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How web page headings help your human readers AND search engines too

Well-constructed headings serve a crucial three-fold function in web content development. Well-written headings are important for SEO because they help the search engines deliver your web site to your potential readers through keyword searches.

Web page headings assist in locating, signalling and separating

Then, when readers find you, they will use your headings as page-local signals to decide—quickly—whether the information you’re offering is interesting and important to them. Once you’ve got your readers reading, headings and subheads will further direct your readers into information that’s relevant, and separate the information into bite-size chunks that can be easily skimmed.

When writing your web page headings, here are a few things to think about:

  • Think like your readers: Your headings are used by both search engines and human readers alike to categorize your information correctly and efficiently. Search engines have traditionally ranked headings higher than ordinary text, so you should load up your headings with high-level key words. For your human readers, headings are often the first things they notice, and readers will gravitate to those areas on your page that are most interesting to them. So, think about the keywords your readers are likely to use when searching for relevant websites, and use these keywords in your headings and your subheads.
  • Keep it clear: All those clever puns and plays on words might not have a major role in your web page. While they’re cute, and your human readers will “get it”, first they have to find you, and search engines just don’t quite have the same sense of humour as a human being. You can be witty, but be sure to include some recognizable “straight-ahead” stuff too.
  • Front-Load your Headings: While your headlines can be longish, the most important stuff should show up in the first part of the headline. This will provide better performance from search engines, and it’s something your readers will appreciate as they skim your pages to absorb the main messages fast.
  • Don’t Abbreviate: A search engine might get confused by an abbreviation and so might your readers. A quick example: does “Cal” mean “Calgary”, or “Cal-Train”? Or is it short for “calorie”? Maybe you’re referring to “The Golden State”?
  • Be Specific: If your web site is relevant to a specific geographic location, include the location’s name in your headings. Same for people’s names: maybe you’ve got an expert on your team, someone who is well-known in your community or industry. Include her name in a heading so people who are looking for her can get to you know you too.
  • Coordinate and Support: Your headings should “play well” with the other content in your pages. Top-level headings particularly should support and echo the theme that you’ve established in your page title and your meta-tags for optimum results.

In short, when you’re writing the headings for your web pages, it pays to be clear, concise, and consistent (although not repetitive), and to include those all important keywords in ample quantities.