If you’ve been in my Conductor class, you’ve heard me rant about headings. I encourage the ample use of headings and bulleted lists, but here’s a little background on why and how best to use them.
1. Heading order is important.
Headings can help visitors to your site quickly scan your page to see if what they want is covered. You have very little time to persuade them to stay on your site, and headings can tell visitors whether it’s worth staying.
Headings help visitors understand your organization.
- Headings work like a map for your visitors. Visitors can quickly scan the page to find their general location, then follow the road signs to the specific information they want. They intuitively understand that larger, more prominent headings are major topics of the page; smaller, less prominent ones are the parts that go into further detail.
- If you use heading styles based on color or size or font, tossing them about in an illogical manner, your visitors (especially those using screen readers) will have difficulty following your train of thought and logic.
2. Heading styles should be used solely for headings.
I understand; I really do. Sometimes, it’s nice to highlight some text for emphasis. However, the use of heading styles for this purpose is not a good idea.
Think of it this way. Imagine you don’t see well (or at all) and use a screen reader to read a web page. You would probably scan the page by having the screen reader read out links and headings, just to get an idea of whether you wanted to spend time on that page. If the page has a section of text incorrectly identified as a heading, you’d be confused as to what the author was trying to get across and why that text was a heading. It just wouldn’t fit with the rest of the headings on the page.
3. Headings should be unique.
Headings should describe the content that follows. By repeating headings on the page, your visitor may not realize that the content following the repetition is actually important and different from the first instance. Thus, you lose a chance to have your content read.
4. Headings should describe the content that follows.
Since search engines and visitors to your site, alike, will be looking at headings for clues as to the content, use your headings to succinctly summarize the content to follow. Using keywords (words that relate to the content and that might be used by folks searching for said content) will help search engines direct visitors to your site. Those keywords will also help your visitors and the search engines prioritize your content. (Keep in mind, however, that keyword stuffing is never a good idea.)
5. Headings grab your visitor’s attention; subheadings can keep it.
The large headings can help your visitor find out what’s on your page. The use of subheadings can help him realize the depth of information and specifics that you’ll be providing. These subheadings can lead him to the information he is seeking—a win-win situation.
So you’re convinced that you need to address the use of headings on your site. How do you go about it? Take a look at your page and then take a look at the questions below to see how your page stacks up.
- Do your headings make sense in the order used? Think of the headings as the outline of your page. Is the usage of major points and subpoints logical? Do the headings lead a visitor through the page?
- Are you using heading styles for non-heading text? If so, reformat any text that is not intended as a heading but that uses a heading style. You can user boldface or italics, or both.
- Are your headings unique? Do they relate to the text that follows?
- Looking at the page as if you were a first-time visitor, do your headings and subheadings make you want to read the text that follows?
If you’re putting together a new page, consider writing out an outline and then turning the outline points into headings. It’s just like your teachers told you years ago: By creating that outline (headings), you have half your page written before you even start!