SEO and H1 headings according to Google

Google has recently come out to state that the holy H1 tag doesn’t need to be restricted to more than one use on a page, causing a little confusion amongst bloggers, SEOs, and content owners alike.

Let’s dig into this a bit.

In a recent Google Webmaster Central video, the question arose as to whether H1 tags should still be used only once on an entire page, a best practice that has existed for quite a few years.

Google’s John Mueller’s answer was…interesting:

Some SEO tools flag this as an issue and say like “Oh you don’t have any H1 tag or you have two H1 tags” …from our point of view that’s not a critical issue.– John Mueller

You can also hear John’s response to the subject:

Well, there we have it.

A page without an H1 or one that uses multiple H1’s are considered a non-issue for Google’s ability to rank a page.

Wait, what?

Does this mean that the holy h1 isn’t as important as we thought?

Not quite.

Yes, H1’s are still important

Google’s position might seem confusing and it would be easy to interpret the statement as the equivalent of stating that H1’s are overrated and even unnecessary.

Obviously this isn’t the case.

Of course H1’s are still a big deal.

h1 tags are important change my mind meme

Using keywords in your H1’s

Another question that arises here is whether or not using a page’s focus keyword in an h1 tag makes any difference to that page’s ranking.

The short answer is it can but it’s not necessarily a deal breaker.

The fact is that keywords don’t rule the roost and using them isn’t as critical for SEO as they used to be.

Another fact is that there are other ranking signals a page is measured against including page speed, internal links, social signals, and backlinks, to name a few.

My rule of thumb is to include keywords in page titles when appropriate (organic) but don’t treat it like a sacred cow.

If you site has lower rankings and/or a lower authority score then you may want to keep using keywords in your titles, if anything because every bit helps.

Of course, this is assuming you’re consistent with pumping out the best content you can.

Page titles and search results

An important thing to note when it comes to page titles is how they appear in search results.

Your page’s H1 tag isn’t necessarily the title that’s displayed on a SERP because it isn’t the H1 itself that searchers are seeing, but the page title by way of the TITLE tag in your page’s HEAD section:

search results title example

Platforms like WordPress or Drupal are typically configured (at the theme level) to display a page’s H1 as the title in the TITLE tag, so most of the time it’s automatic for publishers.

If your site isn’t configured this way, then you essentially have to modify your page’s TITLE tag separately from your H1 tag.

I’ll bet you’re not in that situation, but it’s important to point out.

If you’re forced to write separate H1 and title tags for a page, it’s easier (and more sensible in the end) to make them both the same.

H1’s aren’t all about SEO

Of course SEO matters and of course we want to format our pages strategically for ranking purposes.

But user experience and proper use of HTML matters, too.

H1 tags do more than indicate the title of your page (or section of a page, since it’s now a thing).

Headers – not just H1’s – creates relevance and meaning to your content.

They’re meant to be used in a cascading fashion that’s relative to the content, like so:

cascading page headers example

If this wasn’t important, we wouldn’t need H1-H6 tags, we’d just have one <H> tag and be done with it.

That ain’t the way it is.

This is another reason why the font size of header tags tends to decrease as you move down the ladder.

For users who utilize assistive technologies for accessing websites, cascading use of header tags is important in order to ensure Accessibility.

Considering this, you could also say that they help create a sense of structure across the various sections of your site.

If you do use more than H1 on a page, at least maintain a consistent structure in order to keep from turning your header use into a dog’s breakfast.

In a nutshell

I’d say if you’re used to using H1’s more strictly, keep doing so.

To sum it up, this means:

If there’s one big takeaway from this, worry a little less about technical perfection and focus more on producing great content for your users.

Obviously there’s a balance between the two but you get the idea.

Have fun!

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