Headers are more than just an exciting soccer move, but actually play a very important role in Search Engine Optimization. Incorporating headers into your website can help improve web traffic and SERP rankings.
Headers are a part of a webpage’s architecture that help separate titles from the main text of the page. There are six levels of headers that start with header 1, or h1, and go all the way down to header 6, h6. H1s are the most important, usually the title on the page, and are a very broad description of the topic at hand. As the header numbers increase, their text gets more specific, but they also become less important. For example, let us look at the headings for a hypothetical ice cream shop.
<h1>Scoops Ice Cream Shop Menu</h1>
As you can see, as the header numbers increase, the topic gets more specific, from the menu, to the title of the page, to the type of ice cream, to the ice cream flavors, to the toppings before taking a step back to move onto a different type. It is important to note that you cannot skip levels in your headings. Jumping from a h1 to an h3 will break the HTML coding. Additionally, every page should have one h1 heading, but only one h1 heading. H1s are the most important heading, but having more than one creates confusion both for customers and search engines.
Headers and SEO
So how exactly do headers help optimize your webpage?
Headers help denote important title text from the rest of the information on the page. Google’s Hummingbird algorithm uses headers, especially the h1 and h2s, to determine pertinent information on the page and help put relevant sites on their result page. Looking back at our example from earlier, the ice cream shop would rank well for “local soft serve”, a h2, but be ignored for “local sprinkles”, a h5.
Organization, both for you and the visitors of your web page, is another benefit of headers. Headers help to provide structure for the pages, as well as keep them organized. Pages look better and can make content easier for users to find.
Search engine algorithms compare headers against the body text of a page when determining what to put on a results page. Headers that match the body text get ranked higher, while mismatched headers and text will fall in the rankings.
Pitfalls of Headers
While headers are an easy thing to start with when optimizing your website, there are a few things to avoid.
Too Many or Too Few h1s
Each page should have one h1 heading, but only one h1 header. The h1 header is a vital part of the page layout and SEO, but multiple h1s usually confuse both readers and algorithms.
Spamming Text into Headers
Headers are important in identifying keywords and other important information on a page. However, tons of headers or headers with paragraphs of text are viewed as spam by some algorithms and hurt your search engine standings.
One older method of getting higher rankings on search engines was to put keywords unrelated to your product in headers on your page, but coloring them the same as your background. This prevented everyone but the search engine algorithms from seeing the text and would cause irrelevant pages to pop up on SERPs. Now this practice is considered unethical and your page will be penalized.
Although they do not have the biggest impact on your SEO, headers are an important part of your optimization process and an easy way to score some goals early on.
For more basic SEO, check out our Basics of the Basics article. For more pitfalls to look out for as you begin your journey, check out our 5 Pitfalls to Avoid When Beginning Your SEO Journey.