Creating content is the resource-intensive price you pay if you want to increase your organic search footprint and drive more traffic to your website. Given the steep investment many marketers make to produce top-notch content, it’s surprising that a simple oversight in SEO best practices often keeps valuable resources from ranking in search result pages (SERPs).
This article will cover how h1 and header tags help search engines make sense of your content and give you some actionable tips to find h1 errors and craft SEO-friendly h1 tags that improve your rankings.
What Is an H1 Tag?
An h1 tag is one HTML tag of the six header tags that structure the content on a web page. The important pages on your website should have h1 tags for SEO benefit. They can direct a reader and give a clear sign of the content on the page.
HTML stands for hypertext markup language, which is the source code that tells web browsers how to display a website’s content.
The “h” stands for “header,” and the number (1 through 6) indicates the position each header occupies within the information hierarchy of the page.
The h1 tag is, like its name suggests, usually the first header tag on a page and is most commonly used to display the topic of the article or blog post title.
For example, if you’re creating a blog post from an outline like this:
- How To Optimize Your Headers for Search
- What is an H1 tag?
- H1 Tags vs. Page Title Tags
- Why is an H1 tag important for SEO?
- Improving User Experience
You might apply header styles to visually represent the structure of the article for readers. Then your content management system (CMS) renders the HTML source code from which Google parses what your page is about.
H1 Tags vs. Page Title Tags
H1 tags are often confused with page titles because the h1 tag is usually a post title. But an HTML title tag serves a very different function from an h1 tag. They should each be treated differently and optimized for their specific purposes.
As I mentioned above, the h1 tag describes the topic of the content. Not only does it clue Google into what the words on a page are about, but when prominently displayed at the top of the page, it immediately reassures searchers who land on your post that they are in the right place.
The title tag also provides Google with clues about the content of a page, but it isn’t visibly displayed on the page. Instead, the page title usually appears as the clickable link in search engine results.
I say “usually” because there’s no guarantee that Google will pull your title tag to use in search snippets. Google reserves the right to decide how title tags appear in their search engine results to ensure the best possible experience for its users.
Google’s generation of page titles and descriptions (or “snippets”) is completely automated and takes into account both the content of a page as well as references to it that appear on the web.”Google Search Central Title Link Guidelines
Follow Google’s best practices for writing descriptive <title> elements to ensure the quality of the title link it displays for your page and maintain healthy click-through rates from your search traffic.
Google might choose to display your h1 tag as a title link in SERPs, so you have all the more reason to craft it carefully!
Why Is H1 an Important Tag for SEO?
The art of search engine optimization requires a balance of optimizing pages for search and human beings. The h1 tag is a perfect example of crafting content to serve this dual purpose — creating a better user experience while improving on-page SEO.
Header Tags Help Search Engines Crawl Your Content
To quickly and efficiently return relevant results for search queries, Google pulls signals about the content of a post from its h1 and title tags. Search engine spiders pay special attention to the content enclosed in header tags (h1, h2, h3, etc.) to determine what a page is about.
If you want to establish search visibility for your content, it’s important to use keywords in your headers, especially your h1 tags. The keywords in your header tags signal your page’s relevancy to the specific queries you hope to rank for and help you build momentum in your digital marketing efforts.
A 2021 study by SEMrush confirms the important role an h1 tag plays in search engine rankings.
H1s Create a Better User Experience
Since Google is putting a stronger emphasis on user experience (UX), having a clear page structure, which includes an h1, is essential for making sure the right searchers find your article, locate what they need on it, and stay to learn more.
An h1 tag improves user experience by making it easy for visitors to see at a glance what your page is about. A quick skim of supporting headers, like h2s and h3s, can signal the value of your content and reassure users visiting your blog post that it provides the information they’re looking for.
In addition to lending clarity to your page structure for search indexing, using header tags will break up your content and provide reference points for users who will likely be skimming your post to find the information they’re looking for. You always want to make it easy for people to find answers to their questions. It means they’ll be more likely to stick around to learn more about (or from) you.
The trust that a clear page structure inspires increases the likelihood that you’ll enjoy return traffic to your website and build a loyal audience that you can nurture into customers.
Optimized H1s Help Earn Featured Snippets
A featured snippet is an excerpt from a web page that appears at the top of Google’s search results to quickly answer a user’s question. Google automatically pulls featured snippet content from a page that already ranks on the first page of SERPs.
Optimizing your page for a featured snippet before you publish it will increase the likelihood it’ll earn one when it breaks into the top ten.
