I’m having a bit of a difference of opinion over the importance of headings – specifically H1, H2 and H3 tags. A while back I made some suggested changes to our standard operating prodedure with regard to creating website rough drafts. Several of my changes were adopted and have since been implemented into our SOP, but the recommendation that keyword-rich headings be incorporated into all rough drafts wasn’t. I was a little ticked…mostly because of all the small changes I suggested, I felt the proper use of headings had the potential to have the biggest impact in the short-term.
Some of the powers that be were supposedly informed by “someone with a great deal more knowledge and experience in the field of SEO…” than I that headings don’t impact ranking and are “an old SEO trick”. I disagree whole-heartedly, but haven’t really done enough long-term testing on multiple sites to back my claims up with supporting data. The sad part is that he doesn’t have supporting evidence either, but apparently his “reputation” provides him with enough authority to not have to support his contentions with actual proof. It certainly made me question his commitment to the aspects of on-page SEO and wonder if he’s mostly a link whore.
Headings Just Make Sense
Just the theory behind paragraph headings themselves speaks to the very core of SEO…usability. Paragraph headings are a short and sweet summary of the text content below it. They naturally lend themselves to the inclusion of the search terms targeted by the content that follows. Since we all know that keyword density itself is a myth and that the positioning of keywords within the content is what is important, but what about headings? It only seems natural that extra “weight” would be given to whatever terms the search engines find within heading tags.
One would also have to assume that to a certain extent LSI would demand that primary terms be identified clearly – based in part on their position within the context of the page content. Headings seem like a natural, user-friendly way to communicate the focus of the text information included within a website page to algorithms, as well as users. Just like internal linking improves a user’s ability to navigate to the information they desire, headings improve a user’s ability to scan content and locate the specific information they need within a given page. Right?
Using Multiple Heading Tags
I’ve used multiple H1, H2 and H3 tags on a single page without any noticible decline in ranking. On the other hand, I’ve come across a number of sources that indicate using each of them only once on a single page is optimal. I have decided to let a test page ride for 30 days with multiple headings and determine where the ranking ends up. I’ll then modify it to include just one H1, H2 and H3 tag to see what impact, if any, it has on the ranking. I may then remove the headings from the same page altogether to see what, if any, difference that makes. I guess that will help me answer the question regarding the importance of headings for myself.
In the meantime, I’d love to get some feedback regarding other’s experiences and opinions regarding H1, H2 and H3 tags. Important? Not important? Old SEO Trick? An essential element of on-page SEO? You tell me! My experience lends itself to support the argument that they are “important” and “an essential element of on-page SEO”, but I’m still technically a rookie…I need some industry vets to weigh in here.
Let’s say that as far as search engines go, heading tags made no difference in terms of SEO (incidentally – I think they do). So someone comes along with a web page that ranks #1 through xyz searches. There’s still no guarantee that the user will click through to the page. Who knows what the browser will display as the search result extract. At least by using proper headings we can contol what will be displayed as the ‘call to action’ to the user.
If i’m wrong, please let me know.
Hey, Steve. Thanks for your comment. As far as I know, headings have no influence over the text shown within SERPs. Most search engines either choose to use the page’s META description…which is why the META description for a page should always be a solid call to action that will ultimately entice the search user to click through to the site.
Sometimes search engines simply select text content from the page itself to display as the “description” within SERPs. There are a number of robots tags available that can help you better control what description is shown within the results.
The first is “noodp”, which is designed to prevent DMOZ from overwriting the title and description – this only works for the home page, as far as I know. There is also the “noydir” tag which stops the description and title tag overwrites often carried out by the Yahoo! Directory. The last, “nosnippet”, applies to Google and helps to prevent Google from generating a description based on the text content of the page.
There may be other ways to address such issues, but those are the tactics I have employed in the past to better control what search users see when my sites appear within search results.
Thanks for taking time to comment! :)
Proper use of heading tags is still SOP with us — while there’s plenty of love to be had from links, who wants to miss out on what good well-coded HTML can offer? While I doubt that heading tags will make or break a page, good semantic markup reinforces what a page is about, both for users, and search engines, which is more than reason enough to add them, imho.
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