Headings and subheadings help to organize your content primarily for better readability by providing a solid structure to it. When they are used properly throughout your content, your readers can easily go through the entire blog post even if it were a bulky one having 5k words or more. They can understand you better and jump to different sections of the post that they immediately need. Using headings and subheadings in the right way can also indirectly influence your SEO.
You started with a seed of an idea to define the purpose of your little blog post, found the perfect topic suited to that purpose, did some hardcore research, created an outline planning your content, brainstormed to grab an attractive headline for your post and even learned about writing a suitable introduction. Now it’s time to build a solid structure for your blog post with the help of headings and subheadings. Let me try to help you somewhat to that goal.
What are the Heading Tags?
When talking about headings and subheadings content writers use a seemingly different language which is actually simpler than it seems. Heading tags are different titles and subtitles that you want to show on your page, with the most important one being an <h1> and the least important being an <h6>. There are <h2>, <h3>, <h4>, and <h5> in between, respectively decreasing in their importance with respect to your content.
Web content is displayed with the help of a web browser and the web browser displays the content using a language known as HTML (Hyper Text Markup Language). These tags are actually HTML tags, telling the web browser how to display your content to your readers.
Since this is a blog about blogging and more specifically blogging on WordPress, I’ll use WordPress header tags from now on which are H1, H2, H3 and so on. They are the same as their HTML cousins.
What is a Heading?
A heading is a string of words to describe the title of your post. That means you have already covered it while learning about creating the headline of your blog post. Your headline is the most important heading of your content and that’s why it needs an H1 heading. There should not be more than one H1 heading in your post.
While it’s not exactly necessary here to differentiate between the H1 heading or your blog post title and your SEO title, it’ll be better if I just state that the two are not the same thing though they can look very similar. Maybe I’ll write about it in a separate post later.
What are Subheadings?
Subheadings are strings of words to describe different sections of your post, with primary focus on enhancing reader comprehensibility though they can help in a few secondary areas too like better accessibility and better SEO.
Subheads use H2 and H3 headers most often, but they can certainly also use H4, H5 or H6, if and as your content demands them. No one really uses further than H3 because it can complicate matters for the readers instead of simplifying them. Also no web content is long enough to justify the use of H4 subheads and further.
Why Use Headings and Subheadings?
Headings and subheadings inside a web content are used mainly for these reasons:
Think of the natural flow of your content – the title becoming automatically the super-heading or the H1 heading, the introduction needing no heading of its own, the main body with as many subheadings as it needs starting with at least one H2 header and lastly a conclusion separating itself from the main body with another H2 header.
It’s all about providing that beautiful structure you’re building your article on so that your readers can easily navigate through your content and understand exactly what each section is about by just skimming through the headings.
Time is so precious and content is so in abundance. So the readers prefer to scan through the headings and subheadings to first get the general idea of the content. They don’t usually read a blog post from start to finish but jump to those sections that pique their interest or solve their immediate queries. Having a proper structure to your text then helps them to understand your content as well as navigate around the content as they wish.
Having headings and subheadings clearly defining every nook and cranny of your article, visually impaired people will find it easy to read or listen to with the help of a screen reader. “A screen reader is a form of assistive technology that renders text and image content as speech or braille output.” As headers are actually HTML tags, a screen reader understands them perfectly well and is thus able to provide full value of your content to your readers, whether they are visually impaired or illiterate or having a learning disability.
As I said before, using headings and subheadings in a particular way or not doesn’t directly influence your SEO but it can have an indirect impact. This is because:
- Whatever improves the accessibility also improves SEO.
- Using headings and subheadings make the text in your content more readable, thus improving your SEO.
- As they make navigation easier, your blog post will have lower bounce rates; hence improving your SEO.
Contrary to what the ideas about SEO might suggest, writing for the reader first can actually be the best SEO advice. Headings and subheadings are important because of that, providing the needed layout of your content for better understanding by your readers.
