Headings and why you should use them

Heading tags, as the name implies, are tags that are used for the creations of headings. The most important tag is the <h1> heading tag, and will usually be the title of a post. Heading tags have a top-down hierarchy from <h1> to <h6>.

Structuring the page

When used properly, headings describe the structure of a piece of content, and divide it into neat, digestible sections.

Before we start, we should point out that there are two different sets of ‘rules’ when it comes to how to use HTML heading tags; the ‘classic’ approach (from the HTML4 standard), and, the ‘modern’ approach (from the HTML5 standard). We’re going to focus on the classic approach, as there are some usability and SEO challenges with the modern approach (you can read more about that here).

What are the rules?

With the ‘classic’ approach, the rules are simple.

Firstly, you are limited to using one H1 heading tag on each page. This tag should be the name/title of the page or post. On this page, that’s “Headings and why you should use them”. Think of your H1 like you would think of name of a book.

On a category page, your H1 would be the name of that category. On a product page, it should be the product name.

Then, as you write your content, you might use multiple H2 tags to introduce different sections – like the “Structuring the page” section that you’re reading right now. Think of these like chapters of a book. Those individual sections might also use more specific headers (h3 tags, then H4 tags, etc) to introduce sub-sections. Anecdotally, it’s rare for most content to get ‘deep’ enough to need to use H4 tags and beyond.

Don’t overdo it!

It’s important to avoid the temptation to put lots of your text, or your calls-to-action, into headings. That won’t help users, and, it won’t help search engines.

Headings should only be used to structure and break up your pages and content, not to contain your post or page content.

Headings and SEO

It’s generally believed that using heading tags doesn’t have a direct impact on your SEO. You’re unlikely to rank higher because you tweak your structure to use a H3 rather than and H4, for example.

But there are indirect benefits

Even if headings don’t directly impact your rankings, using them to structure and break up your content will make it more readable, and, might improve the quality of your writing. They’ll also help users to skim, read and digest your page more easily, which might create the kinds of engagement signals and behaviours which help convince Google that your page is a good result.

Given this, it’s reasonable to say that well-structured content indirectly affects rankings, and therefore it’s definitely something you should consider when writing.

How to check your headings

If you’re using the Block Editor in WordPress, there’s a handy button in the upper left of the content editing screen, which shows an outline of the page you’re editing.

If you’ve structured your content well, it should look something like this!

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33 Responses to Headings and why you should use them

  1. Kerrie
    Kerrie  • 4 years ago

    I place my primary keywords in H1 tag and secondary keywords in H2 tag and so own. I think according to Google you should place your primary keywords in H1 and secondary in H2. Am I right guys?

  2. Santosh Das
    Santosh Das  • 4 years ago

    I use Sub-Headings up to H2. No H3 or H4….

  3. Oddluzanie
    Oddluzanie  • 4 years ago

    Maybe this is not a good question, but I have a problem: I am changing my h1, h2 and h3 headings but when I am testing my site in ex. woorank.com there is no change. How could it be? Maybe someone can help me. Cheers.

    • Michiel Heijmans

      Eh.. Woorank? That would mean you’d have to address them for that, right? Feel free to have us check your website for you by ordering one of our site reviews.

  4. Ciprian
    Ciprian  • 4 years ago

    On a long page with a lot of text, the number of headings should be based on their type.

    For example, one H1 heading, two H2 headings, three H3 headings and so on.

    I would also stop at H4, and eliminate H5 and H6, as this could be styled differently, such as boxes or floated elements.

  5. Daniel Louwe
    Daniel Louwe  • 4 years ago

    Headings are also very important for accessibility! Screen readers try to leverage the layout of a document when determining how to present it to the user in a sane manner – one feature being the ability to list and skip between headings. If you don’t use headings or use them in a non-semantic manner (incorrect order, missing h1 before h2, etc.) then you’re forcing these users to read the entire document from start to finish with few useful means of skipping through.

