H1 Tags and SEO

h1 and seo

Proper Use of Heads

One of the elements that you have to pay attention to when you’re writing “search engine tasty content” as defined in previous articles, is the proper use of heads. Heads, as defined in this article, are the “Headings” which are defined in code by the HTML tags H1 through H whatever. For the purposes of this article, we are generally going to stick to H1 and H2 tags.
A head is a marker that helps set expectations for what your article is about, and what subsections of your article are going to talk about. Almost all articles on the internet have at least one head, and if you do, then it is generally, if configured properly an H1 tag. This is the highest level of heading, and usually is the boldest and largest.

Use At Least One H1 Heading

Now your design aesthetic may not like the fact that the H1 tag is quite as bold or as large as it is, so you may prefer to step down to a lower level of tag so that the heading looks nicer. If you’re writing content that you want to rank well in the search engines, resist that instinct. If the site is your site, then, instead of changing the level of the heading, change the formatting of the heading, so that the H1 meets your aesthetic needs, but stays an H1.

Why is this important? One of the important queues that Google and the other search engines takes from your pages is from what you have in your H1 heading. If you have no H1 heading, you give the search engines less information what your page is about. If you have an H1 heading, you give more information to the search engines about the “topic” of your article. The primary keywords that you are trying to rank for should be somewhere in your H1 heading.

One H1 Heading Isn’t an Absolute Rule

It used to be thought that there was an absolute rule that you should limit your page to one, and only one H1 heading. The most recent answer to that debate is “it depends.” In a 2009 video for Webmasters by Matt Cutts, head of Webspam at Google, he indicated that more than one H1 tag depends on context.

If you are doing a long page of content, let’s say on How To Buy the Best Tires in Anchorage, Alaska, it might make logical sense that you would divide the page up into 3 major categories: (1) driving conditions in Anchorage, Alaska; (2) tires commonly used by drivers in Anchorage, Alaska, and (3) the best place to buy your tires in Anchorage, Alaska.

Obviously, we aren’t talking about an H1 tag here and a paragraph of content then another H1 tag. You would want a clearly defined section with at least several paragraphs, and maybe even subheads (H2) dividing sub topics. Under #2 above, for example, you could have an H2 head for “Best Dry Weather Tires” and an H2 head for “Best Wet Weather Tires.” If you’re inclined, you could even have a 3rd section for “Best Snow Tires.” You get the drift, more than 1 H1 is acceptable if the content warrants divisions on major subtopics.

Now for those who might argue that the video cited above is 5 years old, which is like 100 years in internet time, more recent observations at Search Engine Journal and Moz tend to support the fact that H1 tags, although somewhat diminished in importance from 2009, are still important factors in SEO optimization.

Use Secondary Headings for User Experience

User experience is also another metric that is important when it comes to SEO. When a user comes to your page, then leaves shortly after arriving, this is counted as a “bounce” … This is a signal to Google that the user came to your page, didn’t find what they wanted, then left … which means your page was not high value for that search. If Google sees enough of that, you get a lower rank for those search terms. If your article is a mass of grey text with nothing to break it into valuable “chunks,” you will lose readership. Why? Reader behavior.

Most readers don’t necessarily read the whole article. They may “skim” the page quickly to get what the content is about. If they can’t quickly see something that catches their interest, they may be off to the next page before they even read any content. By using intelligent subheadings (H2 and below), you can quickly tell them how you have arranged your arguments, and what they can expect if they read the article. In that way they can quickly determine if it’s worth taking the time to read the actual content you wrote.

So what’s your experience? Have you seen a case where use of optimized H1 tags has made a big difference in your rankings? Or, is your experience exactly the opposite? I’d love to hear your views.

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