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How Keywords and Heading Tags Work in SEO

Search engines crawl websites to determine what the sites and their pages are about. Through the course of the crawl, they look for what the most important words are – and these words are known as keywords.

Old SEO practices entailed “stuffing” keywords throughout your pages so the search engines would (a.) assume you’re an expert in this topic and (b.) rank you higher. Now, however, search engines are smarter, and you’ll get penalized for this type of practice.

Instead, things are somewhat easier these days in that you’re free to write in a natural, informative manner without awkward keyword-stuffing.

Keywords Still Matter

Each page on your site should have its own focus or topic. Ideally, that focus or topic has keywords associated with it. For example, a page about men’s running shoes would logically mention men’s running shoes a few times in its copy. Thus, men’s running shoes would be the keyword.

Search engines crawl the page and make the connection that the page is about men’s running shoes and put the page in its index. When someone uses the phrase in a search, the search engines pull the relevant pages (websites) that mention men’s running shoes from the index to display to the user. The rub is, of course, just where your page is ranked in that index.

Help the Search Engines Out

You need to inform search engines what your page is about. The way you inform search engines is by using keywords and keyword phrases in strategic places on your website’s pages. This is known as “spoon feeding” the search engines. A good guide for keyword targeting can be found on Moz.

Where Keywords Go

You put your page’s keyword(s) in its Title and Description in a natural writing fashion, but you also should put it/them in the page’s Heading tag (also known as the H1 tag).

The H1 or Heading tag is quite literally the heading of your webpage, much like the heading of a newspaper article. In this very post, the H1 is the headline, “How Heading Tags and Keywords Work,” and the keywords are “keywords” and “heading tags.”

When someone enters your website, they will naturally notice the Heading before reading the content on the page. Search engine crawlers function the same way: When a search engine crawls a webpage, its first action is to attempt to understand what the page is about. It does this by first reading the Title and Heading tags.

The H1 is the most important of the Heading tags, but there are also H2 through H6 tags that are used for visual effect and to break up copy. You can also put keywords in these tags if they’re relevant to the section’s content, but there’s little SEO impact by putting keywords in your H2-H6 tags.

On this post, H2s are the three other sections above: Keywords Still Matter, Help the Search Engines Out, and Where Keywords Go. You can use as many H2s through H6s as you like, but only use one H1 on any given page.