    Keeping these users in mind is – to me – one of the best ways to decide on how to place headings on your page and in your content.

  6. Nigel Abery
    Nigel Abery  • 4 years ago

    Hi Michiel. The theme I am using has an opion for custom healing that allow a h1 to look like a h2 or h3 and visa versa. Do you think using these will be bad for SEO? Will google think that I am trying to trick it or understand that it is for come tic reasons?

  7. Anna
    Anna  • 4 years ago

    Great advice regarding H4 usage in sidebar or footer.

  8. Lionel Reed
    Lionel Reed  • 4 years ago

    I am 100% agree with your opinion. I think Heading is the first impression of any page, so it really matters for website. Thanks for sharing such a useful article with us.


  9. Susanta Sahoo
    Susanta Sahoo  • 4 years ago

    Headings are supposed to be semantics-compliant. If you want to style your content, using classes is a logical idea. A lot of genesis theme users tend to question the use of h1 in the site title.

  10. Tim
    Tim  • 5 years ago

    Headings are great for breaking down articles into smaller, easy to digests parts. And should prompt a visitor to want to read it, a long article with just a few paragraphs would be less appealing to read.

  11. Marek Andreánsky
    Marek Andreánsky  • 5 years ago

    Had a look at Mystile (from WooThemes) and the is used for the site title on every page!

    Sure there’s a second for the actual title (and Google can learn to ignore the fist tag, but I am disappointed with WooThemes.

    Here’s the theme in case anyone would like to dissect it http://www.woothemes.com/products/mystile/

  12. Da Lat
    Da Lat  • 5 years ago

    I agree to take advantage of the heading, but almost wordpress theme they do the h1 for blog name & put it on every page, post

    • Michiel Heijmans

      And they shouldn’t ;) That can probably be changed by creating a child theme and changing header.php

  13. Ollie
    Ollie  • 5 years ago

    Decent article. But I feel that this is already fundamental SEO knowledge and has been for the past 7-8 years. Everyone knows you need at least an H1 on every page, especially the homepage. It is interesting that you recommend against ever using H5-H6, or even H4, but that makes sense since three levels of headings is generally enough for the user and anything else is just to manipulate search engines.

    I also found the article you linked: http://blog.paciellogroup.com/2013/10/html5-document-outline/, about why we shouldn’t use multiple H1s as HTML5 allows for and even recommends, to be much more informative.

  14. peter
    peter  • 5 years ago

    Although super familiar with Htags..Excellent job clarifying their uses , the where and when to use sort of stuff. Helped back up my practices of using H tags and actually gave me some good ideas for using the H4/5 and 6.

    Thank you and looking forward to more intel.

  15. ?????
    ?????  • 5 years ago

    thanks for your article
    but to be honest
    even after using h1 and h2 tags for months havent seen any particular increase in my serp result. in my mind they are only a mean for decorating an article.

  16. Carsten
    Carsten  • 5 years ago

    Hi Michiel

    Thank you for that post, I agree with what you write, and that leeds me to a question.

    I have been looking at the new themes that you have released, and when I look at:

    It has 4 H1’s on the frontpage

    and this page: http://strategy.yoastdemo.com/2008/09/17/another-post-with-everything-in-it/
    Has 5 H1’s

    I just do not understand that, is there a good explanation or will you make an update?
    I am looking to buy, but the use of headings have held me back.


    • Michiel Heijmans

      Hi Carsten,

      Always nice to scan a source code for H1, right ;) Have you noticed the JavaScript in there as well? :) That bit is used for the mobile menu by the way.

      About the page: in that page we show how these headings look like.. Of course that also means an extra H1 in the content.

      Hope that clarifies things!

  17. Robert Traynor
    Robert Traynor  • 5 years ago

    I probably use too many h2 headings in the body of my posts than is strictly necessary. I wish pleasing Google was as easy as displeasing Google.

