Do H1 Tags Impact Rankings?

October 25, 2019

Kerrie Ashall

“H1 tags improve your SEO”.

True or false?

In this article we’ll be putting the H1 tag beneath the magnifying glass and assess its true ability to help bolster your website rankings. We’ll also explore what Google has to say and guide you step by step through how you can optimise the H1 tag for your website.

What is the H1 tag?

H1 tags are those snippets of HTML which help highlight the most important information on a webpage. They’re mainly used for page titles, blog post titles, or to name the page or topic and are written like this:

<h1 class=”entry-title” itemprop=”headline”> Do H1 Tags Impact Rankings? </h1>

They help explain the topic of a page to both readers and search engines alike, provide essential structure and generally help the text to stand out from the rest of the page.

They’re usually bigger, bolder and easier to read than the surrounding text and can vary in length from just a few words to an entire sentence.

Without them, the page would lack structure and it would be much harder to attract a reader and encourage them to fully engage with the content.

This is especially important as modern readers are more likely to skim read and have limited time to find the information they need, thus needing signposts like this.

It’s also worth mentioning that there are other tags which range in ‘importance’ from H1 (most ‘important’) down to H6 (least ‘important’). Like H1 tags, they help structure the webpage and provide a page hierarchy for Google to index. This can positively influence search results and simultaneously reduce bounce rates and improve user experience.

Why are H1 tags important to SEO?

Some debate in SEO circles suggests that H1 tags don’t matter, given that they no longer directly affect search engine rankings as they did in the early 2000s.

In the words of Google’s John Mueller, “Your site is going to rank perfectly fine with no H1 tags…”

However, others believe that these heading tags do improve the overall content quality, readability and user experience, despite speculation that they have been ‘crowded out’ by more advanced metrics.

Of course, Google won’t crawl your webpage, signpost your recent inclusion of H1 tags and instantly bump you up to 1st place on the SERP. But Google will notice the change in the behaviour of your readers. For example, whether they click away from your page quickly or engage with your content and keep reading. This could then influence your search rankings.

In the Search Engine Ranking Factors survey conducted by Moz in 2015, tags were indeed the third most influential ranking factor. Additionally, another similar study from 2018 showed that on-page ranking factors such as keywords in titles were the second most influential factor.

What does Google say about H1 tags and rankings?

Despite John Mueller’s statement claiming that your site would rank even if it doesn’t have any H1 tags, he also confirmed that H1 tags can help search understand the structure of prose;

“H1 elements are a great way to give more structure to a page so that users and search engines can understand which parts of a page are kind of under different headings.

So I would use them in the proper way on a page. And especially with HTML5 having multiple H1 elements on a page is completely normal and kind of expected.”

How should you implement the H1 tag effectively?

  • Have an H1 tag on every page: Avoid confusion, increase reader satisfaction and help to reduce bounce rates by making it clear to search engines and readers alike what your page is about. Make sure you include at least one H1 tag on each page.
  • Don’t use more than one: You wouldn’t see a newspaper that had twenty front page news headlines or find a book with several titles. It would be hard to make sense of, let alone easy to read. Keep it simple. Just use one.
  • Make them all unique: Duplicate content is a big no-no when it comes to SEO. Ensure that every H1 tag is unique and bespoke to the page content.
  • Aim for between 20 and 70 characters: Too short and you’re not giving yourself much chance to be descriptive. Too long and you could confuse your potential website visitor.
  • Include H2 tags too: Again, adding other tags helps to provide structure to the page rendering your webpage easier to index and easier for your reader to extract vital information. Aim to include relevant secondary keywords in these tags where appropriate.

Final thoughts

While those H1 tags won’t make or break your search engine rankings, they do help to improve overall user experience and help Google understand your site structure better. This means they’re certainly worth optimising for and getting right.

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