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Introduction to H1s and SEO

Image via Flickr by Duane Storey

Search Engine Optimization (SEO) is something that can truly take your website to the next level. SEO is the umbrella term for a series of tools that, when used correctly, bring your content to the top of search engines. It’s a way of persuading search engines, such as Google, Yahoo, and Bing, that your page contains exactly what the user is searching for.

SEO allows for organic traffic—which is basically free traffic to your page. Oftentimes, you’ll hear keywords and phrases being an important part of SEO tools, and H1 tags fall under this as well. H1 or Header 1 is an HTML tag that denotes the primary heading on your webpage.

An Overview of SEO

Before diving into the importance of HTML Heading Tags and H1 tags, you should have a bit of an overview of the key components that make up the SEO umbrella that can raise the traffic generated to your website. Below are some keywords that you should know before doing a deep dive into the world of headers:

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  • Crawling/Indexing: Most people are familiar with the fact that search engines (like Google, Yahoo, Bing, etc.) peruse through billions of pieces of content and data when you type in a question or topic and spit out a list of ones that seem most relevant. What most people don’t know is that this process is called crawling, or sometimes, indexing.
  • Organic search results or organic traffic: Just as organic food means free from the processed nonsense, so does organic traffic with websites. An organic search result means it was earned through effective SEO and content management, rather than through paid advertising.
  • Keywords:In terms of SEO, keywords are the terms or phrases that people are searching for. In a perfect world, the search engine crawls through the World Wide Web and your website shows up in the organic search results due to proper keywords. Keywords should be determined based on three things:
    • Search Volume: Take into account how many people are actually searching for the keyword you’re proposing. The more searches being done, the bigger your potential audience.
    • Relevance: You want to select keywords that are not only searched frequently but also searched in the same context as it relates to the content on your page. So if your website is promoting shoes, you don’t want to select a keyword that is related to home improvement; but you may want to select clothing as a keyword tag because the same audience looking for shirts and pants may be interested in shoes.
    • Competition: Know what you are up against and who your prospective searchers are. From that, figure out the likelihood of your site ranking against the competition. It’s not to say you shouldn’t dream big, but you do have to be realistic in terms of where your best opportunities are.
  • Ranking: This refers to the order of the search results after using a search engine to seek results.
  • Traffic: In the world of cyberspace, traffic refers to visits on a page.
  • Content Syndication: A way to distribute and promote content to new audiences at a low cost.

What Are HTML Heading Tags?

Most people think that HTML is simply the website link, but it actually is a lot deeper than that. HTML is short for Hypertext Markup Language and describes the content and language on a webpage. HTML tags are keywords that are wrapped within that language to define how the content should be presented. The H1 HTML tag specifically defines how a section of that page navigation will look. With the use of HTML headings, such as the H1, you can structure your webpage to show areas of importance.

Why Are Headers Important?

Some people may think that headers are unnecessary for their website pages, when in fact they play a huge role when it comes to reader engagement. Living in this world of constant hustle and bustle, it’s very rare that any user is reading every single word on a website (or a book, magazine, or sign to be honest).

The majority of viewers, and people in general, are going to be professional skimmers. They will skim through the page in hopes of finding something that sparks their interest or answers their question. If you have one big block of text with minimal white spaces or headers, not even a skimmer is going to try to look through it. They’ll be intimidated or overwhelmed and simply choose another site.

If you have headers within your content, it breaks up the text and allows for easy skimming. If your page is able to work for a skimmer, the user will stay on the page longer, further advancing your rankings and traffic. Having headers on websites also is just more aesthetically pleasing. Even if you’re not having someone read every word, you still want your site to look presentable.

Part of being presentable is also keeping your content structured. A reader wants to engage with content that flows and is presented in a way that tells a story that they can follow. Having headers throughout the content helps the reader understand the flow of the story. Concurrently, even skimmers want content to be told in a well-organized story because they want to be able to know exactly where to skim to get the answers they need. From a writer’s perspective, headers help ensure that your messaging is aligning correctly to your original intent.

The usage of headers in your site also plays a factor in the ease of interaction on a mobile device. It’s more common for someone to be using the Internet and search engine functions on their phones than it is for them to be using a desktop or laptop. Due to this, making sure that your site is mobile-friendly is a huge priority. Luckily, headers within a site make for better usability on a mobile device, as once again it breaks up the text and is easier to scroll through for necessary information.

