Why use headings?
Do you want people to read what you write? Asking readers to read a full page of text with no headings, lists, photos, or other features to find the section of information they need might be asking for too much commitment. Ask yourself — honestly — what your response is when you see a webpage that is a wall of text unbroken by headings or lists? Statistics show that people do not want to read a wall of text. Many will quickly leave your website. Why ask our readers to face a wall of text when it is so easy to give them the gift of headings?
Headings are good for your readers
- Headings serve your readers. Your page title hinted that your page has information that readers are looking for, and a heading will help them find the specific information faster.
- Headings help with first impressions. Subconsciously, your readers are sighing with relief when they see that you used headings to help them find specific information and you are not going to expect them to read every word on this page.
- Headings are an opportunity to organize and highlight information. You have something to say in the next paragraph or three, so why not give it a heading that will draw your readers in to read what you have to say?
- Headings set the hierarchy of your information. Readers have a visual clue what information is most important, which information is equally important, and which information is supporting another idea.
- Headings are visually appealing and improve page layout
Headings are good for SEO
How do headings affect SEO? Headings are an opportunity to get your keywords seen. Search engines prefer that web pages follow guidelines for headings. We avoid negative search engine scores by adhering to the technical aspects of SEO, and by creating headings that make people excited to read what is on our pages. Using headings is a win-win, especially when it is done correctly.
Getting headings right
Headings follow a simple hierarchy. There are six, beginning with Heading 1 (H1) and ending with Heading 6 (H6). Heading 1 should be the largest text size, most important information for readers, and helpful for search engines if you do not have a title tag. The Heading 1 can be followed by a Heading 2 (H2) which is slightly smaller text, and the content should support the overall idea of the Heading 1. Heading 3's (H3) are slightly smaller text than a Heading 2. As headings get smaller, they hold less weight for the reader. The content under a smaller heading should support the larger heading above it. In most cases, you will not need to use Heading 5 or Heading 6, but it is good to know that they exist.
Let's start at the top
Page titles should follow technical guidelines and appeal to your readers.
All pages should have a Heading 1 (or H1) — just one on the entire page — and it should be your page title.
All of your page titles should be set to display as a Heading 1 so you do not have to think about it most of the time, but it is worth checking to make sure. A Home or Contact page, for example, may be missing a Heading 1 because these pages have special content. A little investigation and a quick fix can help improve your SEO.
Best Practices Tip
Do not make all of your headings H1. It is tempting because you can get attention with those big headings, but it is bad for SEO and your readers will not have important visual cues for your information.
Most of the time your web content will begin with your best idea and your Heading 1 (page title) should announce what it is. The information that follows will support that main idea, but how do we use headings effectively to show how our ideas support and connect?
Since we have determined that the page title is the one and only Heading 1, page content will need to follow correct ordering for every heading that follows. Begin with your best supporting idea, and give that section a heading. Your heading should:
- Signal importance of this idea/information
- Help the reader find information quickly
- Indicate how this piece of information is connected (or not connected) to the information above and below it
Heading structure is similar to creating an outline. Begin with your most important idea, and offer supporting information.
Follow the rules for best results
Generally speaking, you should be able to follow the list of headings in order for a simple page where each of your headings is about information that supports the previous idea. The heading size signals to your reader the level of importance and connectedness of each idea and piece of supporting information.
H2: Supports the page title idea
H3: Supports H2 idea
H4: Supports H3 idea
But what do you do when you have three main points to support an idea?
Use the same size heading for each idea with the same weight. In other words, if ideas 1, 2, and 3 are all supporting your title, give them the same size heading. If one of those ideas has additional information supporting it that might be a good place for a heading, use the next size heading so the reader knows how the information is organized.
When to add headings
If you tend to write short pages and blog posts, you will not need many headings. When you have a lot to say, you may have several headings. You do not need a new heading for every paragraph, but you do want to add a heading to signal your reader that you are making a new point. If you're still not sure, do some research. Check out how other people have used headings, and use similar techniques for your own web writing.