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SEO basics How to use headings on your site

Headings help users and search engines to read and understand text. For example, they act as signposts for the readers and make it easier for them to figure out what a post or page is about. Headings also define which parts of your content are important, and show how they’re interconnected. Here, we’ll give you pointers on how to think about headers and use them to improve your content.

Table of contents

Did you get a red or an orange bullet for subheading distribution in Yoast SEO? Learn how to distribute them better.

Or, did Yoast SEO give you feedback on the way you use your keyphrase in subheadings? Learn how to improve that.

Why use headings?

Use headings to show text structure

Headings are signposts that guide readers through an article. Therefore, they should indicate what a section or a paragraph is about. Otherwise, people won’t know what to expect.

Readers like to scan content, to get an idea of what the text is about and to decide which sections of the text they’re going to read. Headings help them do that. Scanning the text becomes significantly harder for your readers when it doesn’t contain any headings. It’s even worse when you add long stretches of text after a heading.

For web copy, it’s good practice to make sure that your headings are informative to the reader. Some people like to tease their audience in the headings, trying to entice them to read further. While that can work very well, it’s easy to get wrong. Remember that the main focus of headings should be on the content – and the primary purpose should be to make the text easier to read and understand.

Also, keep the following two things in mind: firstly, a paragraph should start with a core sentence and then elaborate on this core sentence. When restructuring your text to add a heading, make sure the first sentence of your paragraph contains the essential information of that paragraph. Then, consider how the information is structured in your paragraphs and what the relation is between paragraphs, and how a subheading can help make that information easier to digest.

Read more: Why text structure is important for SEO »

Use headings to improve accessibility

Heading structure is important for accessibility as well, especially for people who can’t easily read from a screen. Because headings are in HTML, a screen reader can understand the article structure and read them out loud.

By reading or listening to the headings in an article, visually impaired people can decide whether or not to read an article. Also, screen readers offer shortcuts to jump from one heading to the next, so they are used for navigation as well.

Don’t forget that, in many cases, what’s good for accessibility is also good for SEO!

Read more: 5 easy accessibility improvements »

Use headings to improve SEO

It’s generally agreed that how you use headings doesn’t specifically impact your SEO. Making minor tweaks to individual headings likely won’t help your performance. However, there are indirect benefits. Using headings creates texts of higher quality that are also easier to read. A better text is better for users, which is better for your SEO.

If visitors can’t quickly find what they’re looking for, they’ll probably leave your site and look for another answer to their query. This is why text structure and heading use also impact SEO. Search engines pick up on people bouncing from your site. When you have a high bounce rate, search engines can conclude that your page doesn’t give searchers what they’re looking for. Consequently, you might get lower ratings.

With headings, you should always put the user first. Use them to add structure and signposts to your content, and to describe what each section is about. If your headings let users know what your article is about, they’ll help Google to understand, too.

How to use headings effectively

So, what is the best way to use headings? There are two things that we can advise you on: you should structure your headings well, and you should use your keyphrase in them. Yoast SEO can help you in both cases. In the Readability analysis, it checks how you distribute your headings. And, in the SEO analysis, it checks whether you’ve used your keyphrase. So let’s explore the importance of these two aspects, and take a look at how you can use Yoast SEO to write great headings. 

Structuring your headings

NOTE: 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).

When you’re editing an article in WordPress, you’ll usually see different ‘levels’ of headings in the text editor – from ‘Heading 1’ to ‘Heading 6’. Usually, we call H1 the main heading. We name the other levels – subheadings, or sub subheadings. These are ordered by size, and by importance. A ‘Heading 2’ is more important than a ‘Heading 4’.

Behind the scenes, these are converted into HTML heading tags; from `<h1>` to `<h6>`. Your theme probably uses these HTML tags in its templates, too.

That’s why, when we talk about how to structure headings and content well, we talk about ‘H1’ tags, ‘H2’ tags, and so on. We’re referring to the underlying HTML code.

How to structure your headings

Your H1 isn’t the same thing as your page title. For more information, you can read about the difference between and H1 and the SEO title.

Firstly, you are limited to using one H1 heading on each page. The H1 heading should be the name/title of the page or post. On this page, that’s “How to use headings on your site”. You can think of your H1 like you would think of the name of a book. For example, on a category page, your H1 would be the name of that category. Or, on a product page, it should be the product name.

Then, as you write your content, you can use H2 and H3 subheadings to introduce different sections – like the “How to improve the distribution of your headings“ section, which you’re currently reading, which sits within the “Structuring your headings” section. Think of H2 subheadings like the chapters of a book. Those individual sections might also use more specific headers (H3 tags, then H4 tags, etc.) to introduce sub-sections.

It’s rare for most content to get ‘deep’ enough to need to use H4 tags and beyond unless you’re writing really long, or really technical content.

What does the subheading distribution check in Yoast SEO do?

