcomes. The HTML tags H1-6 serve as markers to demonstrate the hierarchy of your content, with H1 being the highest and H6 being the lowest importance levels, respectively. This hierarchy not only assists in visually organizing content but also signals to search engines the significance of each section.

Search engines utilize heading tags to grasp the context and relevance of your content. Properly utilizing heading tags helps search engine crawlers understand your content’s main ideas, leading to improved indexing and potentially higher search rankings. It’s essential to align your heading tags with the content’s semantic structure, incorporating relevant keywords to enhance search engine visibility.

For instance, optimizing a blog post about “Healthy Meal Planning,” employing an H1 tag for the main title, “Your Guide to Healthy Meal Planning,” signals its importance to search engines. Subsequent sections, such as “Benefits of Balanced Nutrition” and “Weekly Meal Prep Tips,” can use H2 and H3 tags, respectively. This coherent structure not only aids readers in navigating the content but also assists search engines in comprehending its organization.

To make the most of heading tags, prioritize user experience alongside SEO. Visually, well-formatted headings break down content into digestible sections, making it easier for readers to scan and engage with your material. Moreover, headings enhance accessibility for all users, including those relying on screen readers. Search engines value user-friendly experiences, so ensuring your headings are meaningful and descriptive benefits your audience and your SEO efforts.

Heading tags are a fundamental aspect of optimizing webpage content for improved SEO. They establish a clear content hierarchy, aiding readers and search engines to comprehend the context and significance of different sections. Using appropriate heading tags and incorporating relevant keywords can enhance your website’s search engine visibility and provide a more enjoyable user experience.

Step-by-Step Procedure: How to Optimize Webpage Content Using Heading Tags for Better SEO

  1. Understand the Hierarchy: Familiarize yourself with HTML heading tags from H1 to H6 and their corresponding hierarchical significance.
  2. Keyword Research: Identify relevant keywords for your webpage content that align with user search intent.
  3. Main Title Optimization: Use an H1 tag for the main title of your content, incorporating a primary keyword to emphasize its relevance.
  4. Subheading Structuring: Employ H2 and H3 tags for subheadings, breaking down content into meaningful sections related to your main topic and using relevant keywords.
  5. Content Organization: Ensure a logical flow of content under each heading, maintaining coherence and relevance.
  6. Keyword Incorporation: Integrate chosen keywords naturally into heading tags and content, enhancing the SEO value.
  7. Avoid Overuse: Use heading tags judiciously; avoid overloading content with excessive headings.
  8. Semantic Structure: Align heading tags with the semantic structure of your content, making it easy for search engines to understand.
  9. Visual Formatting: Implement CSS to style heading tags for improved readability and visual appeal.
  10. Accessibility Consideration: Craft descriptive and meaningful headings for all users, including those with disabilities.
  11. Mobile Responsiveness: Ensure heading tags maintain their effectiveness and formatting on mobile devices.
  12. Regular Review: Periodically assess and update heading tags to reflect content changes and evolving keyword strategies.
  13. Avoid Keyword Stuffing: Prioritize content quality over keyword density; avoid stuffing headings with keywords.
  14. Consistency in Styling: Maintain consistent formatting and styling for all heading tags throughout the content.
  15. Header Tag Skip Navigation: Implement skip navigation for assistive technology users to jump directly to the main content.
  16. Testing and Validation: Validate your webpage’s HTML to ensure proper usage of heading tags and troubleshoot any issues.
  17. User Experience Testing: Evaluate the content’s readability and user experience, making improvements as necessary.
  18. Monitor SEO Performance: Keep track of search engine rankings and organic traffic to assess the impact of heading tag optimization.
  19. Adapt and Evolve: Stay updated with SEO trends and algorithm changes to adjust your heading tag strategy accordingly.
  20. Continuous Improvement: Regularly analyze and refine your heading tag approach based on user engagement and SEO outcomes.

By following these steps, you can harness the potential of heading tags to optimize your webpage content for better SEO, enhancing both search engine visibility and user experience.

Bruce Clay is founder and president of Bruce Clay Inc., a global digital marketing firm providing search engine optimization, pay-per-click, social media marketing, SEO-friendly web architecture, and SEO tools and education. Connect with him on LinkedIn or through the BruceClay.com website.

