How familiar are you with headers in the context of websites and blogs?
In writing, headers are used to organize thoughts on a page, and they’re an easy way to clarify to readers that a new idea is about to start. On a webpage, we see them in a larger, bolder text to distinguish them from the rest of the words on the page.
When building the page, people often create them as a bold text with a larger font size than the normal text. It gets the job done, aesthetically, but it’s ignoring one very important component of search engine optimization, and that’s crawlability. Instead, a more search friendly practice is to clarify headers as headers using the appropriate HTML tags, such as <h1>, <h2>, etc.
When search engines crawl a page, they look for elements such as headers, schema markup, keywords — clear clues to what the page’s purpose is. Using a header element not only clarifies the beginning of a new topic, but it’s a clear hint elevated to search engines that it’s the start of a new thought.
Listed below are two examples of headers. One is marked up as a header using HTML while the other is written in bold and size 31 font. Appearance wise, they’re almost identical. The real question is, which one is the search engine that’s crawling this page going to understand as the real header and which one is plain text? (Hint: it’s the actual header marked up with the appropriate HTML tag.)
The Impact of Headers on a Page
When it comes to using headers, it’s a best practice to use them when necessary. But when we take this a step further, past a user-friendly practice to an accessibility standpoint, it’s an integral part of being discovered by search engines.
Mentioned here is a blog post that was published in February 2019. The blog post was lengthy and informative, but it continued to barely be visible in the search engine results pages, or SERPs. We optimized the article after noticing the headers were displayed using bold text instead of proper h2 tags. After we made the change, we were able to see great improvement.
Search Console shows that a short spike in impressions appears in early October, followed by a large increase in January, and it continues to climb. The average position of the page has improved to roughly 16 as of April, and the click-through rate fluctuates between 1% and 2%.
Google Analytics shows organic sessions beginning to generate traffic, as March 2020 had 700 sessions.
The same goes for older blog posts as well as this blog post that was originally posted in 2013. After we updated the headers from bold text to actual header tags, we found success in the SERPs as well.
Beyond User Accessibility
Headers are an integral part of writing when it comes to developing content. They allow authors to guide readers through content more easily and properly set up their next thought in a clear manner. But headers serve a bigger purpose than that: They allow a site to be crawled, understood by search engines, and properly displayed for the right audience to find it and read.
Now that you understand headers, check out this BigWing blog post to get up to speed on all things SEO: “SEO Questions to Ask Your Digital Agency.”