The subheading distribution check assesses whether you’ve used enough subheadings in your text. Most texts of over 300 words need subheadings, to help readers scan the text. So, this check will notify you if your text is longer than 300 words and doesn’t contain any subheadings. It’ll also let you know if a text section following a subheading is too long — i.e., more than 300 words –, and suggest you add subheadings to improve the readability of that part of the text.

How to get a green bullet for your subheading distribution

So, what to do if you get an orange or red bullet in the Yoast SEO plugin for your subheading distribution? Well, first of all – and this is quite obvious – don’t forget to use subheadings! In addition, you should try to create a subheading for every separate topic in your text. This could be for every paragraph, but also for a couple of paragraphs discussing the same topic. 

We advise putting a heading above every long paragraph, or above a group of paragraphs which form a thematic unit. The text following a subheading generally should not be longer than 250-350 words.

An example heading structure

Let’s say that we have a blog post about ballet shoes. We’ve chosen “ballet shoes” as our focus keyword, and written an article about all the reasons why we like ballet shoes. Without headings, there’s a risk that we might end up writing a really long, rambling piece that is hard to understand. But if we structure things logically using headings, we not only make it easier to read, we help focus our writing.

Here’s what the structure of that post might look like:

  • H1: Ballet shoes are awesome
    • H2: Why we think ballet shoes are awesome
      • H3: They don’t just come in pink!
      • H3: You can use them for more than just dancing
      • H3: They might be less expensive than you think
    • H2: Where should you buy your ballet shoes?
      • H3: The 10 best ballet equipment websites
      • H3: Our favorite local dancing shops

See how we’ve created a logical structure, using H2 tags to plan out sections and H3 tags to cover specific topics? We’ve done the same thing in the post you’re reading, too!

This is a good example of how your headings should be structured in a medium-length article. For a shorter article, you should use fewer (or more general, high-level) headings. If you want to go into much more detail, there’s nothing stopping you from using H4 tags to create even ‘lower-level’ section.

Adding headings

But wait, how do you add headings? If you’re using WordPress, there are a couple of ways to do this:

Via the editor
The easiest way to add headings is through the editor. If you’re already using the new Gutenberg block editor, you can click the +-button and select ‘Heading’. Then, you can select which heading you want to add.

If you’re still using the classic editor, it’s easy too. Make sure you’re on the visual tab of the editor, and then select ‘Heading 1’ or another heading from the dropdown menu.

Selecting a header in the classic editor

Using HTML
It’s also possible to add headings using HTML. In the classic editor, you will need to make sure you’re on the text tab (or directly in the code), and use heading tags <h1>, <h2>, <h3>, etc. to specify each type of heading. End each heading with a closing tag like </h1>. Like this:

Header tags in an HTML editor

In the block editor, you can also switch between the visual editor, or edit as HTML. To do that, click on the three vertical dots in the block toolbar. Then, select the Edit as HTML option. Like this:

Using your keyphrase in the subheadings 

Headings give you a great chance to use your focus keyword (or its synonyms) prominently, to make it really clear what the page is about. By adding your focus keyphrase to your subheadings, you stress its importance. Moreover, if you’re trying to rank for a keyphrase, you’ll have to write about it. If none of your paragraphs address the main topic, you’ll probably have a hard time ranking.

Still, just like keyphrases in general, it’s important not to overdo it. Add your keyphrase where it makes sense, leave it out where it doesn’t.

Yoast SEO can help you with the keyphrase in headings assessment 

After you insert your keyphrase in the Yoast SEO meta box, the keyphrase in subheadings assessment checks whether you’ve used it sufficiently. In Yoast SEO, you’ll get a green bullet if you use the keyphrase in 30 to 75% of your subheadings. Keep in mind that we’ll only check your H2 and H3 subheadings. If you have Yoast SEO Premium, the plugin can even check your use of synonyms.

Keyphrase in subheading check

How to add your keyphrase in your subheadings

Whether you add your keyphrase to a subheading depends on the paragraph(s) it’s connected to. Every paragraph in your text should tell the reader something about the topic at hand. In addition, your subheadings are nothing more than a very short outline of what you are going to say in one or more paragraphs. Therefore, it should always be possible to add your keyphrase to one or more subheadings. If you’re still struggling to achieve this, ask yourself a couple of questions about the structure of your article.

  1. Does my text discuss the topic described in the keyphrase? If not, should I pick another keyphrase?
  2. Do my current subheadings accurately describe what I discuss under them?
  3. What paragraphs are most closely connected to the topic and the keyphrase?
  4. What questions do these paragraphs answer concerning the topic and the keyphrase?

Most of the time, you’ll find that answering these questions helps you add the keyphrase to one or more of your subheadings. If you can’t, you should probably consider question number one again. If that doesn’t solve your problems, consider educating yourself on copywriting and text structure, to get a clearer view of how a good piece is structured. Your keyphrase should be central to the topic. Therefore, you should be able to add it to a couple of subheadings.