How to Use Headings and Subheadings
How to use headings and subheadings in your content is probably the simplest lesson in any content writing course; still people often forget or ignore it when they write. So here it is again:
Your blog post title is your H1 heading. Period. You don’t even have to set it. Just typing the title of the post in the WordPress editor will suffice.
There should always be one H1 heading per post. Since your title does the job automatically, you don’t actually have to use an H1 yourself.
Anything said in the post about blog post headlines thus automatically applies here too.
Remember how your introduction separates the main body of your article from the title? You must have one H2 heading at the start of the main body. For example, in this post itself, I have started my main body by writing an H2 heading, “What are the Heading Tags?”. One could certainly have written that without using any subheading but that would have been lacking the structure needed for readability and comprehensibility above anything else.
Then as the content progresses and demands to have a second main subheading describing a different area of focus, you use another H2 followed by another and so on. For me, it was “What is a Heading?”, “What are subheadings” and so on. Keep it simple really and trust your common sense.
When one of your subheadings having an H2 header to it is fairly long and can be broken down into different parts, do so with the help of H3 headers. I did that to describe four key points of “Why Use Headings and Subheadings?” before. That means “Providing Structure”, “Helping Readers”, “Improving Accessibility” and “Improving SEO” – these all are sub-subheads having an H3 header assigned to each.
Feel free to use as many H2 and H3 subheadings as your content must need in order to be understood better. Some advise to have separate subheads when a certain word count has been crossed. I want to leave that choice to you, just think from your readers’ perspective.
Using H4, H5 or H6
Don’t use them. At least try to avoid them by any means. But if you ask me, don’t use them. Why? Firstly you’re actually making it more complicated for your readers by bringing those headers into your post, leaving them more confused to understand the relevance of those extra sections. And secondly you’re explicitly telling Google or other search engines that those sections are less important (those headers decrease in importance, remember?) parts in your content.
You can try a bullet list or a numbered list when you feel like you still have some important things to point out, even in an H3 subhead. I did exactly this in the “Improving SEO” section, further giving three key points explaining how SEO gets improved with the help of headings and subheadings.
Tips To Use
I’ve tried to stress the importance of using headings and subheadings in your article mainly from a structural viewpoint mostly concerned with reader comprehensibility. But you can also take further help from the following tips to optimize your headers:
Plant Focus Keyword
If you’ve done some research before writing your content, chances are that you have already a focus keyword on your mind for which you want to rank your content. If you’ve not done keyword research separately, chances still are that you automatically have a focus keyword inside your content. For example, this post has the focus keyword as “headings and subheadings” (No surprise there!). Discover your focus keyword if you’ve not done any prior keyword research then.
You must have your focus keyword in your blog post title for better SEO. This is pretty common knowledge. But the same thing can be done in your H2 headers. Try planting your focus keyword on two or more of your H2 headers, without looking desperate of course. It never should strike as odd or ugly to the readers. Now read my headers again. Do they sound ugly or irrelevant?
Some may say to stuff your focus keyword in the H3 headers as well. It can certainly further boost SEO but has a higher chance of looking ugly. Do include where it’s relevant though.
Keep Attract Value Intact
Remember sitting down and scratching your head to chose that perfect happy title for your blog post? You can follow the same process while choosing every header on your article too. But that may also take forever.
Try asking questions in the headers, put some positive words in them or trigger some emotions through them. Just don’t tease your readers with your headers to the point of despair.
Always Keep Context Relevant
The primary focus of your headers is describing to your readers what each section in your content is about. So keeping the context relevant should always be your primary focus. Don’t ever lose that while trying to make them as catchy as possible. It’ll have a negative impact for sure then.
Now that you know why and how to use headings and subheadings in your blog post, you’ve completed the seventh step of writing compelling blog posts. In the next post, I’ll talk about using rich media along with your text to make your overall content attractive to both human readers and search engines.
Have a happy and creative week ahead fellas.