#22 Want Readers Write Good Headers

#22: Effective Headers Get Readers

If you know some HTML, then you might have seen bits of words with <h1> or <h2> tags.

For example,

This is a <h1> tagged phrase </h1>

looks like…

This is a

tagged phrase

As you can see, anything between the tags are headers. And they’re important, because for you – the blogger, content creator, social media sharer –, headers get you readers.

Why are Headers Important?

It’s all about first impressions.

The header is the first thing that we see on a story (as it’s usually on the top) and the only thing that we see when Googling for information.

In addition, readers use headers in these ways:

  • Folks decide to read or skip your article from your headers. Your secondary audience, search bots, use them to help index your article in search engines (e.g. Google).
  • Readers use them to navigate. They find out where they are in the article and what kind of information to expect next.
  • It’s easier on the eyes where information is chunked into logical units.
  • They keep your writing on track. By breaking it up into logical parts, you won’t ramble and leave out important information.


The Problem with Headers

We’re just too clever, fancy and full of baggage.

There are many smart, catchy headers that use double meanings (such as puns) and metaphors. They worked for print publications.

But smart, catchy headers are not as effective online (although it’s changing with social media sharing and searches, and content curation) for these reasons:

  • Readers want answers to their searches. A clever header might obscure what they’re looking for.
  • Readers skim, not read. So headers are signs that tell us where to stop and spend time.
  • Search bots don’t understand puns and irony. Hence your article might not appear highly on search engine rankings for search terms that your audience might use.


What are Effective Headers?

Like the best writing, the most effective headers are concise and pointed.

There’s no hard and fast rule to writing headers, but most websites and folks agree on the following tips:

  • Be descriptive: Tell them what’s in the next section and what to expect.
  • Keep it simple & clear: Your readers can use them to navigate the article.
  • Use title case for headers: It’s an archaic but familiar practice. Phrases done up in title case (e.g. This is a Title Case Phrase) grab our attention.
  • Move your keyword to the front: We search using keywords. So include a relevant keyword to boost search rankings and catch your reader’s eye.
  • Use HTML tags correctly: <h1> tags headline the page whilst <h2> tags are usually sub-headers. This signals to search bots that it’s important information. If it looks ugly you can style it with CSS; unless you’re on WordPress.com.

These are not rules. They’re simply good practices (as we pander to Google). You’ll find examples that break them and get away with it. But they’re more the exception than the rule.

So the lesson, dear reader, is that if you want readers, write effective headers.


A day, a tip | 100 days, 100 useful content tips

Tip categories: Create, Source, The Truth, Spread & Be Nice.
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Credit: Featured image from Singapore 2010 Youth Olympic Games

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