Some say there are two sorts of people. Those who code, and those who don’t.
If you’re going to be successful at SEO copywriting you’ll have to dip into HTML a little, as we saw in Make Title Tags Work for You, but you don’t need to be a fully fledged geek.
Six header tags. But only two for you to worry about
In days of yore, when I learned how to be a sub editor, we used mark up hard copy so that the typesetter would know what we wanted the copy to look like on the page.
The typed manuscript would look something like this:
Small disaster. Not many killed*
Last night, as dusk drew in over the sleepy seaside town of Walmington-on-Sea, Mrs Ethel Brown (84) ran into a traffic bollard on her mobility scooter, scattering joggers and dog walkers alike, and crushing four unfortunate crustaceans…
Damage estimated at £47 by Borough Surveyor
Borough Surveyor, Mr Brian Bloggs, peering over his clipboard, sucked air through his nicotine-stained teeth and passed wind audibly…
HTML markup is very similar (HTML stands for hyper text markup language). Instead of ‘Headline’ and ‘Subhead’, we have <h1>, </h2>, <h3>, <h4>, <h5> and <h6> tags, in descending order of importance. There’s a matching closing tag – </h1>, </h2> etc – which indicates where the heading finishes.
Google and the other search engines appear to put a greater importance on words that appear between the <h2> and </h2> tags than between <h3> tags and lower. Words that appear between <h1> and </h1> are the most important of all.
Just like traditional headlines and subheads.
I’ve never used more than the three largest header tags, and then I’ve only used <h3> in only one project. Keep it simple. If I only need two of the header tags, I’m fairly sure they will be enough for you, too.
Put your SEO key phrases where they have most effect
Build your headlines and subheads around the key phrases you want to target. In this post, I’m interested in ‘SEO Copy’, ‘header tags’ and ‘key phrases’.
You can see how I’ve put the most important key phrase to Writing For SEO in the <h1> tags, while the others are in the <h2> tags. On this site, the <h1> copy is the large headline before the main image at the top of the page, while the <h2> copy is the headings that appear in the main copy.
The above piece of code looks pretty frightening, but if like most people, you’re using something like WordPress, your software looks after the coding for you.
How many header tags?
This is very important.
You should only have one set of <h1> tags on each page, while you can have as many <h2> tags as you like – or as many as the copy’s structure, logic and readability can stand. With blog posts, I seldom use more than four <h2> tags or less than two.
I have to hold my hands up. The theme I use for Writing For SEO does not have an <h1> headline on the home page. It’s a weakness that I want to fix, but there are other factors that work in the site’s favour, so despite this handicap, Writing For SEO appears on Google.co.uk at between position two and position 11 for the search ‘writing for seo’. The results on Google.com are only a little worse.
Inserting the tags
For the blog post pages, the copy put in WordPress’ ‘Enter title here’ field appears in <h1> tags, but I have to use the ‘text’ tab to insert <h2> tags in place manually. That’s the only piece of code I have to touch.
While the h2 tags tactic should work on WordPress and most CMS and Blogging platforms, you’ll need to check that your theme puts your titles in <h1> tags and only has one set of <h1> tags on your published pages.
Have a look at the code used for one of your pages by going into your browser’s View menu and choosing an option that says “Source Code’ or something very similar. If you’re using Google Chrome, you’ll need to go one more level down – it’s under ‘Developer’ in the View menu. You can then use Find to check how many <h1> tags you have.
It’s easier than it looks
It may look as if there’s a lot to digest here, but it boils down to just three points:
- Use <h1> and <h2> tags for targeting your preferred key phrases
- Use just one <h1> headline per page, but as many <h2>s as good writing allows
- Check that your Blogging or CMS platform publishes pages that follow rule 2
But please leave a comment if something isn’t clear.
*When I was trained in journalism and editing, this wonderful example of a bad headline was cited as being real and appearing in The Times, many years ago. Disappointingly, I could find no reference to it when Googling today. Maybe you know something about this story.