In a previous blog, I talked about the differences between structured and unstructured data. Structured data is an important and growing SEO tool for establishing and defining entities. In that blog, I talked a little bit about unstructured data, and how it can also facilitate the definition of entities in a couple of ways. These ways include defining the Information Architecture for a page to facilitate understanding in your audience, and for search engines, and secondly, to define the relationships between entities on your page and website.
Satisfy Needs of Your Visitors
The primary purpose of your content is to deliver information that satisfies your visitor’s needs and encourages them to convert in some way. To do this, you should seek to organize and simplify your information so that the most important elements get the most attention from your visitors. The organization of your information can take many forms and there isn’t one that’s better than another, beyond what’s working for your audience. The important thing is that the content is organized in some way that gives order and a pleasing presentation to the information.
Information Architecture Through Headings
Information Architecture is the structure and organization of information. This structure is designed to enhance the usability of the information and maximize the delightfulness of its use for those who need to interact with it and use it.
When HTML was being formulated as a web standard, The World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) created several levels of headings to help establish a structure for the information on a web page. The <h1> tag is the top level heading and functions as the page title. The <h1> establishes the topic of the web page and is a contributing ranking SEO factor. The other HTML headings include <h2> through <h6>, and represent sub-headings that are designed for more specificity with each level of heading.
The use of the <h1> through <h6> tags coinciding with the paragraph <p> tags at each level are what create the structure for your page. This structure facilitates the indexing and processing of your page’s information.
Remember Jr. High English class? Oh yeah! One great way to think about possible architectures for web copy is with the use of outlines. An outline is a breakdown of the major topics into sub-topics and sub-topics into paragraphs. Paragraphs are structured with topic sentences, and copy that elaborates and expounds on that sub-topic. Structuring information on a web page can work essentially the same way.
Why Use Semantic Heading Structure?
With this structure in place, it’s clear to search engines looking at your content where the page is specific and where it’s more general, and what the most important content is and what is less important. This should also correlate with the visual hierarchy established on the page by the web design. The hierarchy is key to communicating what’s important about your page’s information, and how the information relates to other information on the page.
When search engines crawl your page and there’s little to no heading structure, in most cases, they can still extract the needed information about your entities, but there’s no guarantee the information will be interpreted properly. Pages can and do rank that have multiple <h1> tags, missing <h1> and other h-tags, heading structure that skips levels, and many other uses of h-tags that go outside the original design intent of the W3C.
What About SEO and Rank Signals?
A lack of organization doesn’t necessarily create ranking problems for a page, especially when there are many other rank factors at play. But lack of organization doesn’t help to clarify and define for Google, Bing, Yahoo, and others what your page is about, and why it’s relevant to searchers. Clarification and definition should be priorities when building and optimizing a web page for SEO.
Screen Readers and Alexa
There are other reasons for using the semantic design structure of the h-tags. Screen readers for the visually impaired are a growing segment of the web. Amazon’s Alexa, the popular audio assistant is continuing to grow in popularity. 100 million Alexa units have been sold as of January 2019. Screen readers rely on the heading structure to provide context and structure to the outline depth that they cover as they read a web page. Without this, the listeners can get lost in the document as headings are skipped or missed because they are absent.
When you use proper heading structure on your pages all these important elements of your page are clear to visitors, screen readers, and search engines. What’s important is that your use of h-tags helps define and clarify your content. Don’t let your business get lost in the fog of poor or missing information architecture.