Headings test

What does it do?

Test whether or not properly defined headings are used by the website, and lists them. (Headings have a special meaning here, and are not just larger text on a page).

Example results

Example headings test results

Why is it important?

Good use of headings has a tremendously positive effect on search engine rankings. They also help accessibility (users with screen readers often browse a page by headings, to save listening to entire pages being read out). Using headings also helps the usability of a website, making it easier to users to scan.

Headings are easy to add to a website and there is no good reason for not using them.

How is it measured?

A heading is a specially defined block of text visible within a webpage – technically, it is text inside a Heading tag (<h1>, <h2>, <h3> …). Sitebeam checks that at least one of these is used on each page.

Sitebeam also checks whether the contents of these headings is appropriate (e.g. that they contain some actual text), and that they are nested appropriately.

The score is taken from the proportion of pages with properly defined headings, weighted for the relative importance of the pages they appear on. The best possible score would come from using headings on every page.

Technical explanation

The only test for nesting is that if a heading level n, exists, there should always be a proceeding level n-1 (except for heading 1, which is the highest). It is not necessary or appropriate to determine the logical order of headings beyond this.

Potential problems

I’m using headings in my website, but Sitebeam doesn’t agree

Sitebeam is checking for the use of proper heading tags (e.g. <h1>, <h2>, <h3> …). Simply using big text, or your own arbitrary heading styles doesn’t count (as it confers none of the benefits outlined by this test).

Make sure you haven’t confused headings with titles. These both have special meaning in Sitebeam.

Sitebeam doesn’t detect the text in my header images

If your heading text is contained in an image, it must be defined as alternative text. For example, this is not valid:

<h1><img src='myheader.png'></h1>

This is what you should do instead:

<h1><img src='myheader.png' alt='My header'></h1>

How to improve this score

All pages should use headings, unless they contain absolutely no text. Adding headings to pages is usually a trivial task, requiring modest updates to your CSS (if not already in place), and the addition of a few characters of code to each page.

Focus on the most important pages first, and ensure the Headings represent your content well. The words used in your headings (and those related to them) will be more prominent to search engines.

Note that a heading does not need to look visually distinct (although it should). Existing content should always be marked up to use heading tags for headings, not arbitrary or in-line styles, such as:

<span style='font-size: 20px'> ... </span>

How to use this test effectively

Your score for this test should always be high (if not, take immediate action to improve it, as it offers some of the greatest benefits for the least cost, particularly for SEO).

Once headings are in place, use this test to ensure that they are:

  • Correct
  • Appropriate
  • Optimised

In particular, if there are keywords you are optimising for, consider that they should feature inside your headings. You can search your headings specifically for these keywords, and export a list of your headings for offline review if you wish.

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