structure your content to be better for accessibility (and SEO!)

August 20, 2019

written by
Andrew Levine

so what are headings, anyway?

If you went to grade school, you must remember that you would get docked points for writing a paper without a title or not putting your name on it. A title is another word for a heading and it’s as important as your name to a reader. You may be familiar with these in your word processor – MS Word or Google Docs. The longer your content is, the more complicated it gets to read. That’s why many of us were trained to create content outlines. A bullet point outline not only helps us organize our own thoughts and keeps us from wandering off on tangents, it also helps the reader understand our point if we lay it out logically. Each section of the outline starts with a type of heading. It’s a means of laying out the hierarchy of your document.

Both Word and Google Docs have a few levels of headings to let you assign your content to different levels.  The same concept exists in the web world — but there are six defined heading levels. Usually, only about 3 or 4 of these are actually used.


why should we use headings?

Just like when you are reading a book or a paper, headings help computers know when a paragraph starts or new ideas come into play in your content. Screen readers and search crawlers have been programmed to identify these structures. 

Secondly, it makes your content more user friendly. No one wants to read a wall of text and creating headings allows your content to be broken up into idea chunks that give people a better understanding of what you are expressing. If you’re familiar with legal contracts, you’re also familiar with WHY headings are so important. Items that relate to section 1-D may not relate to section 13-A. 

And the more user friendly your content is, the more people will read it. Google notices if people spend time reading your content or just shaking their heads and hitting the back button.  This makes your content and your site more accessible but – bonus! – also seo-friendly. 


how do I start?

Easy, your site usually needs to be built correctly from the start. The first question is always going to be the same no matter what you do:  what do you want to say and why are users coming to your website? Most of the websites we build have a single clear goal, selling a product. Now that product may be a service, a meal, or tickets so we go about it differently in each case but it’s still the number one message. You then figure out your sub-messages; those could be “see our reviews”, “look at a menu”, “call us”, “find out we’re certified”, or “discover our services”. 

Next create a good site map (IA) to lay out that content in an organized fashion. Home, detail, contact etc. Then create the content plan that goes hand in hand with wireframes so you know where your content lives and in what order. NOW we focus on headings. 

Each page needs a title. For this example let’s say we’re a pet food supplier and we’re selling our products. So on the product page, the main heading is products. Then we break it down into sub products “food,” “toys,” “medicines.” Then we break it down again, “dog food,” “cat food,” “chinchilla food.” Each of these then break down into more pages and we organize them by headings again: “cat food” breaks into “canned” or “dry”, then maybe we sort it by provider “Nine-Lives,” “Fishy Yummies.” 

Well, we hope you like pet food. And cats. But seriously, break down your content so people and search engines can use it.