How many times have you landed on a page only to be overwhelmed by the amount of copy on it?
Headings are not only a great way of breaking up paragraphs, but also allowing the reader to skim the page for the information they wish to digest, especially if they aren’t committed to reading every last word.
You probably already know headings are a great way of providing structure to a page visually, but they do so much more – here’s why they’re an essential part of any web page.
Headings make your content accessible
We’ve just topped the Sitemorse INDEX for UK Universities and Higher Education for the second successive quarter, so we know just how important website accessibility is. We need to ensure that every page we create or edit meets the same high standards; and right at the top of any page checklist should be headings.
In order to achieve an AA accessibility rating or above you should ensure that “Headings and labels describe topic or purpose” Headings and Labels, World Wide Web Consortium (W3C).
This is why headings should be treated as labels – they are there to introduce or summarise content below – they should not be unrelated statements or marketing jargon.
“When headings are clear and descriptive, users can find the information they seek more easily, and they can understand the relationships between different parts of the content more easily.” W3C.
This technical structure is particularly important for assistive technologies such as screen readers to read out the structure and provide in-page navigation to the user.
Headings influence your search rankings
The often-forgotten benefit of correctly using headings is that search engines use them to index the structure and content of your web pages; why wouldn’t you go to the effort of adding these correctly in order to improve your search ranking on Google?
Search engines like Google pay the most attention to H1 headings, but they will also look for the other headings within a page. This is why it’s important that your H2s are treated correctly as sub-headings and contain similar keywords to your H1 tag. They should be easily readable, make sense and not be stuffed with keywords, as the likes of Google will recognise this!
What you need to know about headings
Headings go from Heading 1 (H1) all the way down to Heading 6 (H6), the least important heading.
All pages should include an H1 – this is the most important heading on your page and this may often be very similar to the Page title (or in T4 terms, the Section Name) but your heading tag can often be more descriptive and expand on the Page title.
The H1 should give readers an indication of what the page is about and you should always make sure that you only have one Heading 1 on a page, as this will allow the likes of Google to understand the context of your page’s content.
H1 headings should be followed by an H2 and this should be followed by an H3 and so on.
Skipping heading ranks should be avoided as this can be very confusing and if the structure isn’t hierarchical, users of assistive technologies (eg screen readers) may not understand the relationship between the headings.
This means you should make sure that an H2 is not followed directly by an H4, for example. However, you can skip ranks when closing subsections, so a Heading 2 starting a new section can follow a Heading 4 if that closes the previous section.
Finally, remember that headings should be used for headings only – they shouldn’t be used to make text larger or bold and definitely not links!
If you have any questions, please feel free to contact us or book a slot at one of our drop-in sessions which are regularly advertised in Inform. You can do both by emailing email@example.com.