What are H1 tags and how important are they?

Mar 13, 2020 by
What are H1 tags and how important are they?

SEO is a field that’s always had to adapt to survive but certain trends have stood the test of time. In the good old days of SEO (let’s say 2012) it was very much the fashion to wrap up your page title in H1 tags and leave it at that but as Google further developed its algorithms and expanded its ranking processes, we began to realise something – H1 tags don’t just need to be used once per page – there is actually no limit to how many we can use.

But we’re getting ahead of ourselves. Before we go into further detail regarding how H1 tags are being used in SEO today, let’s first underline exactly what they are and how they work.

What is an H1 tag?

When Google ranks pages, it scans the source code, which essentially tells it everything it needs to know. This is where the coders program everything from the colour of the text to the position of images.

The H1 tag is the part of the code that indicates the heading and the overall topic of the page, which is why it’s such a significant part of the page.

Text that’s tagged as an H1 heading will not only be physically more visible but will carry more weight with Google than standard text and than H2s and H3s. Generally speaking, the first H1 on your page is the most important piece of text and as such will almost always include primary keywords.

H1 tagging today

Whilst H1 was initially meant to highlight the title of the page, the development of CSS (Cascading Style Sheets) meant developers were able to format a standard H1 so that it could take on any colour, typeface, or size and could even be made to blend in with the rest of the text.

So, with H1 tags now able to essentially work in ‘stealth’ mode, you can theoretically use as many as you like and viewers will be none the wiser.

No H1 – Of course, if a page doesn’t have an H1 tag then Google will automatically read the heading as the most important part of the page.

So, while there are no negatives to wrapping your heading in H1 code, it’s not 100% necessary. As long as your headings are good enough, wrapping them in H1 might not be worth your time, particularly if there is already some large descriptive text on the page.

Lots of H1 – Conversely, there is no lower or upper limit to how many H1 tags can be used on a page. Indeed, they can be a good way of lending structure to a page.

Certain SEO tools might flag too many H1 tags as an issue, so from a usability perspective, it might make sense to limit yourself. However, generally speaking, you can have no H1 tags or seven.

Why you should still use them

Personally, although Google has got better at being able to figure out titles and topics on its own, we still believe that using H1 tagging is best practice for the following reasons:-

  • For the sake of accessibility, it’s still an incredibly handy practice, particularly given how screen reading technology can use them to help users to navigate content.
  • If Google is unable to find or process your title for some reason then it might extract information from somewhere else on your page, so it’s better for you if that’s an H1 tag that you deem to be relevant.
  • Even today, in an age of increasing algorithmic complexity, studies still show a small positive correlation between higher ranks and the use of H1, H2, and H3 headings.

Of course, there are general H1 rules to adhere to: Keep them short (less than 60 characters), don’t use the same tag more than once on a page and don’t overdo it (the needs of the reader should always take precedence over the needs of the algorithm.

Overall, however, it’s always going to be (as is often true with SEO) a case of trial and error. But are H1 tags still relevant in 2020? Absolutely. For years to come SEOs will still be searching for the perfect H1 tag and who could blame them.