Yes. That’s the short answer. H1 tags can improve search engine ranking.
It makes sense, right? H1 tags give structure, add to the readability of a page, and ensure that both users and search engines have a clear understanding of what your content is about. H1s give your webpages a clear purpose which leads to a better overall user experience. And SEO is, after all, all about the user.
So yes, H1 tags can improve SEO rank, and they are an important part of any SEO strategy. But what does that mean, and how do you use them effectively? In this post, we’ll dig a little deeper into what the H1 tag is, its purpose in SEO, and some best practices to follow when using H1 tags in your own content.
Let’s get started.
What is an H1 Tag?
To fully understand how to use H1 tags effectively in your SEO strategy, you have to have a solid idea of what they are, and why they affect search rank. Let’s start with a basic definition.
H1 tags are an HTML tag used on a page to indicate to search engines what your page is about. It’s the first header tag visible on a page, and when viewed in the code itself, looks like this:
<h1>Content of H1</h1>
HTML has six different heading tags, so a webpage might have several headings. But the H1 is typically used only once and is considered the most important tag. Think of it a bit like an outline. The main title of your outline would be your H1 tag, while your main points would be H2 tags, and the remaining sub-points would be H3s, H4s, and so on.
Are H1 Tags the Same Thing as Title Tags?
A question that commonly comes up when discussing on-page SEO is the difference between the H1 and the title tag. They are similar, but they should never be confused. Here’s why:
The title tag (<title></title>) is what appears in the browser window and search result snippets. The H1 tag only appears on the page itself. Search engines give more weight to title tags than H1 headers.
If we go back to our outline example from above, you might think of a title tag as the cover page outline and the H1 as the on-page title before you get into the meat of your outline.
In many cases, the title tag and H1 of a page will be the same. After all, there is some overlap in their purposes. Both are meant to explain to the reader, and search engines, what your content is about. But there are some circumstances when you might consider slightly altering these tags. It all comes down to the purpose of your page and what’s best for the reader.
Remember, the title tag is what readers see before they’ve made it to your site, and your H1 is what readers see when they’ve already arrived. Keeping this fundamental difference in mind can help as you decide when to keep them the same and when to change them up.
H1 Tags & SEO
The relationship between H1 tags & SEO is a bit ambiguous. The theory used to be that search engines were specifically drawn to H1s to determine what a site was about. Best practice included only including the most important keyword, only having one H1 on the page, and making sure the H1 was the first and largest piece of text. Now things have changed.
SEO experts now say more emphasis should be placed on the use of headers throughout a page in a way that makes sense for the reader. It doesn’t matter quite as much if those headers are tagged as an H1, H2 or not tagged as either. As long as your content is organized in a way that makes sense for readers, then search engines will follow suit.
So, although it’s now being said that H1s don’t directly affect search rank, they are still an important part of the organization of a site. Presentation and readability do affect search rank, so we’d be ignoring a key part of SEO tactics if we ignored H1 optimization.
Best Practices for Optimizing H1 Tags
Alright, so we understand their importance. Let’s talk about best practices. How do you ensure you're capturing the value of H1 tags and page headings in general? Here are some quick tips.
- Use Keywords Strategically - The key here is to be intentional and not spammy. Your H1 should definitely include your main keyword. Subsequent headers should include it when it makes sense. Always remember that readability comes first and the search engine second. A good user experience translates to good SEO.
- Address User Intent - User intent is equally important as user experience. When writing your H1s, think about what the user expects to see when they arrive on your site. Your title and H1 tags should work together to draw your user in, and then your content should finish the job by drawing your reader down the page. If all is consistent and aligns with intent, you’ll notice a lower bounce rate which in the long term can lead to a boost in search engine rankings.
- Use Headings to Organize Your Page - Headers give your content structure. With 55 percent of visitors spending fewer than 15 seconds on a site, you have a very small window of time to capture their attention. Knowing most users are looking for quick answers to specific questions, breaking down your content into digestible headers will show a user that your content has the answer they’re looking for. Think of your H1s as the title of a book, with your H2s as book chapters, and any subsequent headers as subtopics within chapters. An organized piece of content is much easier to read.
- Only Use One H1 - Having multiple H1s does not hurt SEO. Google’s Senior Webmaster Trends Analyst, John Mueller states it point-blank. But that doesn’t mean it’s an SEO best practice. Having too many H1s can be confusing. Since they look like titles, readers might not know where to look, and organization ultimately goes out the window. Again, SEO is all about finding the best way to present the content to your readers.
Common H1 Mistakes to Avoid
When optimizing your H1s for SEO, it’s helpful to be aware of some common mistakes that can hurt your efforts. Here’s what you’ll want to avoid:
- Using Logos as H1s - H1s should always be text, never images.
- Using Multiple H1s - There’s nothing wrong with using multiple headers, but to keep things organized for your reader, use subsequent header tags (H2s, H3s, etc.) instead of the H1 tag.
- Hiding H1 Tags - This means masking your headers, so they don’t look like headers but still have the H1 tag. This is called “cloaking” and is a violation of Google’s Webmaster Guidelines. Hiding H1 tags can significantly hurt your rankings and even result in penalization from Google itself.
Putting It Into Practice
So what have we learned? H1s are important for SEO. Understanding how to incorporate your keyword strategically yet subtly will help you improve your rank on search engine results pages.
But the most critical thing to keep in mind is your user. Don’t stuff keywords into H1s just for the heck of it. First and foremost, always make sure your content is readable and valuable for the reader. Then, consider how to optimize small areas of your content to remain competitive on search while outsmarting complicated search engine algorithms.