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WordPress 3.9 Crash Course – Part 13 – Styling Content for Readability Using Headings and Lists

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The next thing in this WordPress 3.9 Crash Course that I want to talk about is styling content for readability using headings and lists.

Optimizing Your Content

If you look at that Search Engine Optimization Starter Guide that Google publishes, in section 3 they talk about Optimizing Your Content and the first whole part of that is about being organized and making sure that your pages are organized and on a single topic.

What Headings Tell Search Engines

How you use headings is important because for Google headings are intended to have what they refer to as semantic value. This means that the headings in your page tell Google something about the content of that page.

Descriptive of the Content on the Page

Your main heading should be descriptive of the content of that page. And you should have only one h1 tag on your page which means that you don’t want to add h1 to any headings in your text. The WordPress page title automatically gets assigned this tag. And the title should be descriptive of the content of the page.

Create a Hierarchy of Content (aka Organized Content)

Then you use headings throughout the rest of the text to break down the content of the page which creates a kind of hierarchy. Let’s take the text I have here on this page and I’ll optimize the content with formatting. I’m going to break this down into its main subjects.

So, “Keeping Your Content Organized”, that’s the main subject so that’s an h2 tag. That has a subtopic inside of it, “Focus On One Topic Per Page”. This section of text is part of “Keeping Your Content Organized” so I’ll make that a heading 3.

This is a heading 2 and the content under heading 2s can be broken down into heading 3s. Heading 2 should be about the content of that section and heading 3 should be about the content of those paragraphs that are inside of it.

You may not always have that situation. But generally speaking a well formatted page, by Google’s standards, has one h1 tag which is your page title. Then that page has a bunch of content that’s broken up into its main points with h2 tags. Those main points can also be broken up additionally with h3 tags and then, if necessary, h4 tags. If you use this system then Google can use those titles to understand what the page is about.

Now, as soon as you break the rule of no more than one h1 tag then Google knows those tags aren’t useful anymore and will stop paying attention to it. So if you want to optimize your content for search engines and make sure that your pages get returned in relevant searches, follow these rules. Again, the first rule is to keep your content organized.

What Headings do for Readers

The second point is that you should be creating content for users. And headings are a useful way for people to be able to scan the document to see, generally speaking, what the article is about and what they will find. Again, headings are a way of structuring your information. So I’m going to add headings to the document here so that you can see what that looks like. I’ll add h2 for main points and h3 for subpoints within those areas.

Use of Bold, Italics and Links to Markup SEO

The next thing you can do for SEO markup is to use bold, italics and links throughout your text. Again, Google assumes that your important information has been bolded. So if you’ve got something particularly critical that you want to point out in a paragraph that’s something that’s worth bolding.

It makes those points easier for readers to find and it also reinforces the Search Engine Optimization. If you do this and the point is relevant to what’s being said in the paragraph, Google considers that a further cue as to what’s important in that paragraph. Well, the same thing is true with italics.

If you take the most important aspects of some paragraphs and bold them or italicize them, Google will believe you and consider that to be reflective of its content and consider that in its algorithm for what your content is about and what kind of searches should return your content.

The way you apply the paragraph tag or headings is you simply place your cursor in the section that you want to have that heading and then say apply heading. Now obviously, we don’t want this whole thing to be a heading here.

If you want to make something a heading, first it needs to be on its own line and then you can stick your cursor in there and apply that to a heading. However, if you want to just apply bolding or italics to a set of text, all you have to do is select the text and bold it. It’s very similar to the way it works in a typical word processor.

Does Google Penalizes for Using Bold and Italics Too Much?

Ray asks, “Does Google ever penalize for using bold and italics too much?”. Yes it does. If you misuse tags, misuse bold and misuse italics then it ignores it. And by misuse I mean don’t use in a way Google wants you to use it.

I have a member here on the site, she won’t listen to a word I say about this and on very critical important sales pages, she bolds everything and puts everything in big h1 tags. Essentially she’s shouting at every person who looks at this page.

She thinks that that will help her sell and it’s a common rookie mistake. You think, “Oh that’s what I need to do, I need to have all these big bold statements about come buy this here, this is exciting new, here’s five secrets”. But this is just completely ignoring what Google says she ought to be doing with the page if she wants it to be found in search results.