See Bruce's author page for links to connect on social media.

Comments (32)
Still on the hunt for actionable tips and insights? Each of these recent SEO posts is better than the last!

32 Replies to “What Are Heading Tags and Why Are They Important to SEO?”

This is amazing! Happy to visit this one.

Agree! The benefit of SEO is increased relevance for searches.

Very educational. I’ll apply all these tips on our website as well. Cheers.

do you think no follow link works?

Robert Stefanski

Hi Website,

Thanks for your question! The nofollow attribute is one tool that works when you are link pruning and removing unwanted links that can harm your site. Nofollow can help in flagging spam or sponsored links, but Google has introduced two additional attributes to identify the nature of links and determine whether the link should be included in search. (For more on this, visit: https://developers.google.com/search/blog/2019/09/evolving-nofollow-new-ways-to-identify)

Nofollow also works when you have agreed to include a link on your site that is not relevant to your niche, and you don’t want it to pass PageRank. Similarly, you’ll want to use the nofollow attribute on outbound links to sites that are off topic and irrelevant to your site.

This article on Search Engine Journal may give you more information: https://www.searchenginejournal.com/when-to-use-nofollow-on-links/383468/

Excellent heading tag information and examples. Your website may succeed or fail as a result of this.

You have great content and very nice information.

I agree with you on this matter. We should use it to fully utilize our keywords because Search Engines check on how prominent our keywords are used on the web. Thank you for this very informative input you’ve shared.

If you consider that heading tags act as a table of contents for a webpage, then you can see how scanning the heading tags on the page could quickly help the search engine know what the webpage is about.

Many people still make mistakes with heading tags – keyword stuffing, duplicate H1s, etc. I am surprised by just how much disagreement there is on these strategies. Some of the AI writing tools I use suggest having a different H1 tag from your title tag, but I’ve found that keeping them the same, or as similar as possible, is a better practice overall.

Search Engines check how prominent our keywords are used within key elements of our web page. Heading tags are the right place to utilize our keywords. Thanks for the inputs you shared for heading tag optimization. It really sheds a lot of light on the importance of using the correct tags

Great examples and information regarding heading tags. This can either make or break your website.

Great information on here! Really learned a lot about heading titles and tags!

Thank you so much for the information that you gave, it really help me a lot.

One of the ways we can help search engines better understand the content on a webpage is through heading tags.

This is why text structure and heading use also impact SEO. Search engines pick up on people bouncing from your site.

Thanks for a complete guide n heading tags, I usually get confused on how many to use these tags on a web-page.

Great tips and looks pretty easy to implement on my starter blog :)

Heading tags indicate headings on a webpage by using code to tell a web browser how to display content. That’s why and how they organize your content into a format that’s easy to read. In addition to general structure and readability, heading tags help improve accessibility for people who can’t easily read screens

Thanks for a complete guide n heading tags, I usually get confused on how many to use these tags on a webpage.

Excellent! That header’s purpose is more concentrated on the page’s overall user experience.

Excellent! That header’s purpose is more concentrated on the page’s overall user experience.

Great advice – I’ve implemented it straight away.

Good article about headings. thanks for sharing and continue it.

Headings help users & search engines to read and understand text. For example, they act as signposts for the readers & make it easier for them to figure out what a post or page is about. Headings also define which parts of your content are important, and show how they’re interconnected.

Agreed, use this site as an example of proper heading tags! Thanks for the read

Search Engines check how prominent our keywords are used within key elements of our web page. Heading tags are the right place to utilize our keywords. Thanks for the inputs you shared for heading tag optimization.

This is why text structure and heading use also impact SEO. Search engines pick up on people bouncing from your site.

Thanks for a complete guide n heading tags, I usually get confused on how many to use these tags on a web-page.

Your website should have only one h1 tag. If you have more than one h1 tag on a page, change the other h1 tags to an h2 or h3. Your h1 tag should be at the top of the page content.

Absolutely! The role of that header is built more around the overall user experience of the page.

A good example is how heading tags are used on this page :-)

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