Google Webmaster Trends Analyst John Mueller recently caused quite a stir by suggesting that Google is now smart enough to identify the main focus of a page whether there is an H1 tag in the HTML code or not, and that in fact, it doesn’t matter if there is none at all or multiple. |
It has long been considered best practice by technical SEO experts to use one and only one H1 tag in HTML code. This should clearly define the topic of the content, preferably including the targeted key phrase in order to ensure that Google spiders recognise this as highly relevant to the search term. The startling insinuation of Mueller’s statement is that they are simply no longer important to SEO. So why bother with them at all? In this article, we will explain exactly why they remain important, whether they bring SEO benefits or not.
The idea that H1 tags no longer matter at all for SEO is a contentious one. There is evidence to suggest that search engines will sometimes use these in place of title tags in the Search Engine Results Pages (SERPs). This only becomes a problem if your content features none, or multiple, in which case the text that is shown as a title in the SERP may be drawn randomly from the body of content. A single H1 tag that defines your topic can function effectively as a title in the SERP if for whatever reason the title tag is not recognised.
Structure and Clarity
Fundamentally, headings are very significant to readability. They communicate what the content is about and split text into distinct sections, so that readers can easily navigate the page. There may be a specific area of interest within your topic that a user is searching for, and headings and sub-headings serve to highlight sub-topics within the main text. H2 and H3 tags are frequently judged to be even less useful for a webpage than H1s, but in fact, they are equally important in their role as sub-headings, splitting text into easy-to-read parts.
Another slightly more obscure way in which H1 tags are useful is their positive impact on accessibility. Search engine users who are visually impaired frequently rely on screen readers that can recognise HTML code and announce the H1 as a heading with a beep or another indication. Many also use assistive technologies that alter the visual appearance of a page – an H1 tag signposts your heading to make sure it remains prominent on an altered visual display.
Most vitally of all, the H1 is the first thing that readers see after they’ve clicked on a page. This is the moment of truth. It is essential that it defines clearly and concisely exactly what the rest of the content is about, so that readers know whether they have found the page they are looking for or not. Key phrase enriching is also important regardless of SEO outcomes, since seeing the key phrase in the heading acts as a confirmation for the reader that they have reached the right place.
For example, if you are writing an article focused on where to find affordable SEO services, you should endeavour to make sure the key phrase ‘affordable SEO’ features in the H1. This way, users who have clicked your page immediately see that your article is about affordable SEO – precisely what they are seeking information about.
The lesson to take away from this is to remember that your webpage should be optimised for your readers before it is optimised for search engines. Your ultimate goal should be to generate traffic that will convert to leads or sales. No matter how effective your SEO is, if users struggle to read your webpage, your conversion rates will likely be extremely low. H1 tags remain essential for the structure, accessibility, ease of navigation and clarity of your content.
Kit Jones is a professional consultant at LeadGeneratorsDigital, a successful online marketing agency focusing on a variety of digital strategies including content and SEO marketing. The agency provides affordable SEO for businesses looking to not only boost their Google rankings, but also their conversion rates and the overall quality of their site.
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