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Writing good heading tags

by  David Dwyer on  11/02/2015    1553 Reads

Why knowing your H1 from your H2 is very good for your business

First things first: what do I mean by heading tags?  They are bits of code that define the size and style of the headings, sub headings, titles etc. on your page.  They're known as h1, h2, etc, in descending order of size.

Think of the last magazine page you read: it probably had a big, bold title, a few sub-titles to give you a broad over-view of the piece as you glanced down the page and then, if it was a long feature, smaller section titles so you can find more specific information, and so on.

On a web page, similarly, each type of tag has a specific job:
h1 tags are for page titles and introductory text: they need to convey the purpose of the page succinctly to both the reader and the search engine bots
h2 tags are for sub-titles, breaking your text up into large blocks for easy scanning
h3 tags are for section titles: smaller blocks of more specific information
h4 tags, the smallest of the lot, are for sub-sections: short blocks of very specific detail.

Unless you have a lot of information on a page, you won't need all four sizes of tag. 

Your h1 tag, or headline, has a lot to do, because it has to appeal both to the search engines and to the human reader.  You should only have one per page, because it's this tag the search engines look for to find and rank your page.  It has to contain enough relevant information for them to be able to do that; you can't afford just to use your heading tag as a design feature, however tempting it may be.  It also needs to act like any other headline, compelling your human reader to continue reading.  And it should have a call to action so that, even if the tag is only seen in the organic search results, readers will know what you want them to do.

From the human reader's point of view, h2, h3 and h4 tags help break up the text so that it can be skimmed easily, and you can use as many of them as your text requires.  Research has shown that people tend to scan web pages more than they do printed information; sub-headings help guide readers to what they want to find, so they're obviously very important in web copy.  When readers can find the information they need quickly and easily it makes your site more user-friendly and visitors are more likely to return to it. 

So there we are: another little bit of web content esoterica demystified!

David Dwyer is Managing Director of Inspire Web Development. He has years of experience in a range of web and IT roles plus seven years in sales and marketing in a blue-chip FMCG company. David's academic and professional qualifications include a BA (Hons) in Business Economics (Personnel & Ergonomics) from the University of Paisley, an MSc in Information Technology (Systems) from Heriot-Watt University and PRINCE2 Practitioner-level certification. He is also an active member of the British Computer Society, Entrepreneurial Exchange and Business for Scotland.

Follow Inspire on Twitter @inspireltd and @developersos

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