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Getting Web Page Headings and Titles Correct

Often overlooked is the hierarchical structure and labelling of information on a web page. The two most important of these are page titles and page headings. Research has shown that the usability of a website is significantly effected by getting these two concepts correct.

Page headings
Most website users spend most of their time scanning web pages rather than reading the information on the web page. With this in mind it is important that the web designer makes sure that headings are well-designed to facilitate the user being able to both scan and read the written material.

The web designer should constantly strive to use distinguishing and descriptive headings and also to use as many headings as necessary to facilitate the web site user finding what they are looking for. A rule of thumb for this is that it is usually better to use more rather than fewer heading.
The web designer or the web developer should also create the headings in hierarchical order and because of this it is broadly speaking best not to skip heading levels.

Designers should also make that the site headings, e.g. the html h1, h2, h3, provide strong cues that will provide orientation to the web site users and also categorise the information that is contained on the page. This will provide the end user the ability to scan quickly and locate the information that they are seeking. If the user has to stop scanning and start reading the text on the page there is a strong likelihood that they will move away from the page if the limited text they have read is not relevant to them. It should also be noted that older internet users tend to scan less than younger internet users which can cause a conflict in design requirements. However hopefully the web designer will take into account the demographics of the end user of the website.

Page Titles
Page titles differ from headings in that whilst a web page may (and should) have several headings providing for the demarcation of content, there will only be one page title. Research at various universities has established that descriptive page titles are a fundamental requirement of any website. Whilst many people do not pay attention to the page title they have actually landed on (it appears at the very top of browser in the title bar), they certainly do when they are scanning through a search engines results page, as it is the text of the page title that normally appears as a link. It is this text that also appears as the text when someone bookmarks a page. It is therefore a necessity that the web design company who is preparing the web page provides a page title that is not only meaningful, but also descriptive, unique and concise. By providing clear and concise page titles the web developer will be orientating users as they browse a list a page or even scanning a list of pages in their browser bookmarks or browsing history.

Normally is it common practice that the title of the page is the same as the top level heading of the page. The significant advantage of this is that consistency is preserved so that the user avoids being confused.

Unfortunately many people address the issues relating to page titles and page headings from a Search Engine Optimization (SEO) point of view, when in reality they should be a fundamental part of the design of any page for a users benefit (which is probably why search engines pay so much attention to them!)
If you think about the content of your page and the users requirements you will be a long way along the road to designing a great website!

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