Search Engine Optimization

A Lack of Loyalty in Headings and Beheadings

Anne Boleyn about to be executed
Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn
A T. L. Raab engraving of Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn. Doesn’t it look as if he is already eyeing her head? Not a good sign this early!


In the historical scheme of things, one part of the human anatomy will forever be associated with Henry VIII. We’re speaking of the regal head, of course, as the Tudor King lopped off a fair number of them, several belonging to his wives. This includes Anne Boleyn, who’s shown with the King in the engraving above. Her head took with it five others accused of adulterous affairs, the poet Thomas Wyatt—the only one of the accused to escape the executioner’s blade—writing, “These bloody days have broken my heart.” This exploration of Henry VIII’s habit of playing the trump card of treason is about fair play. It’s also a primer on why headings and subheadings became such acrimonious pieces of the SEO puzzle once upon a time.


A Lack of Loyalty
in Headings and Beheadings

King Henry VIII
A portrait of Henry VIII c. 1520, author unknown. Image courtesy of National Portrait Gallery.


Just as heads rolled when subjects were said to be disloyal to a king during Tudor times, Google decapitated Black Hat SEOs for using headings and subheadings to dubiously gain traction in SERPs. The company did so by penalizing sites for what it deems “keyword stuffing.” In simple terms, this means an overuse of a word for which someone wants to rank or the placement of an element like a phone number in a place it shouldn’t be in an effort to gain extra power will now hurt a site’s chances of ranking.

One of the favorite places dishonest SEO’s would use a keyword for which they wanted to gain powerful attention is the H1 heading. For instance, using it to highlight “Call Our Florist at 000-000-0000” would be a big no-no. It’s not quite as erroneous for a small-town hardware store to have a heading like “We’re Your Local Answer to the Home Depot” in an effort to have those searching for the big-box store in the region click on their site first, but it’s risky, especially if there is a Home Depot nearby. Because this was standard practice a decade ago, Google has continuously decreased the power of headings. But that doesn’t mean they don’t still serve a purpose.


The order of headings in a post


To help you understand the heading hierarchy on a page or post, these pieces of the SEO puzzle graduate down from H1 to H6, decreasing in size and, once upon a time, power as the number increases. These valuable tools are actually meant to organize content for readers, breaking up long posts into palatable pieces with relevant headlines to announce what’s coming next, not to game search results in SEO. Using headlines to organize your content is the only reason to use them if you want to steer clear of being accused of treason by spiders crawling your site.


Accusations of Treason: Headings and Heads Roll

Tower Hill Site of Beheadings
Tower Hill in London, the site of the beheadings of Anne Boleyn’s accused lovers.


Using the analogy of a Black Hat practitioner operating during Tudor times with a search engine on the throne, we measure their fate by way of one date: May 17, 1536. They would have been trotted about as the accused, already tried and convicted, and beheaded at Tower Hill in London. A chilling account of the real beheadings that took place on that day are presented in a post on the Anne Boleyn Files if you’d like to feel the full measure of the betrayals.

The first to be beheaded due to his high rank was Anne’s brother George Boleyn, who held the title of Lord Rochford. In his speech, some of which is published in the ABF post, he urged those witnessing to “stick to the truth and follow it.” This is the policy we hold dear at adroyt when creating content for clients, the rules set by search engines the precepts of our SEO religion.


Portrait of Sir Thomas Wyatt
Sir Thomas Wyatt was the only one of Anne’s accused lovers to escape beheading.


Next on the scaffold was Sir Henry Norris, a close friend of Henry VIII’s and his former Groom of the Stool. Norris was followed by Sir Francis Weston, a gentleman of the Privy Chamber; then William Brereton, a groom of the privy chamber and a royal favorite, was led up to the blood-soaked scaffold. A Flemish court musician of humble origins, Mark Smeaton, came next. He was the only one to be accused who had confessed to adultery with the Queen and pled guilty at his trial.


Painting of Anne Boleyn saying goodbye
Anne Boleyn Says a Goodbye to her Daughter Princess Elizabeth, a painting by Gustaf Wappers.


When the Queen found out, she couldn’t believe he didn’t exonerate her before he died. It is believed he confessed because he had been tortured and promised freedom if he would capitulate, a practice that would have certainly been in keeping with the era. Two days later, she would make her way to a different scaffold erected on the north side of the White Tower. Henry had made this decision to afford her greater privacy—such a kind kingly move for such a treacherous man! According to historian Eric Ives, Boleyn wore a red petticoat under a loose, dark gray gown of damask trimmed in fur, and a mantle of ermine—a fashionable courtier to the bitter end, though she forgot one thing: there was an entity making decisions in her chosen world who was all powerful.


A Loyalty to High Quality Content

Anne Boleyn in Tower of London
“Anne Boleyn in the Tower “by Edouard Cibot (1799–1877).


In our chosen world, it is quite the same because the rules are set by search engines, and we aim to educate others who may not even know they are making mistakes on their sites or blogs. We do so with posts like this one. Using it as an example of good strategy, our focus keyword today “headings” is contained in our title; in the first heading, which is an H1 tag because it introduces the subject we are presenting. It is also mentioned naturally throughout the text as the subject warrants—we certainly don’t want Google’s spiders to become suspicious that we’re keyword stuffing. You can get the full scoop on best practices by downloading our tutorial about headings and subheadings on the adroytLABS e-commerce site. We also have a tutorial on word count and keyword density that explains how Google views the issue of saturation of your chosen keyword.


Anne Boleyn about to be executed
The swordsman of Calais was Anne Boleyn’s executioner, chosen by Henry VIII for his precision. The engraving is by Jan Luyken.


If you are as fascinated with the Tudor Era as we are, PBS airs a documentary series every so often called Secrets of Henry VIII’s Palace. It’s about Hampton Court Palace in which so much of the intrigue relating to Anne Boleyn’s time at court took place. And our favorite biography of the king is Henry VIII by J. J. Scarisbrick because the author discusses the more personal, domestic events of his life and times, all intertwined with the range of diplomatic, political and ecclesiastical affairs that absorbed his attention.

Text of A Lack of Loyalty in Headings and Beheadings © adroyt, all rights reserved. Unless otherwise stated, the adroyt blog is written by adroyt’s CEO Saxon Henry. Our downloadable knowledgebase can be found at adroytLABS.

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