What heading tags ARE
They started in really early, basic HTML as a way of structuring sub headings. And in fact that simple understanding of them still underpins their use in search engine optimisation.
HTML has six different headings, all numbered as H1, H2 all the way to (you guessed it) H6.
Your H1 is your most important heading, and then their level of importance cascades down until we get to the sixth level.
What heading tags AREN’T
Because the higher the number of the heading tag, the more ‘sub’ it was meant to be (e.g. an h3 is supposed to be a subtitle of a subtitle of the main heading) it made sense to use size to indicate where the heading fits in that hierarchy.
H1 tags are really big, and H6s pretty damn small.
As the web became more vibrant and design oriented it became really easy to think about heading tags in terms of layout. “You want big text? Throw an H1 in there! Something large but bold? Try an H3!”
This is completely the wrong way to think about headings.
Heading tags are for SEO
The best use of these tags is to reinforce your really core words and concepts, because search engines put a lot of stock in them. And funnily enough your H1 tag is worth more than your H2, etc.
There are a few rules. Just shoving whole paragraphs into headings will get you nowhere. And you should only have a single H1 tag per page. But you should definitely have it.
Stick with using them in that same cascading style that they were designed to. Work your way down them, making sure a sub heading of a sub heading goes to the next heading size.
When the big thing is not your main thing
The best example I can give of this is our own homepage. The largest text on it says “Just kick-ass results.” And the second biggest, “No hard sell. No contracts.”
Those phrases are great as a selling tool to help get people who are already visiting our site to get a feel for what we’re offering. Which is ideal – when someone’s found our site that’s precisely what we want to be doing.
So when we made this site we just threw out the idea that heading importance needs to be related to size. Those largest pieces of text are not heading tags at all, we faked that by replicating the size and style for heading tags without actually wrapping those lines inside heading tags.
We did something similar for our actual H1 tag, which is the smaller text below where we’ve been looking thus far, “We are Digital Marketing. We are SEO. We are Website Development.”
That doesn’t look like it’s our main heading. But if you look at the sourse code for that page—it absolutely is. And that’s what search engines will see when they look too.
We were able to get the site looking how we wanted, in a way likely to convert visits into enquiries, without having to sacrifice our SEO.
Quite literally, size isn’t as important as what you do with it.