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What are H1 Tags and How Should They Be Optimized for SEO?

Updated: | SEO vincent d'eletto wordagents ceo Vincent D'Eletto

Every SEO practitioner will agree that getting a page to rank well for a target keyword is challenging work.

The number 1 position in Google’s search engine results pages (SERPs) is gold dust – claiming, on average, 28.5% of click-throughs

And given the intensity of competition for the top spot, it’s only wise to jump at any opportunity that can give you an edge over everyone else.

Fortunately, creating well-optimized H1 tags is one such opportunity. 

In this post, we’ll explain why H1 tags are so important, explore the best practices you should follow when implementing them, and answer the most common questions surrounding the topic.

Let’s start with some basics.

What is an H1 Tag? 

The H1 tag is an HTML element used to format the headline on a web page. 

An HTML element is just a snippet of web code that tells the browser how to display a particular piece of content on your page.

Other HTML header tags (H2 to H6) tend to be used for subheadings, sub-sub headings, and so on. 

The H1 tag is usually formatted in a larger font size and, sometimes, stylized text to differentiate it from the other headers on a page.

Example

Here’s what the H1 tag looks like on our how to write for SEO page:

h1 heading

And here’s what the same tag looks like in the HTML code:

html header tag

H1 Tag vs Title Tag 

The H1 tag and the title tag can be easily confused.

This is because the H1 tag is used to format the page title as it appears to the user.

But the title tag itself doesn’t appear on the page at all. 

Instead, it’s displayed as the browser title for the page and is sometimes used by Google to generate the clickable text in your page’s search result listing.

title tag

Why is an H1 Tag Important?

Although H1 tags won’t directly affect your page’s ranking potential, they do come with some important SEO-related benefits.

H1 tags provide context to search engines

All search engines face the task of deciphering the content on a web page to work out whether it’s a relevant match for a user’s search query.

H1 tags are a great way to help search engines figure out what your content is about. 

This isn’t to say that the H1 element is essential for allowing search engines to understand your content, but it can provide a useful signal.

H1 tags help the visually-impaired

Visually-impaired web users often use screen readers to transform the written text into speech or braille.  

For such users, it can be easier to understand your content when your page adheres to a conventional heading structure. 

In fact, a 2017 survey revealed that 60% of screen reader users prefer it when only the page title is formatted using the H1 tag.

H1 tags help with UX 

Since the H1 tag is usually the first thing users see when they land on your page, it’s the perfect place to set expectations for the rest of the content.

Moreover, when you implement H1 tags as part of a wider on-page heading hierarchy, you make it much easier for users to jump to whatever information they find most valuable.

H1 Tag Best Practices for SEO

Now that you understand what H1 tags are and why they’re important, let’s cover the best practices for implementing them.

Here’s what you should keep in mind when creating H1 tags:

Use One Per Page

The conventional approach to using H1 tags is to use only one per page.

There’s just no benefit to having more than one. Any additional headers on your page can be denoted using one of the other H tags.

Moreover, we’ve seen how using multiple H1 tags may tarnish the user experience for screen reader users, even though it won’t necessarily impact Google’s ability to grasp the meaning of your content.

Match H1 Tags to Title Tags (Or, Don’t…) 

Search users will often click through to your content because your title tag (as displayed in the search snippet) struck a chord with them.

So once they land on your page, chances are they won’t want to be greeted with an H1 header that promises something different from what they clicked on.

For this reason, it’s a good idea to keep your title tag and H1 tag as closely aligned as possible.  

This is such common practice that content management systems (CMSs) like WordPress will automatically match your page title to your H1 header tag.

That said, there may be circumstances in which it makes sense to have a slightly different title and header tags. This is usually the case when text in the H1 tag is slightly too long to neatly fit into the title tag.

Include Your Target Keyword 

Since the main purpose of your H1 tag is to signal what your content is about, it’s essential to incorporate your target keyword or a close variant.

Of course, the ground rules for keyword integration apply just as much to H1 tags as they do anywhere else. So write with the user in mind, and don’t stuff your header with your target keyword.

Describe the Topic

Once again, your H1 header tag is there to give users and crawlers a clear idea of what’s covered on your page.

So, in addition to mentioning your target keyword, your H1 tag should provide a succinct but natural-sounding description of your content. Pique the reader’s curiosity and let them know what they’re in for!    

