How to Use Headings to Boost SEO – 5 Tips from Google

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By Boris Dzhingarov

Google’s regular SEO algorithm updates can make it difficult to work out exactly what the search engine giant wants from website owners. Fortunately, Google has provided a generous amount of guidance when it comes to optimizing content for SEO. Below are five tips for using headers to boost your website SEO that come straight from the horse’s mouth.

Provide A Clear Structure

There is a multitude of different factors that Google considers when they are assigning a page an SEO score. The nature of these considerations has changed somewhat over time, and Google’s algorithms have become much more sophisticated with regards to the way they analyze content.

Back in the early days of Google, SEO was determined mostly by how easy a website was for Google to index. Websites that made Google’s lives easier would be more likely to appear to the top of search results listings. However, Google’s search engine now tries as much as possible to assess a website as a person would rather than a machine.

So, while things like the architecture of your website and meta tags on images will improve your SEO score, many of the most important factors today are things like speed and readability, things that people care about much more than machines. Using headings to give your content a clear structure and to make it as easy as possible for a reader to skim over it for the information they want, are both effective ways of enhancing your SEO score.

Break Up Text And Improve Readability

For some time, Google has been trying to encourage website owners to create their websites with people in mind, not with Google’s search engine in mind. By making things like readability a priority in determining SEO scores, Google has codified this commitment and offered ample incentives for website owners to consider the structure of their content more carefully.

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Google’s search engine algorithms don’t like a page of unbroken text any more than a human reader would. Headings provide you with a simple but very effective tool for breaking up your text and making it easier for users to both read and skim over.

Some website owners fall into the trap of thinking that if they make their content highly scalable then when they will pay a penalty because users will spend less time on the webpage. However, in practice what actually happens is that users who are faced with an unbroken wall of text or a large number of paragraphs without any headings, will simply click off your website almost instantly and move on to the next one.

As well as making things easier for your readers, breaking up text using headings will also make your content more popular in general. Google’s own data suggest that making text highly scannable actually encourages users to read the whole thing. This, in turn, gives your content and organic popularity boost, something else that will help improve your SEO score.

Include Keywords In Your Headers

There are a number of different data points that Google uses to determine what the content and purpose of a web page is. The headers that you use in your content are one of these data points. Whenever Google is paying particular attention to any aspect of your website, it is a good idea to try and work some of your most important keywords into it.

As well as breaking the text up so that it is easy to skim over, your headings also provide you with a golden opportunity for using vital keywords. Of course, it is always important that you do not simply shoehorn your keywords in where they do not fit; you need to deploy them as naturally as possible. This also should not be taken as an indication that every heading on your page needs to contain a keyword, far from it.

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Your priority should always be to ensure that your content is highly readable and flows naturally. First and foremost, you should be optimizing your content for human users, and then focusing on Google second. However, it is always worth reviewing your content, paying particular attention to the headers that you use, and identifying any opportunities to deploy important keywords.

Optimize Your Content For Featured Snippets

Featured snippets are an exciting new feature that Google has introduced to make its SERPs more dynamic. If you can get some of your content included as a featured snippet, you can expect a significant boost to your traffic flow. Of course, getting your content included as a featured snippet is much easier said than done.

Fortunately, there are a couple of things you can do to improve your chances of having your content selected for this coveted position, including the savvy use of headers in your content. In fact, one of the most useful things you can do to increase your chances of being featured by Google is to optimize your headers for a long-tail keyword. Pay particular attention to voice search queries as this will enable you to target Google’s increasingly semantically-driven search algorithms.

Content is more likely to be selected for a featured snippet if the header tag is optimized for a voice search query and the main body of the content answers this query directly. You can further increase your chances by using subsequent headings to provide a list of key points. Google will use these headings to create its own bulleted lists within the featured snippets box.

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You Can Stick To H1

Despite Google’s best efforts to inform people, there is still a persistent SEO myth that Google frowns upon the use of multiple H1 tags. In actual fact, Google has made it abundantly clear that it has no problem with website owners only using the H1 tag on their pages.

That doesn’t mean that your default position should be to only use the H1 tags, but nor should you shy away from them out of a fear of being penalized. H1 tags are big and bold and they often look like titles. Of course, you don’t want your readers to be confused as to whether they are looking at a subheading or the title of a new article, so you will need to make a judgment call as to which approach is most suitable for your content. But provided that there is no confusion for the reader, using H1 tags throughout your articles is fine with Google.

The strategic use of headings is a great way to enhance your SEO. Many website owners overlook the importance of headings in an article in favor of the main body of text, but as Google has made clear – using headings effectively makes things easier for both your readers and their search engine.