By Kristina Weis on January 18, 2011
Why H1 headings matter to search engines
If you’ve been looking into search engine optimization in hopes of getting your website to rank higher, you’ve probably wondered about H headings or H tags.
H tags are heading tags. They’re comparable to the headline and subheads of a newspaper or magazine article. The H1 tag is like an article headline, while H2, H3 and other H tags are like article subheads.
Each H tag consists of:
- the HTML code itself, telling us that this is a tag, and what kind
- the text that will be displayed on the web page.
Headings help you structure the content of a web page. The H1 tag indicates the overall topic of the page, and each subhead tag – H2, H3, and so on – indicates a subtopic of the page.
The H1 tag is the most important. When it's properly written, it quickly, clearly and concisely outlines what people and search engines can expect to find there.
The H1 heading is not the same thing as the title of a web page. The title shows up at the very top of a web browser window, telling you which page you are on. The title of a web page also shows up in search results, while an H1 heading seldom does.
Why Headings Matter for SEO
The headline and subheads in a newspaper or magazine article help readers quickly understand what the article is about. That's true of H1 and other headings on a web page, with the additional benefit that these help both people and search engines understand what's on the web page.
Because headings are defined with HTML code, search engines understand that these pieces of text are of particular importance. Writing these headings carefully, and including important keywords in them, tells search engines what the page is about.
That's why headings can really help your SEO, or search engine optimization. They speak to search engines in a form that search engine crawlers can understand. Including your important keywords in headings tells search engines how to categorize your web pages, and helps the pages show up well in searches for your keywords.
This doesn't mean that a website with no H1 tags or other headings won't rank well in search results. But failing to use H tags is a missed SEO opportunity.
H Tag Coding
The H1 heading is the most prominent heading on a page. H2 headings are a little less prominent than the H1 heading, H3 headings are less prominent than H2 headings, and so on, down to H6.
Standard HTML code will produce headings that look like what you see to the right.
The code for the H1 heading looks like this:
- <h1>This is an H1 heading</h1>
Keep in mind that headings will look somewhat different from site to site because many website operators choose to style things in their own way, using cascading style sheets (CSS).
What Should Be in a Heading?
You will want each H1 heading on each of your website's pages to be a logical summing-up of what the page is about. Every subhead should introduce the topic of its section.
In most cases, it's best to have just one H1 tag per web page. It should be an overall statement of what the page is about, echoing the page title.
The H1 heading should normally include the most important keyword for the page, but if there are two or more important keywords, put the most important one in the title, and the others in the H1 heading. The title of a web page is normally displayed in search results as a clickable link, and you definitely want your most important keyword to appear there.
To see how your home page looks in search results, take a look at the Home Page Analysis for your website. Type your domain name (MyWebsite.com, for example) into the search bar at the top right of this page, and look for the "Home Page Analysis" tab in the left-hand navigation.
Headings are a good place to use relevant keywords. Remember, though, that headings are prominent elements on a web page. It's important that they mean something to people, not just search engines. Stuffing headings full of keywords can make them look like spam.
Does Your Website's Home Page Have an H1 Heading? What Does It Say?
To see if your website's home page has an H1 heading, and how it stacks up, take a look at the Home Page Analysis tab that appears on your site's AboutUs page. Click on Titles & Headings to see whether your home page has an H1 heading and for tips on using headings.
Also, for an analysis of your entire website's H1 headings and other elements important for SEO, check out the AboutUs Site Report and try it free for a week. We'll warn you of issues with your website's H1 headings and tell you how to fix them.
How To Add or Change an H1 Heading
Your website editor or content management system should have a simple way to add an H1 heading to each page. Look for an option like "heading". If you don't see it, consult the Help pages of the tool you use, or contact their support people.
If you can edit the HTML code for your website, find the place where you want to add it (H1 headings often go near the top of a page's content) and insert this line of HTML:
<h1>What you want the heading to say</h1>
To change an existing H1 heading, look for something like the above code and change the text that's between the <h1> and </h1> tags.
Note: Some website editors don't provide an interface to add an H1 heading or edit the HTML code for web pages. If this is the case, you won't be able to add an H1 heading. One thing you can do is add text that will look like a heading to people who visit your website -- make the text of your desired heading bigger and bolder, for example. This will help your visitors, and it will be a signal to search engines that this text is important, much like an H1 heading.
Questions About H1 and Other Headings
- Is it okay to have more than one H1 heading on a page?
- Matt Cutts of Google says in the video to the right that its okay to have multiple H1 headings if there's a reason for them - but don't overdo it. Many SEO professionals recommend a single H1 per web page.
- Is it okay to have an H2, H3, H4, H5 or H6 appear higher on the page than the H1 heading?
- The H1 tag is usually listed first, as it should be the subject of the entire page. None of the major search engines will penalize a site for not placing other H headings above the H1, however. If it makes sense for the style of your page to change the order, go ahead.
Have a question about headings? Email me and I will try to answer your question in this article.