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HTML Tip:
Structure Documents With Header Tags

by Larisa Thomason,
Senior Web Analyst,
NetMechanic, Inc.

  
May 2001
Vol. 4, No. 9
 • HTML Tip
 • Design Tip
 • JavaScript Tip
  

HTML codes can be used for multiple purposes. HTML header tags (<H1>, <H2>, <H3>, etc.) are more than a quick way to format text. Use them to define your page's organizational structure and simplify page navigation. Well-written header text informs visitors and helps them navigate through your page - maybe keeping them at your site longer. Effective header tags will even increase your site ranking on some search engines.

Outline Your Document

Don't confuse header tags with the HEAD section of your Web page. Header tags belong in the BODY section of your document. Use the HEAD section for your TITLE and META tags.

Think of header tags like the main section headers in a term paper outline. The major points go in larger text while subheadings appear underneath in smaller text. Here's a sample of header text size:

html codes affect your page.

The most important header tag is the <H1> tag: its content should approximate the content in your document TITLE. Use the subheadings under the <H1> tag to indicate different document sections.

Provide A Page Map

Use header tags as a navigational aid on long pages to help visitors quickly scan page content. They can easily determine where new topics are introduced and find what they're interested in.

<H1>Chinese and Thai Cooking Classes: Recipes, 
  foods, and more!</H1>
  <H2>Chinese Cooking Classes</H2>
    <H3>Chinese Recipes: Mandarin and 
      Cantonese</H3>
    <H3>Chinese Food Preparation</H3>
  <H2>Thai Cooking Classes</H2>
    <H3>Thai Recipes</H3>
    <H3>Thai Food Preparation</H3>

Note that the section headers incorporate keywords and keyword phrases you would probably want to use in your META tag: Thai, Chinese, Thai cooking, Chinese cooking, Thai recipes, etc. That's a good way to increase keyword frequency on your page without spamming.

This page structure divides the page into sections so visitors can scan it easily. If the page is long, consider using anchor tags for internal page navigation. Then a visitor interested in Thai recipes could jump there immediately.

Easy navigation helps keep visitors on your site longer. They can quickly find what they need and avoid the frustration of getting "lost" on the site.

Grab Visitors' Attention

People don't read the same way online as they do in print. They're more apt to scan a document quickly and move on if it doesn't catch their interest. Web site visitors use document headings and subheadings to scan the page for interesting content.

Long pages full of unbroken text look pretty boring online, so use header tags to pique visitors' interest in your content sections. Header content describes what's on your page, so make sure it's descriptive and compelling.

"Become A Volunteer" is a pretty dry section header for a community service organization's Web site. "How You Can Help Abused Children" describes the content in more personal terms - and tells visitors what their reward will be.

Some Search Engine Spiders Use Them

But remember that you can also use header tags to appeal to search engines. Some search engines analyze text inside header tags and use it to rank Web pages. They assume that anything important enough to put in larger text is also relevant to the page's content.

The <H1> tag is by far the most important: it describes the purpose of the whole site. Search engine spiders will use it to score your page's relevancy. Make it a more succinct version of your page's TITLE tag and include important keywords. The sub headers decline in importance relative to their size, but they're still useful: be sure you include keywords there too.

Never use header tags as a substitute for the FONT tag. Use FONT tags or Cascading Style Sheets to emphasize words on your site. A search engine spider that finds this code:

  <H1>Enroll Now!</H1>

would assume that your page is about "Enroll Now" and not about a cooking class or volunteer training session.

HTML codes and keywords

Although your header text is the logical place to include keywords, don't neglect your page content. Even search engines that don't place more weight on keywords in header text use keyword frequency as part of the page's overall score. Sprinkle keywords and their synonyms liberally throughout your text and inside many HTML codes.

But be reasonable too. You don't want your content to sound stilted or repetitive. Too much repetition may get your page penalized both by visitors and search engines! NetMechanic's Page Primer tool, part of Search Engine Power Pack, will evaluate your page and alert you if you need more - or less - keywords in your content.



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