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Headings, WCAG, Google and Me


From: Rainer Wagener
Date: Jan 24, 2007 6:00AM

Hi folks at the accessibility frontline,

I have an issue with headings.

On the german CSS list [1] we just had quite an interesting but
basically off topic discussion about the appropriate use of headings.

The WCAG states the proper use of headings [2]:

"Since some users skim through a document by navigating its headings,
it is important to use them appropriately to convey document
structure. Users should order heading elements properly. For example,
in HTML, H2 elements should follow H1 elements, H3 elements should
follow H2 elements, etc. Content developers should not "skip" levels
(e.g., H1 directly to H3). "

Some people argued that Google utilizes <h1> and <h2> for ranking
purposes as <h3> to <h6> is considered plain text.
Now people tend to use headings in order to promote important terms
instead of representing document structure.
While on some occasions this approach meets well with WCAG
requirements, on others it does not.

Given the following example:

<h1>Berlin News</h1>
<h2>What happened Today</h2>
<h3>Merkel meets Bush</h3>

The above structure seems pretty logical to me.

But if you want to SEO (Search Engine Optimize) "Merkel" it could
turn out like this:

<h1>Berlin News</h1>
<h4>What happened Today</h4>
<h1>Merkel meets Bush</h1>

Note, this is just an example.

The SEO approach is to use <h1> as a paraphrase for "Important for
Google", no matter what the document structure is like.
Accordingly terms considered "Not Important for Google" are put
inside <h4> etc.

So you end up with a lot of <h1> and only incidentally representing
any document structure.

It has always been an argument that semantic markup is kind of SEO in
itself. Maybe unsemantic markup is even more SEO.

What do you think about this?

Regards, Rainer

[1] http://de.groups.yahoo.com/group/css-design
[2] www.w3.org/TR/WCAG10-HTML-TECHS/#grouping