Headings in WordPress themes

Most themes will use headings as part of their HTML code, but some don’t follow best practices. Almost all themes will automatically use the name of your article in an H1 tag. This is helpful because it means you don’t need to repeat the post name inside your content.

Unfortunately, some themes use tags incorrectly – they use tags in an illogical order (e.g., an H4 then an H2), or use tags messily in sidebars, headers, and footers. This can cause problems for accessibility, as the order of your headings might not make sense. Users, search engines and assistive technologies usually look at the whole page, not just your content area.

If you have a custom theme, you might be able to fix this by adjusting your HTML code. If you’re using an off-the-shelf theme, you may need to reach out to the developers. Either way, you should check that your headings make sense on each template type!

Check your blog’s headings

Using headings well is helpful for your users. It increases the chances of people actually reading your article, improves accessibility, and might even contribute to SEO. So add them into your copy – just make sure you use them correctly!

There’s a handy button in the upper left of the content editing screen in the WordPress block editor, which shows an outline of the page you’re editing. If you’ve structured your content well, it should look something like this!

If you’re still using the Classic Editor in your WordPress website, you can test your published article via the W3 Validator.

Read more: WordPress SEO: the definitive guide to higher rankings for your WordPress site »


33 Responses to How to use headings on your site

  1. Ben
    Ben  • 1 year ago

    Hey Jono,

    Great article and thanks for putting it together. I noticed at the very bottom of the page you have a screenshot of Gutenberg.

    For me at least since I’ve started using Gutenberg I’ve found my writing style has changed. I use grammarly first then cut and paste into the editor.

    After that the H2 tags etc change by my own doing. Using GB makes you think more about post / page structure. The drag and drop to get the right flow.

    How do you find using Gutenberg does it influence your structure?

    • Jono Alderson

      Ah, great observations! I absolutely think that Gutenberg makes you think differently about structure. Critically, it’s a shift from “writing an article” to “architecting a page”. That’s a much more involved, considered thing. It’s more work, too, but it can result in much better pages.

  2. Talisman Solutions
    Talisman Solutions  • 1 year ago

    Thanx for this information. I was not getting how to insert headings in my blog. but now it is quite easy for me.

  3. Veronica
    Veronica  • 1 year ago

    Hello,
    I thought that H1 or H2 is supposed to be my keyword for the post. But my H1 is my product name, so I’ve been having H2 be my keyword which is often troublesome. This article tells me that H2 does not have to be my keyword and my keyword will still be ranking the same. Is that right?

    • Jono Alderson

      The H1 should be the name/title of the post; the “name of the book”, in our book analogy. Your H2s should be the names of your chapters.

      On a product page, your H1 should be the name of your product, and your H2s should probably be section headings like “Description”, or “Delivery Information”.

  4. Lili
    Lili  • 1 year ago

    My question is still related to the size of the content. Given the recommendation of creating a long and extensive blog full of headings, you could indicate approximately how many Word pages would a WordPress page accept?? I am currently using Sydney template. Thank you so much and regards.

    • Jono Alderson

      Your content should always be the right length for your audience, and for the topic you’re covering!

      Longer content gives you an opportunity to explore a topic more deeply, which might make your page a better resources. Users are more likely to share and link to better resources.

      Longer content *might* make your page harder to read, though. For simple topics, sometimes people just want an answer. A well-written, short post is best in these cases.

      So really, “it depends”.

  5. R.Kang
    R.Kang  • 1 year ago

    Great article on using the header tags. Do you think that there is any impact if a heading is linked internally?

    • Jono Alderson

      Great question! I think that it’s probably important to ask *why* you’re linking from your heading. If the role of headings is to introduce and to structure content, why would you link from that heading to a different page? If you’re wanting to link from it because it contains a keyword, ask yourself, is that good/useful for users? Probably not.

      I think that linking *to* headings can be useful – e.g., using a table of contents which allows people to skip to a particular section which is relevant to them.

  6. Aaron Finch
    Aaron Finch  • 1 year ago

    I have a question. My website homepage is like a page of a news website. Here I show title, image and little bit description. I show title in H1 tag and there are like more than 35+ posts like this. It means there are lots of H1 tag on my pages. So should I remove H1 tag from this.?

    • Jono Alderson

      It sounds like those post headings should probably be tags – but, I’d put this fairly low on your to-do list if you have other priorities!

  7. Bruce
    Bruce  • 1 year ago

    Question: Can you use a ‘heading’ that is part of a paragraph, with text exactly like the rest of the paragraph? (Rather than a ‘callout’ above a paragraph or a series of several paragraphs)

    Such as: xxxxxxx xxxx x xxxxx xxx (h3)xxxx xxxxxxx xxxx(h3) xxxx xxxxxx xxxxx xxxxxx etc…

    • Jono Alderson

      Technically, yes – you’d need to style the tags as ‘inline’ elements to make this work. However, this is invalid HTML!

