The importance of accessible, descriptive headings

Someone asked a good question at work the other day. Why do we use quite one-the-nose headings on our web pages – even the pages selling something (which is most of them). Shouldn't these be the main selling point rather than the name of the thing? Or in marketing-speak, shouldn't they be value propositions? They also added that competitors often take this different approach.

It's one of those questions that, no matter how long you've been doing something, makes you stop and think jeepers, are we doing this right?

So I made some notes of the rationale behind our approach – which is not to say the other is wrong (although, tbh, I personally think it is.) In the spirit of low-effort blogging (busy!) I thought I'd share them here too.

Why we make our h1s nice and descriptive

The reason to have a descriptive main h1 heading is to be good web citizens who create accessible interweb.

The first job of an h1 is to let people – and search engines – understand what the page is about. If we wrote value propositions as the main headers of every page where we sell things, the site would be a confusing mess to navigate.

You also have to think about:

Search engine optimisation (annoyingly). I'm not one for the SEO arms race against search engines, but I'm all for better accessibility – value prop h1s can hurt your SEO.

The h1 vs. the meta title. Or in other words, what the page appears to be called off-site, for example in search results. Not that they can't differ, but if they're too different, you'll confuse visitors who arrived by search. (I've a hunch there are other implications I haven't thought of here too.)

The site nav. You don't have space to play with but where, again, you want some correlation between the nav text and page heading so as not to disorient visitors.

And, by the way, a lot of the rationale applies for subheadings too.

And in the case of our pages, we still have the main selling point in nice big text under each heading. It's hard to miss.

Finally, as competitors go, it's always wise to keep an eye on what competitors are up to, but not blindly copy what they do for the sake of it. Company websites tend to be “owned” by marketing teams, and many marketing teams do not have a good understanding of accessibility (and digital good practice generally). Or even just writing for humans.

These were the main points I came up with, but like any good imposter, I searched the web for validation. I expect to find only user-centred websites to back this up, so I was delighted to see a Semrush blog post along similar lines.

So there: another example of why taking a human approach to marketing – if we want to call it that – is important. Think of your audience. Be kind. Be interesting. Be useful. And don't relentlessly try to grasp for money. As tempting as it may be, you'll scare more people away than you'll interest.