Recent Study Finds Over 50% of Marketers May Be Optimizing H1s Incorrectly
Search engine optimization (SEO) specialist Cyrus Shepard recently conducted a poll asking marketers what’s considered an optimized H1 heading under Google’s current guidelines.
Over fifty-seven percent responded that, yes, Google does recommend using a single <H1> heading on your web pages for SEO purposes. But is this correct?
For website and business owners looking to please the Google gods, this is an important question to answer. Optimization regarding H1 headings could have implications in terms of organic ranking and traffic, which in turn could hinder your website’s growth.
Fortunately, Google expert John Mueller goes on to answer that no, Google does not recommend using one H1 heading. Here’s why this matters for your site.
What is an H1 heading?
An H1 heading is an HTML tag that indicates the primary heading on a web page. It’s essentially a snippet of code that tells your website how to display the content and communicates to search engines what the web page is about.
Having an optimized H1 is important for SEO. What’s contested is how many H1 headings your web page needs in order to be deemed “optimized” in the eyes of Google.
Note: Keep in mind that the number of H1 headings is only one part of the equation; you should also be optimizing your headings with target keywords and writing them with readers in mind.
Google’s Recommendation Regarding H1 Headings
During an office hours hangout session, John Mueller stated that Google’s official position is that websites are free to use as many H1 headings as they please.
Mueller said, “You can use H1 tags as often as you want on a page. There’s no limit, neither upper or lower bound. Your site is going to rank perfectly fine with no H1 tags or with five H1 tags.”
This runs counter to the popular belief that a web page should only have a single H1 heading. This belief is based on the logic that Google’s system is only able to make sense of a single H1 tag.
In reality, Mueller stated, “Our systems don’t have a problem when it comes to multiple H1 headings on a page. That’s a fairly common pattern on the web.”
Why is Heading Tag SEO Such a Contentious Debate?
The SEO industry is ripe with “expert” perspectives, SEO hacks, and contentious debates over what works and what doesn’t. This has led to much confusion when it comes to what it takes to truly optimize one’s website for search engine traffic.
Part of this is due to marketers testing strategies and analyzing what works best for their own sites. Other times, it’s simply due to hearsay or ego over what’s considered “best” – baseless claims based more on assumptions than fact.
Anecdotal evidence, as well as feedback on Shephard’s unofficial study, show wide disagreement over what’s best when it comes to H1 heading SEO. However, Google’s official statement goes to prove that the algorithm is much more flexible than many marketers would have people believe.
Best Practices for H1 Optimization
In the early 2000s, Google used clues to “read” H1s and web page content to best understand what a page is about. Today, the algorithm is much more intelligent and publishers can get away with less optimization and more writing for users.
Google’s Hummingbird update in 2013 indicated a transition from the original algorithm structure to use natural language processing to understand content, search queries, and website structure.
This means that best practices for H1 heading optimization include:
- Including your focus keyword or a related keyword in the H1
- Writing a concise H1 that appeals to your target audience
- Using one or several H1s on a given web page
That’s it. In reality, there’s no “magic ranking power” to an H1 tag, and focusing heavily on this single element on your web page distracts from the overall goal, which is to write for users first.
Why This Matters for Your Business Website
Today, Google is most focused on providing the best experience to users, not nit-picking content on your website. Concerning yourself with the number of H1 headings you use is a waste when you should be prioritizing your writing for users’ search queries, questions, and interests.
Staying on top of Google’s updates is important when it comes to optimizing your site, but far less has changed than many marketers would have you believe. Do your best to write content for your target audience and follow SEO best practices, and you will be miles ahead of those trying to game Google with SEO “hacks” and shady tactics.
Poll of nearly 2,000 SEOs shows more than 50% don’t know what Google recommends for H1 headings