Google doesn’t care that you want to be found, it only wants to provide good content to its customer . And its customer is a searcher and as such it will ignore you if you bold too much, italicize too much, misuse headings that kind of stuff. So that’s something to keep in mind.

Internal Linking – An Important Part of SEO Strategy

You can also emphasize the value of another page by including links. Let’s say we’ve got an article about a topic you mention here. You can just select this text, your link text, hit link and then go find your page about that. We’ll pretend the sample page is that and then hit add link. Now this is a hyperlink that will take people to that page.

Tells Search Engines About the Page Linked To

This link doesn’t do anything for the page you’re on instead it does something for the page you’re linking to. A critical aspect of your On-Page Search Engine Optimization strategy needs to be an internal linking system where you have at least 3 or 4 links inside every page to other pages on your site and then you use good anchor text for that.

Anchor Text Should be Descriptive of Linked Page

The anchor text is descriptive of the page you are linking to. So if this page that I’m linking to is not about the link text selected here then I wouldn’t want to use this anchor text as a link. This link helps Google to understand what the other page is about.

Link to Pages on Your Own Site

You definitely want to use this internal linking for linking not to pages offsite but pages on your own site. And you want to use a block of text that is reflective of the content of the page that you are linking to. If you want to know more about that you can watch one of my SEO seminars where I talk about that at length.

You can always edit the link after you create it. You can add a descriptive title so that when someone hovers over the link they know where they are going. Or if you want to change the link to another page you can do that as well.

Put your cursor in the link text, select the link icon and then you can add a title or change the link and title. Let’s come over to my site where you’ll see it’s much more complex when you have lots and lots of pages but. I’ll select this link.

If I click this link or link to existing content, now I literally have 3500 pages at least on the site of all kinds to choose from. It can be my pages or seminars, case studies or events. I probably have 5000 individual pages, posts, events, seminars, courses, lessons etc. so using this quick find feature here can be kind of complicated. In that case, you can use the search function to search for relevant content on your site.

So that’s what you’re doing and that’s the facility that’s available to you here. You can search for specific keywords on your own site using this to find pages that make sense to link to and that’s what my wife does here when she’s adding transcripts. If you look at our transcripts, they often have at least 3 or 4 links to other pages on the site and those links are found by searching for content that is relevant to the link text using this facility.

Markup the Text for Readability

You should also consider marking up the text for readability. People don’t read a long list of uninterrupted text so you need to break the text up for them. You need to break the text up for them with headings that are descriptive of the high points of the topic so that they can scan through it.

And if it’s appropriate for the content, you can take parts of the text from a paragraph and turn it into a bulleted list. This is especially useful when you are, no surprise, listing out things whether it’s types of coffee, states or any other thing.

By emphasizing the important points using bold or italics you’ll draw people’s attention to that content. This also helps people scan your content because people very seldom just sit and read a webpage from start to finish. What they do is they scan it for things that look relevant to them and headings and lists and bold and italics are all cues helping people identify what’s important to them.

Disadvantage of Using Inline Styles

There’s one other thing that you can do in the text editor that I want to strongly discourage you from doing. And that is using lots of inline styles. For example, you could decide that you want all your emphasized text to be red. It’s easy enough here to just select the text and color it red.

Why You Shouldn’t Color Your Text

You think it looks good with your color scheme and it makes sense right up into the point at which you change your theme or you change your color scheme. Then what you have to do is go find every single instance of this and change it to a color that’s commensurate with your new color scheme.

So I strongly encourage you not to use inline styles beyond bold, italic, underline and justification. If there’s something that you need to be centered you can justify that but I strongly recommend that you not use text colors in your text.

Don’t Use Headings for Emphasis

The other thing I suggest is never use headings for emphasis. If you are trying to emphasize something don’t use headings for that. Use your headings as a way of having a logical hierarchy of information. If you use headings for styling rather than for their intended use, you run the risk of Google being confused about what your page is about and potentially not serving it up in the search result.

If you want to emphasize something visually, make a note of it to yourself and then learn how to add a class to it and style it with a class rather than using a heading to do it. We have videos for WordPress and the Genesis theme that teach how to customize your content and for the Thesis theme as well. It may seem like more work to you in the short term but it will be much less work to you and be much more successful for you in the long term.

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