Headers: The Basics and a Misconception

When you write a legal blog post, you’ll have the option of including a variety of different formatting options to break the post up into smaller segments and signal slight changes in the topic of the post. These are headings and can help you score on the search engine optimization (SEO) front both by signaling to search engines what your post is about, and by guiding readers through your post, increasing the time they spend on the page and reducing your bounce rate.

This post will focus on what seems like a very basic thing—describing what a heading is. However, it will also clear up a misconception that is very easy to fall into.

Search engines see computer code rather than headings in a legal blog post

What is a Heading?

If you’ve read anything on the internet, you’ve seen a heading. However, people who have seen and can recognize a heading in an online article cannot have a full understanding of them, because how human readers see a heading is radically different than the way an internet browser or a search engine sees a heading.

How Human Readers See Headings

To human readers, headings are lines of text that are prominently displayed in a way to signal to you what the following words will cover.

In online content, including on a legal blog, headings stick because they use larger, often boldface, font. They also have an entire line dedicated to them, adding white space to the page that makes the text of the header even more conspicuous.

This prominence signals to the human reader that the text of a header is important: It can be used to determine the outline of the online article or legal blog post, helping the reader see where the post is going and understand what is going to be covered. For example, you were quickly able to see that this section covered how human readers see headings, and that we are now about to head into how search engines see them.

How Search Engines See Headings

 

To a search engine like Google, though, a heading is a line of computer code that does nothing but endow a different formatting on any text that it gets associated with. So, while human beings see a heading like this:

This is How a Human Reader Sees a Heading

Search engines like Google see a heading like this:

<h2>This is How a Human Reader Sees a Heading</h2>

The particular stylistic difference that human readers see in a heading comes from another line of computer code that gives particular attributes to the command “h2”.

So What?

If this seems pretty basic, you’re right. However, it is important to understand that it is the computer code that makes a heading. The stylistic and formatting differences that human readers see in a heading are just a result of that computer code.

With this preliminary matter out of the way, we can explore the SEO ramifications of different headers, both in the realm of traditional signals and user intent signals.

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