Last year I read an article at Chris Pearson’s website that absolutely changed the way I looked at markup standards and WordPress SEO. Seriously, up until that point, I was convinced that SEO was a bunch of garbage for blackhat guys who were looking to game the system and cheat the rest of us. But after reading that article, I came away with a new perspective — Your markup is not simply a method for adding structure to style, but was the primary method search engines used to parse your content.
That day, I stopped using H2 in the sidebars of blog. I stopped using H1 for my blog’s title (and the blogs I would have the privilege of developing). And that’s what we’re going to cover in this post — how you can do the exact same thing!
I understand that for most of you, hacking your WordPress theme up isn’t an option; you simply don’t know enough about it to modify it without fear of seriously screwing something up. So yes, in this post, I am speaking primarily to developers and people who are relatively comfortable editing theme files. If that’s not you, then while this information may be useful to you, it probably doesn’t have any practical value, at least in the short term.
Yesterday, I mentioned that the most important content in your pages markup is what text falls between the <title></title> tags, and following in a close second is what falls between <h1></h1> tags. H1 is an HTML tag that means “Header 1″ or “Primary Header”. Likewise, H2 means “Secondary Header”, and so on for H3, H4, etc., all the way up to H6.
So, it makes sense that search engines would look to the HEADINGS of your page content to determine, very quickly, what the content of the page consists of.
And if you don’t understand, and leverage, that fact, then you are putting yourself at a severe disadvantage from an SEO perspective.
Only use H1 Once
Let me make one thing clear: the H1 tag should only be used ONCE on any given page. There is no such thing as two “Primary Headers”. You may disagree with me on this, but I am convinced that using the H1 multiple times on a page will affect your SEO adversely.
That means that all you developers and bloggers out there who have your title or logo (via the image replacement technique) being served up in H1 tags — you need to get rid of this, now. Think about it, if you’re blog title is being served up in H1 tags, and the title of your post is being served up in H1 tags (which it should), then what is the primary header?
TITLE and H1 Content Should Match
Although they don’t have to, it makes sense that if you are properly structuring your TITLE with your targeted keywords, then putting double emphasis on that by having it in both the TITLE and the H1 will only serve to further communicate to search engines that your content is important.
H2 Is for Sub-Headings
…and it makes perfect sense to have multiple subheadings. In fact, you may notice that the subheadings I used in this blog post are being served up in H2 tags. Should you be stuffing H2 tags with keywords? You probably could, but as with any of the SEO methods I’ve outlined in this series, don’t force it.
Sidebars and the H2 Tag
It is a sad fact that, by default, WordPress serves up Widget titles within the H2 tag. This is so completely counter-intuitive for semantic, structured markup. Do you really consider the titles of your sidebar widgets to be important information? No. Of course not.
For tips on getting your Widgets to use a different heading tag for titles, check out this tutorial by Automattic. I’ll also write a more detailed tutorial in the future for MAXIMUM control over the look and feel of widgets in themes.
From H3 to H6, it’s really just a matter of using the tag you think represents the importance of the content you’re wrapping the tags around. For instance, I choose to use the H3 tag around my sidebar and widget titles. I think it makes good sense, but you may have some content that you think is more deserving of the H3 tag and choose to use the H4 tag for widget titles. It’s really up to you.
I know I’ve been speaking in mostly theory in this post, but really, if you’re a developer, you probably already know how to apply this information in a WordPress theme. But generally, here are some good places to look:
- To remove the H1 tag from the blog title or logo, look in the header.php file.
- To remove the H2 tag from the widgets, you’ll want to modify the widgetization code in functions.php.
- To use the H1 tag as a single post or Page title, check out single.php and page.php.
- To use H2 tags in single posts or Pages, use the HTML editor or use the extended WYSIWYG options
Hopefully this has been helpful. Tomorrow, we’ll finally get into some advanced stuff that will give you an advantage over most of your peers. Don’t miss it!