      I think that, more importantly, that that point they’re not ‘headings’ any more – right?

      • Bruce
        Bruce  • 1 year ago

        True. Not headings but I was wondering if there’s a SEO benefit to setting regular text as a ‘heading’, even though it looks like the rest of the text in a paragraph.

        • Jono Alderson

          Nope, and, that sounds a bit spammy and manipulative! I’d refocus all of that creative thinking on improving your content, proposition and site ;)

  8. Virginia S
    Virginia S  • 1 year ago

    For the first time in nearly a decade, I now understand how to use the ‘h tags’. Thank you.
    About blocks. On my edit page on the top right section, it says “no block selected”. I don’t understand how this works. Should I have a “Block”?
    I can’t find an article explaining this further.

    • Hanneke
      Hanneke  • 1 year ago

      Hi there!

      If you are using the Block Editor, your post should consist of blocks. You first have to select one, to use the settings under “block”.
      Perhaps the post “What is Gutenberg?” makes things more clear to you!

      Good luck,
      Hanneke – Yoast

  9. Hkt
    Hkt  • 1 year ago

    Really helpful for my blog, Appreciate it.

  10. Menaka P
    Menaka P  • 1 year ago

    Headings on your site as with anything Google pays attention to, that means it’s worth including keywords in your header tags.

    This does not mean you should shoehorn keywords in at all costs. Be judicious, not spam-my.

  11. Kuldeep Mathur
    Kuldeep Mathur  • 1 year ago

    One major issue which every other guy mess up is to follow the architecture. No matter how many header tags you use. We need to make sure to follow the architecture. There is no way we should use H1 and straight away H4 thereafter. Not recommended at all.

  12. Chinh
    Chinh  • 1 year ago

    Please help me, i dont know how to change heading level, plz see picture
    https://www.upsieutoc.com/image/untitled.k9clgw

    • Chinh
      Chinh  • 1 year ago

      My heading h4, h6 before H1, i dont know what sshould i do. plz help

  13. Lars Crampton
    Lars Crampton  • 1 year ago

    This article was very helpful to me Jono! I am trying to learn more about onsite seo. Great analogy on logically structuring the meta and title tags of a site. Lots of great info on your site. Thank You!

  14. Swadhin Agrawal
    Swadhin Agrawal  • 1 year ago

    Hi Jono,

    Great post! Just like site architecture, I feel blog post structure is also as important as it can get.

    You mentioned themes get it wrong at placing heading tags correctly, do you have a list of themes that Yoast officially recommends or disapproves as idea ones to use?

    Cheers,
    -Swadhin

    • Jono Alderson

      We don’t, but that’s an interesting idea!

  15. Raza Kazmi
    Raza Kazmi  • 1 year ago

    Really great post I’ve ever read about Heading tags on internet. I’ll surely take all of the above points into consideration while writing a content in either post or page on wordpress. The structured content will surely leave an impact on SEO rankings.

    Keep it up for such lovely post!

  16. kevin crag
    kevin crag  • 1 year ago

    Heading section is very important for seo purpose because most of meta tags are located in header tag and its a front description of any website.
    Thanks for great Blog

  17. Zola
    Zola  • 1 year ago

    Very useful guide. I am already applying these principles when I edit my blogs with your plugin. Thanks a lot!

  18. Faisul Islam
    Faisul Islam  • 1 year ago

    Good information. I have a Blogspot blog. Which makes Title h2 by default. After reading this post I edited my theme to make them h1.
    Thanks for sharing this information.

  19. Sunil
    Sunil  • 1 year ago

    Very nice article for understanding how important our website article heading this is really use for me but I have a problem actually when I checked my website seo score they said your website have too many H1 tag how can I solve this please help me

  20. Prakhar Khanna
    Prakhar Khanna  • 1 year ago

    Thank you so much for the example of heading structure! I am looking to change my headings to H2 in the Newspaper theme. But there are no options for the tags, only font size. Could you please help me out here? What is the font size of H1, H2, H3 and H4 tags respectively?

    • Jono Alderson

      Hi Prakhar,
      Headings and font sizes aren’t the same thing; you could have a small H1, and a huge H6, by styling them differently.

      In most WordPress setups, you should be able to select ‘Header 2’, ‘Header 3’ etc from the headings menu, as you author your content.

  21. Michel Joachim
    Michel Joachim  • 1 year ago

    Hey, Jono Alderson

    I’m always following these tips for before publishing my content and also I’m a content writer at buzcnn… working with a long time with many bloggers… I suggest to them to put heading in content… for the reader can read easily the articles with subheadings…or note down the point…

    Thanks