The SEO and Usability of Page (Sub) Headings

I often see the page subheadings to be undervalued and underutilized, however they are great for making the page easier to scan as well as for encouraging visitors to stay and read.

So let’s discuss why the headings are important and how to make the most of them for better Internet marketing results.

Let’s start,


People may argue the overall SEO value of h1-h6 headings. The main argument is that there are plenty of websites that have a screwed structure of headings (or none at all) – and those sites do pretty well in Google. I like to answer that there are also many sites with non-existent SEO at all and many of them are ranked in top 10 for some keywords.

That being said, if you do well without correctly marked-up headings, it doesn’t mean you can’t do better once the heading structure is fixed.

Using h-heading to markup your page headings works for accessibility as well, because this makes it easier for screen readers to interpret the page.

The best practices of using h-headings include:

  • There should be only one H1 heading per page;
  • H1 heading should be the first heading on the page;
  • Heading levels should not be skipped (e.g. H1 to H3).

Put simply, you have your main idea (H1) and then supporting facts (H2) and sometimes those supporting facts have their own supporting facts (H3).


I don’t mean you need to stuff your heading with keywords in an effort to increase their prominence. But using the page-specific keywords throughout the headings is a good idea.

Think about usability in the first place: keywords used in the most prominent parts of the page will make it easier for visitors to associate the page with the topic and to quicker understand if that is something they are interested in:



This one doesn’t actually relate to SEO – what it definitely will improve is your page scannability (and thus the users’ experience and engagement and increase online conversion) . Besides, it will help your content look and sound more professional, better organized, easier to digest and follow:

1. Use one and the same grammatical construction for each heading from the same level.

If you make it a sentence, let it be a sentence for all headings. If you make it a call to action (an imperative construction) or an incomplete sentence, stick to the chosen pattern for all headings of the same level. The more consistent you are, the easier it is to read and understand your document:


2. Use one and the same capitalizing pattern.

If you choose to capitalize each word in your heading, do so for each heading in the same level.


3. Subheadings should be (ideally) thematically connected with the previous-level heading:

This one is pretty clear: this makes the document logical and easy to understand: headings extracted from the page represent the summary of the text (i.e. I can guess what the page is about without reading its full content).

Ann Smarty is an experienced blogger, search geek and a social media enthusiast. If you are serious about blogging, be sure to join Ann's community of guest bloggers My Blog Guest: there you will find bloggers for your site as well as guest posting opportunities to promote yourself


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{ 31 comments… add one }
  • Tola F. April 19, 2010, 8:36 am

    I think the problem with Heading tags and all is that lots of black hat SEO people have misused it and then given it a ‘bad name’. I really don’t blame google for doing what did. However there are still lots of legitimate ways to use pages and headings like you’ve written here.

    So nice post for preaching the awareness…
    .-= NEW from Tola F. @ SEO For Beginners´s last blog ..Updated Google Webmaster Tool for Keyword Research =-.

  • Brendan April 18, 2010, 8:23 pm

    great advice! Subheadings are something that I try to remember to use it all of my blog posts. It goes back to when I was in college tried to make very organized papers. It helped get me good grades and and it helps keep my visitors happy whenever they read my posts. And I agree that even if it doesn’t help SEO a lot, any help is good and ignoring it while maybe not hurting certainly won’t help.
    .-= NEW from Brendan @ Online Marketing Consultant´s last blog ..Main Street Marketing Machines =-.

  • Aja Humpherys April 14, 2010, 9:02 am

    These days SEOs is treated like sh*t by Google and other searc engines. If you don’t count the black hat guys, SEO’s are only helping Google in things that it cannot do like properly indexing a web page.

  • Harsh Agrawal April 13, 2010, 3:16 pm

    Nice post ANn. Some how I don’t take care of my Sub headings because of design and post formatting… I think I should start taking care of that too… But some how My site rank moderately in search engine..
    .-= NEW from Harsh Agrawal @blogging Tips´s last blog ..Retweet and Win License Of Digging Into Wordpress eBook =-.

  • Dick April 13, 2010, 1:20 pm

    Great post Ann! I have gotten away from sub-headers just because I am lazy when I know how much they do for a post, so I am going to start getting better at doing it.
    .-= NEW from Dick´s last blog ..Word of Mouth Marketing =-.

  • Julius Kuhn-Regnier April 13, 2010, 5:44 am

    That’s a great article you have put together on SEO. I think I am applying most of the tricks you mentioned here. A few days ago I changed my heading structure on my blog for SEO purposes and I think it’s good now.
    .-= NEW from Julius Kuhn-Regnier´s last blog ..What Traveling through Scotland Taught Me about Blogging =-.

  • Alok April 12, 2010, 7:26 am

    How to use this header tags on e-commerce site? if their are 4 level of pages in it –
    1) Home page
    2) Category page
    3) Subcategory page
    4) Product page
    e.g. on product page can i use product name in H1 and related product in H2?

    • Ann Smarty April 12, 2010, 9:54 am

      Yes, for each page – h1 tag for its main topic, e.g. h1 for category name, product name, etc
      .-= NEW from Ann Smarty´s last blog ..Just Look How Awesome It Is Going to Be at Search & Social Spring Summit =-.

  • JR April 12, 2010, 1:32 am

    Sound advice as always, so many ignore these simple and effective on site tactics, and header titles are so important for getting targeted traffic from the SE’s.
    .-= NEW from JR @ Internet Marketing ´s last blog ..Website Speed Now A Definite Factor in Google Rankings and 12 Tools to Check Site Speed =-.

