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 on which you elaborate in the rest of the paragraph. When restructuring your text to add a heading, make sure the first sentence of your paragraph contains the essential information of that paragraph. Secondly, 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 question. 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 understand your content, 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‘. These come in different sizes; moving from largest, to smallest.

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.

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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:

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  • 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 »

Coming up next!


24 Responses to How to use headings on your site

  1. Marcell
    Marcell  • 9 months ago

    Hi Yoast-Team,
    I’m currently working on an long article and have some trouble with the headlines. The plugin states that some section is longer than 250 words and needs a headline. The plugin recognizes the corresponding section, but does not show me the position (no little eye symbol). My current workaround: Copy the whole text into WORD and check all sections individually (Tools -> Count words). I suggest the showing of the corresponding section as an improvement for further versions.
    Greetings from Munich, Germany,
    Prost Yoast,
    Marcell

    • Camille Cunningham
      Camille Cunningham  • 9 months ago

      Hi Marcell, thanks for your suggestion. I’ll pass it on to our product team! Happy holidays and stay safe :)

  2. Hristo
    Hristo  • 9 months ago

    I am a bit confused about the 30%+ keywords use in subheadings. In many cases it looks unnatural to use keywords in h3 tags but when the subheadings with keywords are below 30% you get a red dot on yoast seo plugin, it’s not even orange like it’s something extremely important. I’ve seen a lot of websites on top of google search with less than 5% subheading keywords, they use them only on h1 and h2 tags. I tried to search more about it on google but nowhere i could find simlar information. Even John Mueller says that goole uses h tags for the website structure but it’s not important to have keywords inside them.

    • Camille Cunningham
      Camille Cunningham  • 9 months ago

      Hi there! Thanks for your question. I think it’s important to keep in mind that all of the checks in our plugin are meant to help you improve your rankings, but they don’t all have to be green. Especially when something doesn’t feel natural to you. A good rule of thumb is to make sure that your overall bullet is green.

      In regards to the subheadings check: if you find it easier to use your keyword in the H2’s (instead of H3’s), I would recommend using it in your H2’s mostly. What our check helps you with is adding your keyword where it makes sense, to keep the focus of your text on your focus keyword. This may not have a direct influence on your SEO, but it does help you write texts that are focused on what the reader is looking for. Plus it helps users and search engines scan your page and quickly figure out what it’s about. That’s why this is one of the checks in our plugin. Hope this answers your question :)

  3. Jayanth b
    Jayanth b  • 9 months ago

    Using headings in articles is quite useful for SEO. I can clearly see it when my article got ranked in search engine results after adding headings with a targeted keyphrase.

    • Camille Cunningham
      Camille Cunningham  • 9 months ago

      That’s great to hear. Keep up the good work!

  4. Eleana
    Eleana  • 9 months ago

    I use yoast for my SEO, but while i was fixing my headings after reading his article, i realized that at the outline as you show above it doesnt say H1 but it says Title. I suppose this means it is the H1? Because it gives me the choise to add another H1 and i am confused

    • Camille Cunningham
      Camille Cunningham  • 9 months ago

      Hi Eleana! I can understand that this becomes confusing, as there are two input fields. Your post title is the same as your H1 heading, but you can also add an SEO title. We wrote a blog post on the difference between the H1 heading and SEO title. I think reading this will definitely clear it up :) Let me know if you have any additional questions.

  5. Rafsan Jani
    Rafsan Jani  • 10 months ago

    The diagram at the end was very helpful. I only use H1 and H2 for my posts. I’ll try H3 for my next post. Thanks for the tips.

    • Edwin Toonen
      Edwin Toonen  • 10 months ago

      Glad it helped, Rafsan!

  6. Charlie Brown
    Charlie Brown  • 10 months ago

    I really get distracted in H2 and H3, always get confused about which heading should go in H2 and which in H3.

    • Camille Cunningham
      Camille Cunningham  • 10 months ago

      Hi Charlie :) A good rule of thumb is to use H2’s for your main topics in a text and to use H3’s to further divide your paragraphs under these H2’s. The table of contents at the top of this blog post is a good example of how you can use H2’s and H3’s.

  7. Fifi Smith
    Fifi Smith  • 10 months ago

    Good information, but it could be said in one or two paragraphs. I get annoyed when I read such a long article with a tiny amount of information. Please be considerate and be concise!

    • Camille Cunningham
      Camille Cunningham  • 10 months ago

      Hi Fifi, thanks for your feedback! If you’re looking for specific information and want to skip the rest of the text, you can use our table of contents to jump to the right paragraph right away :)

  8. stelina z
    stelina z  • 10 months ago

    So we shouldn’t use common paragraphs at all? Only H1-H2-H3 etc is better?

    • Camille Cunningham
      Camille Cunningham  • 10 months ago

      Hi Stelina, I’m not sure if I understand your question correctly.

      But you should definitely use paragraphs in your text, the headings are meant to divide your text into readable ‘chapters’. So use paragraphs to write your content and add headings to let people know what that part of your text is about! Hope this answers your question and please let me know if you mean something else :)

  9. Amelia Jacob
    Amelia Jacob  • 10 months ago

    I always have a hard time adding keyphrase to the subheadings. Will learn more about copywriting and text structure. Thanks for the suggestion.

    • Camille Cunningham
      Camille Cunningham  • 10 months ago

      Hi there, Amelia. Understandable, especially when you use long-tail keyphrases. I would try to keep your headings as natural as possible, as readability is important for your readers. So if it feels really forced to add your keyphrase to a heading, you might want to focus on other feedback in our SEO analysis to optimize your text!

  10. Nga Vu
    Nga Vu  • 10 months ago

    I always use headings as H1,H2,H3 for my post in my website or blog

    • Camille Cunningham
      Camille Cunningham  • 10 months ago

      Sounds like you’re doing a great job, keep it up! :)

  11. Peter Swatch
    Peter Swatch  • 10 months ago

    I am definitely going for Yoast SEO Premium so that the plugin can even check the use of synonyms.

  12. mahesh k
    mahesh k  • 10 months ago

    i always use H2, h3 tags in my posts as suggested by yoast seo plugin.

    • Camille Cunningham
      Camille Cunningham  • 10 months ago

      Very good! Sounds like you’re using the right structure when it comes to your headings :)