One way to improve your chances of landing a featured snippet is to optimize your h1 with relevant keywords. In this example, the h1 includes the keywords “best audiobooks” and “road trips.”
This makes it a logical snippet for Google to feature in response to the query “best audiobooks for a road trip.”
Learn more about how to get a featured snippet.
How to Create SEO-Friendly H1 Tags
Hopefully, I’ve made a case for how important an h1 tag is for search engine optimization. If you’re ready to add h1 tag optimization to your content creation process, here are a few simple SEO practices to keep in mind.
10 Best SEO Practices for H1 Tags
1. Use One H1 Tag Per Page
If you’ve already done some research about h1 tags, you’ve probably heard many SEO experts say that you should never, ever use more than one h1 tag on your web pages. Since your h1 describes the content on your page, it’s logical that you’d only want to use one h1 tag to avoid any confusion about your page content.
That being said, it’s not unusual for some HTML 5-based website templates or WordPress themes to use style the heading within important elements on a page, like navigation modules or subscription boxes, with h1 tags.
According to Google’s John Mueller, this isn’t something to worry about. Crawl bots can navigate multiple headings without confusion and with zero impact on SEO.
While having multiple h1s on a page isn’t ideal, if you can’t easily fix the situation, there’s no significant harm in it from an SEO perspective.
From a user perspective, the most important thing is there’s a clear h1 at the top of the page that describes the content that follows.
2. Make Each H1 Unique
Since your h1 tags tell users and Google what your content is about, each page on your website must have a unique h1 tag. Using duplicate h1 tags might create the impression for site visitors and crawl bots that pages with the same h1 contain the same content.
Duplicate content won’t incur a penalty, but multiple pages that seem “appreciably similar” might impact search traffic. When the same h1 appears on more than one page, search engine crawlers can’t discern which version is more relevant to a particular search query. The result? Google might opt to return a competitor’s page that more clearly pertains to the search at hand.
3. Craft Descriptive H1 Tags
Your h1 should give your readers a strong sense of what they’re about to read and should be reasonably aligned with the topic described in the title tag. I’ll cover how closely your h1 and title tags should match in a minute, but for the moment, I want to stress that your h1 needs to fulfill the expectation that your title tag sets in search engine result pages. Then your content needs to deliver on the promise your h1 tag makes.
4. Your H1 Tag & Title Tag Should Not Be the Same
There’s absolutely no ranking-factor impact of having your h1 tag and title tag match each other exactly, but I don’t recommend using the same text in these two tags.
Why? Because while your h1 tags and page titles both provide important relevancy signals for SEO, the functions they serve for searchers and site visitors are very different. When you give them the same treatment, you’re missing an opportunity to optimize each fully for its intended purpose.
The Purpose of Page Titles
Page titles introduce your page in SERPs and entice people to choose your content over any others. The primary function of a page title is to convince people who haven’t clicked through yet, that your content contains the best answer to their question. Your page title sets the expectation for what a searcher will find on the other side of a search snippet link.
The Purpose of H1s
Your h1 should provide a clear topic for the page and its content. Its primary job is to satisfy the expectation set in SERPs and assure visitors that they’ve landed on a page that contains the information they’re looking for. In addition, an h1 tag sets the stage for the content that follows — much like a topic sentence in an essay.
5. DON’T Stuff H1 Tags With Keywords
Don’t cram keywords into your h1 to try to improve your rankings. Google interprets over-optimization as an attempt to game the system — a signal that your page might not be trustworthy. Searchers will likely have a similar response when they land on your page and find an h1 that’s awkwardly stuffed with keywords.
The following is a good example of an h1 tag that’s likely to turn off readers and send them looking for better content: “What is an H1 tag in SEO? H1 Tag SEO Importance and H tags in SEO.”
As a general rule, it’s always best to favor the user experience over keyword density.
6. DO Use Your Main Keyword in Your H1
One of the most commonly accepted SEO practices is that your h1 contains the primary keyword you hope to rank your content for. You want your h1 to draw a straight line from your content to the query that brings you the organic traffic you need. The best way to do that is to include the keyword you want to rank for and consider user intent. (More on that below.)
7. H1 Tags Should Match Search Intent
Search intent is about why a searcher is using a specific search query. In other words, what’s the purpose behind a search? Matching search intent is as important as literally matching keywords in a query. One reliable way to match user intent is to use a long-tail keyword phrase for your h1 that aligns with the objective of your content.
