H1 Elements as a Ranking Factor
Many SEO experts wonder if it is possible to improve Google search rankings by using the correct keywords in H1 tags. They also wonder if one should use several H1 tags on a single web page. There has been longstanding confusion and numerous debates about how Google views on page SEO tags, particularly H1 tags. This article covers whether or not H1 tags are a Google ranking influence for on page SEO content.
H1 Tags as a Ranking Factor
There have been a lot of “best practices” and H1 tag recommendations over the years. Among them are the following pieces of advice:
- To rank higher for certain keywords, one should utilise many keyword-rich H1 tags.
- It’s better to have only one H1 tag per page, or Google will penalise the website.
- Let Google know what phrases a business wants to rank on. The primary keyword should be in the H1 tag, the secondary keywords in the H2 tags, and so on.
- H1 tags should be used only once, and they should appear as the first text element on the web page.
Some of the information mentioned could be confusing as they conflict with each other. Most of the “best practices” that some people recommend contradict Google’s guidelines about H1 tags, too.
To know if H1 tags are a ranking factor, one should look at what’s happening on both sides of the debate.
Proof That H1 Tags are a Ranking Factor
The timeline below shows how Google’s perception of on page SEO tags, particularly H1 elements, have changed throughout the years.
From the research paper The Anatomy of a Large-Scale Hypertextual Web Search Engine by Sergey Brin and Larry Page, page title was heavily considered a ranking factor. It said that for popular topics, a simple text matching search that’s restricted to page titles do better when PageRank prioritises the results.
The font size, which used to determine how effective a term was, gave way to HTML structure as a ranking algorithm. Google incorporated HTML markup into the algorithm’s comprehension of the patent’s semantic structure, ranking based on semantic distance between terms in a document.
This patent was analysed in 2010. One SEO expert explained that this process involves a search engine analysing the page’s HTML structures, searching for elements like headings and titles. In other words, the search engine tries to find and comprehend the page’s visual structures, looking for anything semantically meaningful – for instance, a list of items associated with a heading.
Through the golden years of article marketing, H1 tags were widely regarded as a Google ranking element, and optimising them was a major SEO strategy. The combination of keyword density, optimised SEO tags, and formulaic content dominated those days.
Because these articles were intended to establish links and generate traffic for revenue sharing, content creators focused on the volume more than they did on the usefulness or quality of their content. These tactics helped websites rank number 1 in the search engine results, even though the keywords and topics were completely irrelevant to their products and services.
Many legitimate publishers disagreed with this idea, and then Google Panda came in 2011. These techniques do not work anymore, and implementing them on one’s website would affect their rankings negatively.
For those sites wiped out by the Panda algorithm, Google provided 23 questions to assess the content’s level of authority. Revenue share payments from content farms gradually tapered off due to Google prioritising user experience.
In a 2019 Google Webmaster Hangout, John Mueller stated that Google utilises HTML tags to comprehend web pages and their content better. He also said that it does not matter how many H1 tags one uses.
According to Mueller, websites would still rank fine without H1 tags. With that said, he noted that H1 tags provide pages with more structure so search engines and users can comprehend which parts are under different headings. Moreover, it is normal to use multiple H1 elements, especially with HTML5.
In August 2020, Mueller addressed H1 tags in a Google Webmaster Central video, where he referred to headings as a ranking factor. He said that headings help Google better understand a web page’s content. However, Google does not only look at the page’s headings; it also looks at the content. Although headings are not the only factor they consider, it still helps a lot to have a clear heading that gives more information on the section’s content. Moreover, headings are particularly useful in figuring out the context of an image.
In August, there was a lot of buzz about Google changing title tags on a select few pages in search results. Oftentimes, Google uses the text from the H1 tag to replace the original title on the search results.
Proof That H1 Tags Are Not a Ranking Factor
Google was well aware of unethical H1 tag practices by 2009. Matt Cutts, the head of Google’s Webspam Team at the time, made a video for Google Search Central. In the video, he said that site owners shouldn’t just fill their pages with H1 tags and then use CSS to make it appear like regular text. If a user turns off their CSS or if it does not load for whatever reason, the page would look like a mess.
Cutts said it was acceptable to use several H1s here and there, but one should use them strictly as headings. He also said that some publishers throw H1s everywhere on the web page, and many people took advantage of that. As a result, Google stopped considering multiple H1s, and it does not benefit anyone anymore.
According to Google, H1 Tags Are Indeed a Ranking Factor
On-page text elements, including titles and headers, were once extremely influential in the Google search algorithm. The words used, where they were placed on the page, and their size font told Google how essential they were. That was how Google determined the relevance of a webpage to a specific query. However, that was in the late ’90s and early ’00s.
H1 tags, like many previous ranking criteria, were quickly embraced as a simple approach to adjust rankings. H1s were over-optimised, and Google’s spam team had to filter them out, causing their value to plummet.
With that said, H1 tags and other structural HTML elements still aid Google in determining how a webpage’s content appears to users today. They still assist Google with assessing a web page’s semantic structure and relevance. H1 tags help determine the page’s context, who can benefit from it, and why its contents are the best answers to a user’s question.
In conclusion, although the importance of H1 tags has fallen throughout the years, they are still considered a Google ranking factor. Therefore, those looking to maximise their site’s SEO should not overlook the optimisation of their H1s.
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