Web page headlines are used in much the same way as newspaper headlines. They are intended to present the subject of the page clearly and succinctly while helping readers find the content they are interested in. HTML headlines come in sizes from H1 to H6, with H1 being the largest and most important. Headlines have a very large impact on search engine placement and every page of your website should have at least one of them.
Here are a few tips on how and where to use headlines to improve your search engine placement and the readability of your web pages.
Every headline has a specific purpose. It is counterproductive to attract a reader’s attention to a section of content with a headline without providing supporting content. Before you go adding headlines to your pages, make sure you have content to support them.
- Content & Structure – Effective headlines have a sentence structure, an active voice, strong present-tense verbs, and subject-specific keywords. In the case of H1 tags, it is very helpful if they closely mirror your web page title. All H2 and lessor tags should directly reflect the text that immediately follows them.
- Length – While there is no hard limit to the length of a headline tag, you should try to keep them under 60 characters for H1 tags, and under 100 characters for h2 tags. This is a soft limit and is as much about the readability of your content as it is optimizing for search engines. In general, less is more when it comes to headlines.
- On Page Placement – H1 headlines should be the first headline on the page. After that H2 and lesser headline tags should be used for section and content headers. Each headline should be followed by at least one piece of supporting content such as a paragraph or bullet list.
- Keyword Placement – As with most SEO elements, keywords should be placed as close to the beginning as possible while remaining readable.
- Keyword Frequency – Do not repeat keywords within the same headline tag. Imagine reading your headline on the front of a newspaper. If it would make sense there, it will likely work on your page too.
- Messaging – Headlines draw the eye to specific portions of a page. They act as a visual index of the page, allowing the reader to find the content they want quickly. Headlines can also be used for call-to-action text such as “Download The Free Brochure.” Each headline should have one, and only one purpose. Do not try to mix your messages present choices in a headline. For example “Call Us Today or Stop By Our Downtown Location” would be a bad headline.
- Capitalization – There is great debate over when, where and how to to use capitalization in headlines. Rather than give you my opinion, I will provide you these facts [1, 2, 3]:
- Words containing all capital letters are harder for users to read.
- Words containing all lower case letters are more likely to be skipped or sub-consciously replace with similar words when reading. This effect becomes magnified when text is presented in long horizontal lines.
- Words containing initial capital letters are more likely to be read and do not seem to suffer from a loss of readability like words that contain all capital letters.
- Google’s design guidelines recommend sentence case for almost everything.
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