  • DiTesco April 11, 2010, 5:53 pm

    Excellent article. Using the h1 to h6 tags are still important even it is just for accessibility issue. This improves the users experience and when that happens, SEO gets a little boost.
    .-= NEW from DiTesco´s last blog ..Site Speed Now A SEO Factor =-.

  • chandan April 9, 2010, 3:19 pm

    Enjoy by the article also the comment, I am doing offpage activities for 5 clients, Each day I am learning different link building strategy and implementing for my projects. I think offpage activities are same important things as well as onpage activities for rank high on search engine.
    .-= chandan@work at home jobs´s last blog ..Make money blogging take time =-.

  • Dennis Edell April 9, 2010, 3:11 pm

    Timely. I just started using H-tags and am quite confused; though your reply to mars helped a lot.

    I just don’t see them fitting into a lot of what I write…more to the point, how I write.
    .-= Dennis Edell @ Direct Sales Marketing´s last blog ..DEDC Remains DoFollow – BUT… =-.

  • Onibalusi Bamidele April 9, 2010, 9:24 am

    This is really a great post about on page search engine optimization, I will try my best to observe them.
    Thanks a lot.

  • Chadrack April 9, 2010, 9:07 am

    this is indeed good advice. I do use h2 for all my sub headings and it has always been good!
    .-= Chadrack@Home Business Marketing´s last blog ..9 Powerful Ways To Distribute Your Free Reports! =-.

  • Gautam Hans April 9, 2010, 8:07 am

    I had no idea that the heading pattern should not be skipped, i did use h3 instead of h2 because it was an appropriate size for the title. This would be a very big time taking task to change all the headings 🙁
    .-= Gautam Hans @ Blog Godown´s last blog ..8 Twitter Mistakes that can Destroy your Twitter Reputation =-.

    • Ann Smarty April 10, 2010, 5:38 am

      @Gautam You can just change the way the headings display using CSS.
      .-= Ann Smarty´s last blog ..Just Look How Awesome It Is Going to Be at Search & Social Spring Summit =-.

  • Dana April 9, 2010, 2:59 am

    I’ve heard that title tag (h tag) is great for SEO but I use it not for SEO but because it make my article structure seems great.
    .-= Dana @ Blogging Tips Blog´s last blog ..How To Create Blog Logo Easily by Using GIMP #3 =-.

  • Kaila (Vertical Measures) April 8, 2010, 2:26 pm

    Great information, and always a good thing to watch out for when writing content and structuring your web pages. I’ve worked with so many clients who misuse their headers. Just yesterday found 3 hidden H1’s…..lord knows that wasn’t helping them any. Thankfully there are tools like SEO for Firefox that help you figure out where your H1s are, and can help you determine if you page or content needs them switched around.

  • Kristi Hines April 8, 2010, 1:49 pm

    If you don’t want to wrap your head around the SEO benefits, then definitely consider it from a reader’s point of view. I know I have a habit of scanning longer posts, and sometimes only stopping for a subsection that really interests me. When I see posts that are just long chunks of text without images or headings, I probably end up missing out on some good info.
    .-= Kristi Hines´s last blog ..Google PageRank Update – Internal Pages and Top Content Analysis =-.

    • Josiah April 8, 2010, 7:08 pm

      That’s good advice, it definitely does help the overall flow and i also highly recommend SEO for firefox, i use it on a daily basis.
      .-= Josiah@Tumblr Themes´s last blog ..Flourish =-.

    • Dennis Edell April 9, 2010, 3:09 pm

      Kristi, you must hate my blogs, lol. I have just started learning H-tags though.
      .-= Dennis Edell @ Direct Sales Marketing´s last blog ..DEDC Remains DoFollow – BUT… =-.

      • Kristi Hines April 9, 2010, 4:59 pm

        It’s not that I hate them, and on some sites where I know the author, it’s not so bad. But posts without any headers sometimes remind me of articles from paid writers, Ezine articles, etc. and I prefer nicely formatted blog posts. I guess it’s not just guys who are visually attracted or distracted to things. 🙂
        .-= Kristi Hines´s last blog ..Fetching Friday – Resources Mashup & Internet Marketing Internship =-.

        • Dennis Edell April 10, 2010, 11:57 am

          Perhaps you would like to start an email chat and get me into the H-tags properly. 😉
          .-= Dennis Edell @ Direct Sales Marketing´s last blog ..HAPPY BIRTHDAY TO ME!!! And a Bonus for YOU!! =-.

  • Codrut Turcanu April 8, 2010, 1:40 pm

    complicated? Ha, ha… this is advice from back in 2005 or earlier! 🙂

  • Mars Dorian April 8, 2010, 1:25 pm

    Damn, and SEO has just gotten a bit more complicated.

    But thanks for clarifying things _ I never, ever, ever thought about SEO in Headers.
    Question: I sometimes use H3 headers at the end of my point, for dramatic reasons.
    SHould I switch to BOLD instead ??
    .-= Mars Dorian´s last blog ..How to become Productive like a Jedi ! =-.

    • Ann Smarty April 8, 2010, 2:15 pm

      @Mars, the main idea besides headings is that it structures your content:
      h1 – main idea
      h2 – an important point relevant to h1 heading
      h3 – an important point relevant to h2 heading

      For any other purposes, I’d recommend using other ways to markup your content (bold, italics, color, etc)
      .-= Ann Smarty´s last blog ..Just Look How Awesome It Is Going to Be at Search & Social Spring Summit =-.

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