Lastly, as I’m sure you may have figured out by now, headings play a role in SEO and the likelihood of the site being spit out as a result of someone’s search engine query.

What Is Considered the H1 Tag?

The H1 tag usually represents the title or main headline on your webpage. H1 tags are usually the largest and most important tag on your site. It has distinctive text features as well. The H1 could be larger, bolded, or a different font, but it should stand out among the rest of the copy on the page. In the past, there used to be a rule that your site should only contain one H1 tag; however, as SEO has become smarter, it’s not that rare to have multiple H1 tags throughout your page and it doesn’t affect SEO rankings.

Figuring out what your H1 should be and how many you should have, should be based on how you’re organizing the content on that page. It’s a good idea to create an outline for yourself with all the topics you want to touch on and group your key points into subheading groups. If all of your subheadings can complement one another under an overarching theme, then you simply need one H1 tag.

If you feel like your subheader groups are too drastically different and need to be separated, then you’ll have more than one H1 tag. There’s no right or wrong way, as long as you’re grouping pieces together in a way that makes sense and provides the best experience for the user. That being said, from a user’s perspective, you want to be sure that the H1 contains keywords, phrases, or messaging that accurately depicts the content in the headers below it. If it doesn’t, users will quickly leave your page feeling that they were led astray.

How Do H1 Tags Play a Role in SEO?

H1 tags are not the only contributor to SEO rankings, but they absolutely bring benefits to your site directly and indirectly.

H1s Improve User Experience

When filled with relevant keywords, H1s signal to the search engines what your content is about, but also informs the user. If the user feels it’s a solid resource with valuable information that was accurately depicted in the H1, they will remain on the site. Spending an ample amount of time on the site will reduce bounce rates, which then improves SEO ranking.

As an example, say a user is searching for “how to write a resume” and stumbles on two pages: the first has a headline that says “Joining the Workforce After College,” and the second has a headline that simply states “How to Write a Resume That Lands You a Job.” Even though the first page may very well have information about writing a resume, potentially even more than the second page; the user will more than likely exit out of the first page and read through the second page because it’s more closely aligned with what they originally searched for.

H1s Help Search Engines Comb Through Your Content

Search engines comb through the coding in HTML of each site to get a read on what exactly is within the page. H1s are the highest-level tag within HTML and are given more weight than the other headers on your page. When the H1 is clear and concise, the search engine can better understand what your site is about and push it to users looking for that information.

H1s May Aid in Getting Your Site On the SERP

Search Engine Results Pages (SERPs) are the most sought-after spot when it comes to website searches. The SERP is the top box that comes up on a search engine, which contains a small excerpt of copy from the page that readers often are quick to click. While the H1 copy itself doesn’t appear in the SERP, it can answer the question that is being searched, which convinces the algorithm that your page has the information needed for the user.

How to Optimize H1 Tags

There are some simple ways to optimize your H1 tags that will encourage search engines to show your site to more viewers. Some of them include:

Have an H1 tag on each page of your website

Once again, it’s important to have structure within your content. If your user lands on your homepage and there’s an instant copy with no introduction header, they may not waste their time reading a chunk of text. It’s a good rule of thumb to have an H1 tag for all parts of your site. In making sure that you have headers on each page of your site, it’s also necessary to make sure all the headers are consistent–both in terms of messaging and format. The more consistent your site is, the more user-friendly it becomes.

Make the tags unique

Avoid using the same type of language for all H1s on your site. You wouldn’t want to see the same headline in a newspaper repeated throughout the issue, so why would you want to see it across a website? Be creative with your H1 copy, not everything needs to be said in an authoritative voice. Sometimes the best H1 copy is posed as a question to the reader.

Some content writers utilize the “So What” technique when it comes to writing headers. They start with what they believe is the all-encompassing theme of their page and proceed to ask themselves “so what?” This pushes them to define what’s important for a reader. For example, if you’re writing a piece about exercise, you may think your header is “Exercise is Important.” But if you ask yourself “so what?” you have to dig deeper. The internal dialogue could proceed like this:

  • Exercise is important for your health.
    • So what?
  • It keeps you healthier
    • So what?
  • You feel better about yourself.
    • So what?
  • So you have a healthy outlet.
    • So what?
  • So you’re not turning to unhealthy ways of dealing with stress

So your new headline just became: “Exercise is Important for Overall Physical and Mental Health.”

