H1 Headings… Are Over 50% of SEOs Doing it Wrong?

If this isn’t a saying by now, it should be…

If you want three different opinions on an SEO question, ask two different SEO consultants…

Search Engine Optimisation remains, in the vast majority of areas a practice shrouded in mystery. Google’s guidance, where they give it, is often as vague as the predictions of a seaside fortune teller and no matter what Google do say you will invariable find a fistful of SEO consultants who will say that Google aren’t telling the truth and often have good worked examples of where they’ve achieved excellent results by doing the opposite of what Google suggested.

Even the most basic of questions like “How many H1s should there be a on a page” seems open to debate. (If you’re not in the know, a H1 tag means “Heading 1” and is (or should be) the topmost and largest heading on the page.)

This is a great example of how SEOs don’t all agree and how Google’s vague advice can lead people down the wrong route. Cyrus Shepard got quite excited about more than half of SEO’s giving the “wrong answer”, only to receive a small deluge of tweets pointing to articles where Google contradict themselves on this point and give better guidance on what headings are for and how they matter. (And they do matter)

So it’s not so much that suddenly your page ranks higher because you have those keywords there. But suddenly it’s more well Google understands my content a little bit better and therefore it can send users who are explicitly looking for my content a little bit more towards my page.

John Mueller, via https://www.searchenginejournal.com/heading-tags-for-seo/341817

What do I recommend for Headings, including H1?

My own personal experience on this when guiding non-SEO people in doing their own SEO is that a one H1 strategy is very hard to get wrong. That doesn’t mean that having more than one H1 is bad, contrary to Google’s advice, but it does require a little more thought to get it “right”. You have to think about page structure more, you have to think about your content more, and it inevitably leads to more question like – is the H1 nearer the top of page more important? (Based on this advice, it might be) Also, as a rule, insisting on one H1 per page focusses the minds of content creators on what they want to talk about and removes the get-out-of-jail-free card for any lazy developer who used a H1 tag where what they really wanted as just “some big text”. Getting your headings right is also really important for accessibility. Google’s fancy-pants AI may not need so much structure, but screen readers for visually impaired users really like it. That’s a good reason to get headings organised if nothing else.

Google may not be looking at H1s as a key instruction of what your page is about, but your users certainly are and, in this context, making one page about one thing is very sensible.

This survey also highlights one of the big problems in SEO. There are very few, if any, right or wrong answers. The answer to the vast majority of SEO questions is “it depends” (whether you ask an SEO consultant or Google themselves), so asking a “Yes or No” question like this is misleading. I’m one hundred percent sure that it you asked John Mueller “Is there ever a scenario when having just one H1 tag is best” the answer would be a heavily caveated, some equivocating,

“Yes, it can be, because we don’t look at H1 tags like blah blah, blah blah blah blah so just blah and blah and make the best site you can.”

Not Google’s John Mueller, but it really could be

What should you do about multiple H1s?

Let’s start with what you shouldn’t do. Don’t go on some kind of Liam Neison in Taken style killing spree trying to prune every page down to one H1 just because I said that that was a simple, hard to get wrong strategy. Also, don’t start sprinkling H1s over your page like Rip Taylor with a bucket of confetti just because Google said it was OK and now you’ve got one less thing to worry about.

Instead, start considering these questions:

  1. What is this page about?
  2. Does the first H1 make that clear to the user?
  3. Do the sub headings guide the user and provide more context?
  4. If there is a second H1 on the page, is it legitimately the start of whole new topic?

Fiddling about with headings isn’t a silver bullet (nothing in SEO is…) but in terms of page construction it is something easy to get right and something your developer, designer, and content creator(s) should be considering.

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