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Are H1 tags a Google ranking factor?

There is a lot of conflicting information about the value of H1 tags as a ranking factor.So who is right?

Can you improve your search rankings in Google by using the right keywords in your H1 tags?

How many H1 tags should you use on each web page?

Over the years, there has been a lot of debate and misunderstanding about how Google views H1 content.

So are H1 tags actually a Google ranking factor?Let me see.

Disclaimer: H1 tags as ranking factors

A lot of "best practices" and advice about H1 tags have been circulating over the years.among them:

  • You should use heavy keyword-loaded H1 tags to improve rankings for specific keywords.
  • You can only have one H1 tag per page or Google will penalize you.(Using an algorithm to downgrade?Manual punishment?Fifty lashes with wet noodles in a town square?
  • You should use your primary keyword at the beginning of your H1 tags, secondary keywords in your H2 tags, and so on, to tell Google which terms you want to rank for.
  • You should only use one H1 tag, and it should be the first text element on the page.

If you're confused by conflicting information on this topic, I don't blame you.

After all, here's a featured snippet from [How to Use H1 Tags] at the time of writing:

how-to-use-h1-tags

As you'll learn below, this contradicts everything Google has told us about H1 tags over the years.

Let's take a look at what happened on both sides of this debate.

Evidence for H1 tags as a ranking factor

For this timeline, we'll rely heavily on Roger Montti's research on how Google's perception and weighting of H1 tags has evolved over the years.His key findings include:

1998

Page titles are a heavily weighted ranking factor, as Sergey Brin and Larry Page's research paper, The Anatomy of a Large-Scale Hypertext Web Search Engine Large-Scale Hypertextual Web Search Engine) as evidenced by this passage.:

"For most popular topics, simple text-matching searches limited to page titles performed admirably when PageRank prioritized results.

2003-2004

Originally a measure of word importance, font size gave way to HTML structure as a ranking algorithm.

We learned early on how Google uses HTML markup to inform the algorithm's understanding of the semantic structure in patents, and Google patent document ranking is based on the semantic distance between terms in the document.

Bill Slawski analyzed the patent in 2010, explaining:

"Part of the process behind this approach involves search engines analyzing the HTML structure on the page, looking for elements such as headings and headings on the page...In other words, search engines try to find and understand visual structures on a page that may have semantic meaning, such as a list of items associated with a title.

Read Montti's H1 Title SEO - Why They Matter to learn more about each of the above milestones.

2005-2011

H1 tags are widely considered a Google ranking factor – and a key SEO strategy for optimizing them through the glory days of article marketing.I know this because in the past, I've gotten a small revenue share, and even some ghostwriting contracts, for articles on Suite101, WikiHow, HubPages, and other similar sites.

Optimized H1 and H2 tags, keyword density, and formulaic content dominate.Since these articles are used to build links and drive revenue-sharing traffic, quantity is more important to content creators than the quality or usefulness of the content produced.

I can confirm that using these strategies has me ranked #XNUMX for topics and keywords, I really have no business rankings (mesothelioma, anyone?).

Legitimate publishers made the exception, so in 2011 Google Panda came along.These tactics are no longer effective and may actually lower the ranking of the entire site.

Just ask Demand Media.

For those sites that were obliterated by the Panda algorithm, Google revealed 23 questions that help search engines determine the authority of a piece of content.

User experience was given a lot of attention, and my share of revenue from content farms eventually faded away.

Let's fast forward to…

2019

More recently, in a 2019 Google Webmaster Hangout, John Mueller explained that Google uses HTML tags to better understand what a web page and its content are all about.It doesn't matter how many H1 tags you use, he said:

"Your site will rank perfectly with no H1 tags or five H1 tags.

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

...Especially with HTML5, it is perfectly normal and expected to have multiple H1 elements on a page.

Side note: If you want to dig deeper into how many H1 tags are used on a web page, check out this myth that Google prefers one H1 per page.

2020

In August 2020, Mueller answered questions about H8 tags in a Google Webmaster Central video.He explicitly calls the title a ranking factor, saying:

"Titles on a page help us better understand what's on the page.The title on the page isn't our only ranking factor - we also look at the content ourselves.

But sometimes there is a clear title on the page that can give us more insight into what the section is about.

Captions are especially useful in helping Google understand the content and context of an image, he explained.

2021

In August, there was a lot of talk about Google rewriting title tags in search results for a limited number of pages.Often, text from H1 tags is used as a new title on search engine results pages (SERPs).

Evidence against H1 tags as a ranking factor

Even in 2009, Google was very aware of the spam tactics surrounding H1 tags.For example, in this video from Google Search Central, Matt Cutts, who was the head of Google's website spam team at the time, warned:

"Don't do all the H1 and then use CSS to make it look like normal text, because we've seen competitors complain about that.It looks really bad if the user closes the CSS or the CSS doesn't load.

At the time, he said "a little H1 here, a little H1 there" is fine, but it should be used in the intended way: for headings.

He added:

"...If you try to throw an H1 anywhere on the page, people are trying to abuse it, so our algorithm tries to take that into account.So it doesn't do you much good.

Like many good things, SEO pros beat that lame horse by playing the system with it.

H1 tags as ranking factors: our verdict

In the early days of SEO, page text elements were an important weighting factor in Google's search algorithm.

The specific words used, where they appear on the page, and the font size in which they appear tells Google how important those words are.This is how Google determines the relevance of a web page for any given query.

That's what Google used in the late 90s and early 00s because it didn't have much else to go on.

Like many previous ranking factors, the H1 factor was quickly adopted as an easy way to manipulate rankings.Over-optimized H1s put them on the radar of spam teams, causing them to be devalued.

Today, H1 tags and other structured HTML elements still help Google understand how the content on any given web page is presented to users.They still help Google determine the relevance and semantic structure of web pages.

They inform the algorithm's understanding of the page's content, who it applies to, and why it's not the best answer for any given query.

Mueller has confirmed that titles are a ranking factor for Google.

Having said that, it doesn't matter in itself.Trying to use H1s to game to the top of the SERPs, by using a whole bunch of them, stuffing them with keywords, or trying to hide entire pages of H1s with CSS won't work.

It's different now.

When it comes to on-page optimization, your main goal should always be user experience.

Most importantly for Google, this applies to your H1 tags as well as your content quality, image optimization, etc.

Extended reading:

Are HTML title tags (H2-H6) a Google ranking factor?

Fresh Content as a Google Ranking Factor: What You Need to Know

Is EAT a ranking factor in Google search?

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