Optimising WordPress headings for SEO

Author - Nicola Campbell

Posted By Nicola Campbell Head of Design and UX

Date posted 14th Jan 2016

Category Blog, Marketing


Whilst 93digital use WordPress to create complex, bespoke sites, its popularity as a CMS grew as a simple blogging platform, accessible to those without any technical experience. Its easy to use, intuitive backend means we are able to pass management of a website onto our clients successfully with minimal instruction. However, as I explained in my blog post Optimising images for WordPress, there are some simple things you can do to improve the code of your site without ever touching an HTML file. In this post I will be explaining how to get the best out of your post and page headings.

People tend to read a little differently on screen than they do in print. Online, it’s a good idea to keep your content in small, bitesize chunks that are easy for users to scan. This means making the most of the content editor features to add straightforward, meaningful subheadings (in addition to links, bullet points, lists and so on). All this formatting makes your site more interesting and usable, but WordPress has another job to perform when you add these features. As you can see when you tab back and forth between the ‘Visual’ and ‘Text’ views in the editor, applying these settings is adding HTML tags around your content for you. These are used not only to help tell a browser how to visually display the content, but also to specify the structure of your content, and this is what people managing their own websites can often neglect.

This invisible structure is important for making your site accessible for users of screen readers, and for making your site as SEO friendly as possible. Google attributes more weight to your headings than the rest of your text, so make sure that not only are the words in your headings carefully selected, but Google knows where to find them – never be tempted to just use bold to emphasise text, rather than applying the appropriate heading.

So what is the ‘appropriate’ heading? Again, there’s more to making your selection than just looks. Your web designer or WordPress theme may display a Heading 1 differently to a Heading 2, or a Heading 3, but don’t just opt for the one you think looks nicest on that particular page or post. A Heading 1, actually equates to an <H1> tag, a Heading 2, to an <H2> tag, and a heading 3 to an <H3> tag – and these mean different things.

  • An H1 heading is a very top level heading. This tag is automatically placed around the title you give to your page or post in the field at the top of the page. This holds the most SEO value. You can use more than one H1 on a page, but for SEO purposes, it is generally advised that you stick to just one.
  • An H2 heading is a subheading of an H1. As you already have one H1 in your page or post title, its generally best to go straight to using H2s when you are adding your copy.
  • So far, so easy, but when we get to H3s it gets a little more complicated. An H3 is specifically a subheading of an H2. It is NOT the third heading you use and it is NOT an additional or less important subheading of your H1. Similarly, an H4 should only be used if it is a subheading of a previous H3.

The most common structure I see is one H1, followed by several H2s. Every now and then you may need an H3, or even an H4. WordPress gives you the option of an H6, which is effectively a subheading of a subheading of a subheading of a subheading of a subheading. Remember when I said it was good practice to keep online content in short, manageable chunks? It’s very unlikely you will ever need to use an H6.

Frequently updating your site content is great for attracting visitors, building authority and helping your site to list high, but it can be quite time consuming. Make sure you are spending that time wisely. If you use your headings in the correct way, you will be doing your bit to improve the usability and SEO value of your site.

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