Go the extra mile

The description keywords used in your H1 tag could truly be what sets you apart from ranking first on search engine results or ranking on page seven. Instead of using cliché headlines like “About Us,” opt for something more descriptive like “About Our Craft Store.” It also makes your content more engaging.

Include art and design

There’s something to be said for an aesthetically pleasing website and webpage, and it applies to the headers as well. Don’t be afraid to add some color or contrast to your H1s so you can capture the reader’s attention and make it stand out.

Include keywords

When writing the H1 tag, make sure you try to include as many keywords as you can. If at any time you feel like you are just jamming keywords within a phrase to make it fit for a search result, it probably shouldn’t be there. Keywords should spark people, but only when it makes sense, and sometimes, it just won’t make sense. While that may mean you come up ranked as page seven versus page three, you stayed true to the messaging, and the content didn’t come across as misguided information to readers.

While H1 tags hold the most weight, it’s still constructive to use H2, H3, H4, H5, or even H6 tags so that you create a hierarchy and confidently present the areas that hold the utmost importance. When figuring out how to phrase the second header through the sixth header, you should stick to the same steps and tips as the ones used for H1 tags.

How to Tell if it’s Working

It’s only natural that after all the hard work you did adding and/or adjusting header tags on the site, you want to make sure it’s effective. You could do an SEO audit of your entire webpage, or perhaps for the less technical, you could just check a few more elements to ensure that you’ve done all you could to get your site to top-level rankings.

Below are some additional tips to aid in your SEO efforts:

  • Check for duplicated content: Duplicated copy doesn’t just refer to copy that was duplicated from another site; it also means copy that is duplicated within the other pages of your same site. Posting content twice (or three, or four times) does not help you gain more traffic; in fact, it does just the opposite. If you have repetitive content, search engines may penalize you. Duplicated copy from one of your site’s landing pages to another makes you appear untrustworthy or irrelevant. Simultaneously, copy that is duplicated from a top-ranking website just makes it seem like you are plagiarizing and will also not work in your favor in terms of rankings.
  • Review the speed of your site: Think about it on a personal level–if a site is taking more than 5 seconds to load, do you patiently wait, or do you instantly check if your WiFi is turned on? Chances are it’s the latter because, once again, we are in a world of hustle and bustle. It would be a shame if your website was filled with glorious content and beautiful H1 tags but took nearly eons to open. Be sure that your page is open and loading quickly so your readers aren’t disappointed after clicking a link to your site.
  • Check for broken links: Broken links are links that may have been deleted or are corrupt and can no longer be displayed when opened. If you’re reading something you find to be very reliable and go to click on another link within the site and get an error, you may start to question the reliability of the site. Plus, generally, it’s incredibly frustrating for a user to try to gather more information and come to a dead end. One way of avoiding broken links happening in the first place is by updating content instead of removing it.

How to code H1 tags

Coding HTML is a very intricate art. There’s a lot to learn, and it’s really like learning how to speak a foreign language. A basic tip for coding is to understand that each section of a site starts and finishes with indicators that are represented by brackets. The coding that goes inside the brackets signals what format or style that phrase should be in. The starting bracket is just <> but the closing bracket contains a slash to indicate it’s the end.

For coding header elements, the coding would be < h1 > followed by your actual title and then closed off with < /h1 > without the spaces in between the angle brackets. So if your H1 was titled Types of Dogs, your coding would look like this: < h1 > Types of Dogs< /h1 > with the spaces removed, and it would appear as:

Types of Dogs

Though there are several different methods to get your website to become popular among search engines, SEO and proper heading tags definitely play a large part. If your website is missing the correct SEO, H1s, or even H2s and H3s, it doesn’t matter how great your content is or how amazing the graphics on your site are.

Though at first the thought of breaking into the world of SEO and truly understanding HTML and H1 language sounds extremely daunting and borderline terrifying, once you dive in, you will unlock a world of possibilities that will strengthen your brand, content, and website.

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