  18. Marko Antonijevic
    Marko Antonijevic  • 5 years ago

    There are many websites (mostly e-commerce ones) that are not designed to have an H1 tag on the home page. Even though there is this option to place it in the logo (not the best solution, and not recommended), or simply not use it (no H1 on amazon’s home page), some go for strange solutions (putting the tag in the very last title on page and so on). My questions are:

    – Let’s say you inserted the H1 tag into the very last paragraph on this page (Headings and SEO). How would that affect the purpose of H tags? What happens if there are 5 titles on the page and the first one is let’s say H3, second H5, third H1, and fourth H2 (set to have the same font size)? Just curious.

    – Search Engine Land, being a trusted source for SEO and other fields, uses at least 4 H1 tag on the home page. How come?

    – Does illogical or ill-structured H tags are seen and penalized by Google. I’m asking this because there are sites that intentionally use several H1 tags in order to rank better for specific keywords, and this strategy still works for them.


    • Michiel Heijmans

      Thanks for your response. Let me try to answer your questions one by one:
      – If you add the H1 in the last paragraph, you are just adding that for Google, right? And Google asks you to create a website with the visitor in mind. Fill in the blanks :) Make it logical.
      – There’s five, actually. One is “Get Our News, Everywhere!”. Please ask them why they use that one :)
      – I think headings only work when accompanied by sufficient textual content. It’s the title of a text, not a separate element.

  19. George Papatheodorou
    George Papatheodorou  • 5 years ago

    Nice post Michiel. Any thoughts on how to avoid “conflicts” (SEO wise) between the heading tags inside the post and the widget titles (which most of the times are H4 by default in most ready made themes)?
    Should we change the widget titles to simple (bold) text?
    Or the “impact” is that minimal that we should just ignore it?
    Thank you

    • Michiel Heijmans

      I would say focus on H1-H3, but as you may have read in the comments above sometimes H4 can be of some influence. Perhaps you can test that?

      In the logical heading structure it would make sense to give these headings H4/5/6, or not? Bold / italic should just be used to emphasize words in text.

      • George Papatheodorou
        George Papatheodorou  • 5 years ago

        Thank you Michiel,

        I think I’ll test it and get back to this post later on to add any findings.

  20. Jaap
    Jaap  • 5 years ago

    Completely agree with your point of view. How do you think on headers for product titles on a category page? Would you recommend giving them a header, for instance h2?

  21. Robin
    Robin  • 5 years ago

    Fun. Told a customer this week to use H’s instead of simply bold text to use as heading. Have to admit it’s not easy as a normal WP user to know these kinds of things when it’s not in the WYSIWYG editor. Thanks for proving me right Michiel =).

    • Jerry Stevens
      Jerry Stevens  • 5 years ago

      “Have to admit it’s not easy as a normal WP user to know these kinds of things when it’s not in the WYSIWYG editor. ”

      True. I sometimes wonder why it’s not.

      • Michiel Heijmans

        In the defense of WordPress: People who don’t know that probably should use the WYSIWYG editor anyway :D Or is that too narrow-minded?

  22. Steve Grady
    Steve Grady  • 5 years ago

    Couldn’t agree with you more, The amount of times that I’ve come across entire paragraphs in is disturbing. I generally just use H1 ( title only), H2 and H3, it’s not often I’ll use H4 but I’f I do it’s for widget headers or as your article states, things that are necessary for the user but not as important for SEO. Oddly as you say, the font size usually needs adjusting as it’s too small. I’ve occasionally focused on some geo location info by using H4 too with some success when listing areas covered or store locations.

    • Michiel Heijmans

      Thanks for your addition, Steve!

  23. Baz Hart
    Baz Hart  • 5 years ago

    Absolutely agree!
    Have been putting this into our process of content marketing since we started our agency three years ago!
    Nice to see its importance mentioned by Yoast!

    • Michiel Heijmans

      Thanks, Baz :)