Example of H1 Tag
Since the H1 tag is the primary heading on a page, it acts as the page’s title. If your content focuses on vegetable garden planning, the H1 tag should attract those seeking informative content.
How To Plan a Vegetable Garden in Five Easy Steps
However, if the objective of your content is to attract people who want to buy seeds for their vegetable garden, you would craft an h1 more like:
The Best Seeds for Your Vegetable Garden
Using a long-tail keyword phrase that aligns with search intent will attract more qualified organic traffic to your site.
8. The Best H1 Length
While there’s no technical limit to the length of your h1, I recommend you keep it between 20 and 70 characters — including spaces and punctuation.
I like to aim for a sweet spot of about 55 characters.
A shorter title than 20 characters probably doesn’t provide enough information to be anything more than generic. An h1 that’s longer than 55 characters will be cut off in SERPs if Google decides not to use the page title to introduce your search snippet.
9. Style Your H1 Tag To Stand Out
Your web design should highlight your h1 as the most important typographical element on your page.
It should be:
- strong, and
- impossible to miss.
Keep in mind that your h1 signals users that they’re in the right place. Don’t leave them wondering about that. Make it obvious.
10. Support Your H1 With Other HTML Header Tags
Your header tags should create an information hierarchy for the content on your page. For instance, if you think of your h1 as the title of a book, then your h2s should function like chapter titles, describing the main topics you’ll be covering.
Other headings (h3s to h6s) serve as subheaders within each section, much like how a book chapter is split up into various subtopics.
Using HTML heading tags with intention makes it easier for visitors to skim your page, and it makes it crystal clear to crawl bots what the text structure is and how comprehensively you treat the topic — which is good for SEO.
How To Audit Your H1 Tags
Okay! Now that you’ve done a deep dive into SEO best practices for headers, I want to give you an actionable way to apply what you’ve learned, and hopefully, boost your search traffic.
Let’s audit your current h1s so you can target which ones need improvement.
1. Download Screaming Frog’s SEO Spider. The free version allows you to crawl up to 500 URLs.
2. Open the tool, enter your website URL, and click Start.
3. Click H1 in the Menu Bar
4. Check Your Results
The resulting list will provide details for each page on your website and the h1 associated with it. You’ll see an overview of errors to the right of the list.
You can click on each error to focus the list on the pages with h1s you need to improve.
FAQs About H1 Tag SEO
Can I use h1s and titles with identical text?
Yes, you CAN, but I don’t recommend it. These two tags serve different purposes, and you should treat them differently to make the most of each. See Your H1 Tag & Page Title Tag Should Not Be the Same.
Do I need an h1 tag?
Will your website crash if you don’t have an h1 on one of your pages? No. But if you don’t use an h1 tag, you’re compromising the user experience on your page and missing out on the organic traffic that comes from being one of the top pages in search. Why would you want to do that?
What is a title tag?
A title tag is an HTML element that describes the title of a web page. A page’s title tag is (usually) displayed as the clickable headline in the search snippet on search engine results pages. The page title is an important factor in establishing topical relevance to search queries, creating a positive user experience, and favorable click-through rates.
Is the h1 tag the same as the page title tag?
No. The h1 and title tag are different elements that serve separate functions on a web page. See H1 Tags vs. Page Title Tags.
Can I use more than one h1 tag on a page?
Yes, you can use more than one h1 tag on a page without a search penalty. Multiple h1s can be caused by a page template that assigns h1s to various modules, like navigation, footers, and sidebars. While there’s no SEO harm if you can’t fix it, there’s also no SEO benefit to intentionally using more than one per page.
Can multiple pages have the same h1?
I don’t recommend using duplicate h1s on your site pages. Each h1 should be distinct. Otherwise, users and search engines might be confused about which page is most relevant to a search query.
What are the six levels of heading tags?
HTML defines six levels of headings. Heading elements are usually styled with different font colors or sizes and include paragraph breaks before and after to differentiate between content sections on a page. The heading elements are h1, h2, h3, h4, h5, and h6. The importance of a header in the page’s information architecture is denoted by its number, with h1 being the most important and h6 the least.
H1s in a Nutshell: One SEO Ranking Factor You Shouldn’t Overlook
While some more nuanced SEO techniques require technical know-how, optimizing header tags for search is a relatively easy way to make a big difference in your website’s SEO and increase search traffic on most websites.
Check out our on-page SEO checklist for more actionable advice about making the most of your web content, or schedule a free consultation to learn more about how our customized SEO services can help you meet your marketing goals.