SEO and document structure

It’s surprising how many web designers claim to know a bit about search engine optimisation, yet don’t seem to know about basic document structure. Understanding the hierarchy of title and heading tags does matter. They won’t make or break your position in the search results, but every little helps. So how are your web pages structured?

To find out how things should work, we need to go back to the documentation which everyone used as their reference some 15 or more years ago. These tips for webmasters might look ancient, but they’re still fundamental advice.

A web page is a document. It is supposed to have a title (which is used behind the scenes) and a single headline which summarises the document. Beneath this are one or more subheadings, and beneath these, further levels of subheadings. In HTML (the language of the web), these headings are identified with tags such as <h1>, <h2>, <h3>, etc.

If you look at the code behind your web pages, you should be able to find this as the basic structure. Poor designers might throw in multiple <h1> tags, ignore <h2> and lower tags, or just use them for the wrong things, like the company name in the masthead.

Pull out the contents of the <title> and the <h1>, <h2>, <h3> tags, and see if what you’ve got summarises the page you’re looking at. Obviously ignoring the fundamentals hasn’t caused your site to become unreadable or anything like that. But might it be symptomatic of poor design in general?

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