How to write SEO-friendly headers

Written by Helen Selby

Headers are to web content what bones are to your body. Without them, copy collapses into a kind of horrorsome blob – especially in the eyes of search engines. A well-constructed skeleton transforms it into something much less off-putting.

How to write headers

Good headers grab attention and describe what follows. This makes your page easy for search engines to navigate, and match with the people most likely to engage with it.

Good headings also lead to some other good things:

  • Writers have a structure to work with
  • People can scan the page to find the bits they want

This is all fine and dandy, but how do you actually use headers?

How to optimise headers

Get straight to the point
Headings and subheadings are designed to guide users, so they should say exactly what they mean. Steer away from magazine or newspaper-style headers – just be clear and direct.

It sounds brutal, but don’t try to be clever, or too creative. And never lead with puns. In web content, the blatant ranks well, while the subtle sinks to the bottom.

Keep it simple
Focus on the purpose of the page and make life as easy as you can for your users. If you’re selling a product, your headers should make the buying options obvious. Tackling a topic in a blog article? Use headings to signpost each theme in the discussion. You won’t only improve customer satisfaction, you’ll boost your SEO. 

Stick to the facts
Headers should accurately describe the copy beneath. Misleading your reader only leads to a frustrating user experience. And misleading a search engine brings the wrong audience to your page and increases your bounce rate.

To write high quality headers, start by understanding what your audience is looking for, and the terms, or ‘keywords’ they’re using to search for it. If these keywords are relevant to your content, use them.

Want to learn more about SEO? Check out The Blackad Guide to Optimising for Search.

Getting to grips with keywords

What are they?
Keywords are the terms users type into Google when they have a search query. They’re the Lego blocks of great SEO content, as they represent user intent in its truest form.

How do I know what keywords to use?
You can look up the relevant terms using your keyword tool of choice, or speak to some digital marketers (*waves*) who can gather this info for you – it’s always good to have the hard facts.

Which headers to place them in
Once you know what your keywords are, you need to split them into ‘primary’ or ‘secondary’ based on their importance to your brand. Then decide where to use them. The most effective place to put keywords is in page titles, the main header (H1) and high up in the body copy. But don’t be tempted to use the same keywords again and again in different headers. Keep it natural, and stay away from Dalek-esque prose.

Understanding the hierarchy

To help search engines prioritise your headers as it reads a page, use H tags in your HTML. These aren’t mandatory – these days Google is sophisticated enough to guess which headers are most important on a page – but using H tags keeps you in control. In other words, you tell Google which keywords you’d like it to focus on, rather than letting it assume. And we all know what happens when we assume.

It’s all very logical. Just prioritise headings in the same way you would when writing an article. Something like this:

<h1>This is the main headline</h1>

<h2>This is one section</h2>

<h3>This is a sub-section</h3>

<h2>This is another section</h2>

<h3>This is a sub-section</h3>

Here’s a breakdown of the different H tags:

H1
The most important header. This should be your main headline, and the general advice is that you should only ever have one per page (if SEO studies are your thang, there’s a pretty interesting one by Moz on this topic). You should use your primary keyword here.

H2
Next in-line in terms of influence, these are usually sub-headings used throughout a page – there can be several of them. Use secondary keywords here.

H3s to H6s
The higher the number, the lower the importance. H3s and anything above should mainly be used to make your content more readable.

Final takeaways for writing awesome headers

If you only remember four things from this blog, let them be:

  • Only use one H1 per page
  • Keep headers accurate
  • Use keywords, but don’t repeat them too much across different headers
  • Be factual, not creative

We've got a lot more SEO copywriting knowledge to share, should you choose to accept it.