The lowly header tag is a simple HTML code that allows you to format your content with headlines. But it has a far more powerful influence on the search engines that many may miss. I like to use the analogy of a newspaper in talking about Web design. When you read a paper, the first thing you look at is the headline of the top story. That’s the BIG story, and you want to see if it’s something you’re interested in. Those few words will influence whether you want to read more or skip to another article. It’s efficient and quite practical.

Guess what? Google reads your headlines too, and they help Google decide what your page is about. If your headline says “Welcome!” or “Home Page” or something like that, it’s not very useful or meaningful for your readers nor for Google.

What Are Header Tags?

The header tags are an HTML code that tells your browser to display the text in more of a headline format. It will typically be larger, bolder and set away from the paragraphs around it through vertical spacing.

You code it by enclosing your text within opening and closing header tags like this:

<h1>Leather Collars for Dogs and Puppies</h1>

You can include inline formatting in the <h1> tag, or use cascading style sheets (CSS) to format the tag in an external style sheet if you prefer.

There are actually six “levels” of header tags, from <h1>, <h2> down to <h6>, and they all pretty much work the same. They might have different formatting, which makes them handy for formatting text differently on different sections of the site.

Why Are Header Tags Important?

The most important thing you can do from an SEO perspective is to include your carefully researched key phrase in the header tag. Just like the example above, it talks about leather dog and puppy collars, which not only tells your customer what that page is about, it tells Google too. Google pays special attention to header tags to make sure they match up with all your other elements, like <title>, Description and body text on the page.

Here are some hints about header tags that will help you with your SEO efforts:

  • Always have a single <h1> tag at or near the top of your content. It should include your primary key phrase.
  • Never include more than one <h1> tag on a page.
  • There is no difference between <h2>, <h3> or the other tags. Google looks upon them as the same thing
  • Use multiple <h2> (or other level) header tags on your page to break up the content into sections, as a formatting element, and to help reinforce your keywords.

Notice that I have more than one <h2> tag on these blog posts, which always includes some form of my keyword, but also helps break apart the text into sections so it’s easier for my reader to read.

Formatting Header Tags

You can apply any kind of formatting you want to header tags, as long as you’re not trying to cheat by using white on white or some other frowned-upon practice. You can include inline formatting, use <font> tags (that’s old-style and adds to code bloat as well as difficulty in managing it!), or just include them in your externally linked CSS files so you don’t have to do anything (best choice!).

<h2 class="header2_style">Keyword Phrase</h2>
<h2 style="font-size:12px;">Keyword Phrase</h2>
<h2><font color="red">Keyword Phrase</font></h2>

There’s also a very advanced technique to use header tags so Google is happy, but to replace them with a graphic so your Web designer and customer is happy. After all, header tags aren’t really very glamorous. But I’ll leave the last point for another blog post if you’re interested.