Address Search Intent 

Your H1 header should also reflect the search intent behind whatever keyword you’re targeting.

Search intent simply refers to the kind of content a user expects to find when they search a particular query.

Falling to satisfy search intent leads to a poor user experience. For example, someone searching for ‘vegan brunch ideas’ would feel rightly annoyed if they clicked through to a list of meat-based recipes.

When users read your H1 header, you want them to think, “Yes! This is exactly what I was looking for”.

The best way to accurately gauge the search intent behind your target keyword is to study the existing top-ranking results for that term. After all, Google’s whole business revolves around serving users with results that best meet their search needs.

Use Title Case

Another way to differentiate your H1 tag from all the other headers on your page is to use title case.

Title case just means you capitalize every word apart from minor words like ‘the’ or ‘to’ (unless they appear at the start or end of the title).

Adhering to this formatting keeps your H1 header looking neat and highlights the importance of the text within it.

Use 70 Characters or Less 

Finally, it’s best to keep your H1 tags relatively short, usually within 70 characters.

This is especially important if you’re using the same text for your H1 tag as your title tag since Google truncates title tags that exceed 70 characters.

But it’s also a good idea, even if you don’t have matching H1 and title tags. This is because Google will sometimes rewrite your title tag by using the H1 tag to generate the clickable text in your search result. In fact, one study has found that Google rewrites up to 61.6% of titles.

How to Add an H1 Tag in WordPress

As we mentioned earlier, WordPress automatically sets the page title as the H1 tag.

To change a heading to H1 in the WordPress classic editor: 

  1. Click on one of your headings.
  2. Open the drop-down menu and select the H1 heading level.

How to Add an H1 Tag in HTML 

If you’re writing HTML code for header tags yourself, make sure it adheres to the following structure:

<html>

<h1> Header Tag Text Goes Here </h1>

<p>

</html>

FAQ

Do I need an H1 tag?

Yes. Even though your page can rank without an H1 tag, you’ll get many other benefits from using it. These include making it easier for search engines to understand what your page is about, improving your page’s overall accessibility, and making it easier for users to digest your content when used alongside other header tags.

How long should an H1 tag be? 

We recommend keeping your H1 header tags within 70 characters. If Google replaces your title tag text with your H1 text, this ensures your result isn’t truncated in the SERPs. 

How many times can I use the H1 Tag? 

In theory, there’s no limit to the number of times you can use an H1 tag on a web page. In 2019, Google’s John Mueller confirmed this by stating: 

“Your site can do perfectly fine with no H1 tags or with five H1 tags”. 

However, Mueller also acknowledged that H1 elements can help users and search engines understand the content on a page and that he “would use them in the proper way on a page.” 

Accordingly, we suggest avoiding multiple H1 tags. It’s better to stick to one per page. This will also improve the user experience for screen reader users, most of whom prefer it when the H1 tag is used only for the content’s title.

If you need to add subheadings to your content, simply use the other HTML header tags (H2, H3, H4, etc.).

Is H1 a ranking factor?

While there’s no definitive evidence that H1 tags are a ranking factor, some evidence suggests that using header tags, in general, can help a page rank. 

As John Mueller stated in August 2020

“Headings on a page help us to better understand the content on the page… [but]... are not the only ranking factor that we have”. 

He also went on to say: 

“A heading is a really strong signal telling us this part of the page is about this topic… whether you put that into an H1 tag or an H2 tag or H5 or whatever, that doesn’t matter so much”.

Optimize Your Headings 

H1 header tags can play a crucial role in helping search engines understand your content and rank your content for relevant search queries. 

They also give users a preview of what they can expect from your content, help make your page more accessible, and provide a better user experience when used with other header tags.

We’ve seen that SEO and user-friendly H1 tags should be succinct descriptions of your content that reflect the search intent behind your keyword. It’s also best to use just one H1 tag per page and format them using title case to distinguish them from other headers. 

It’s now time for you to put what you’ve learned into practice and start creating H1 tags with confidence.

Happy optimizing!

vincent d'eletto wordagents ceo Vincent D'Eletto

Hey, I'm Vin. Founder and CEO of WordAgents.com. I create content that ranks really well on search engines for our clients. I'm also deeply involved with the SEO community; maintaining a portfolio of successful, profitable affiliate websites. You can find me playing guitar, drinking scotch, and hanging out with my German Shorthaired Pointer when I'm not working!


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