He said: “Our systems aren’t too picky, and we’ll try to work with the HTML as we find it — be it one H1 heading, multiple H1 headings or just styled pieces of text without semantic HTML at all.” In layman’s terms, Mueller is saying that though H1 tags are good, they are not critical, as Google’s systems don’t need to rely on specific headings structure to specify the main point of content on a page.
One of the main reasons Mueller’s announcement has caused a little upset is that it seems to contradict a longstanding SEO practice of using and optimising an H1 tag and subsequent headings on a page. One of the traditional rules of SEO is to add keywords or relevant terms into the H1 heading at the top of the page, so to signal what the page is about and help in rank in SERPs.
It used to be the case in the early days of the search engine (think early 2000s) that a keyword in the H1 was required and if not, your site wouldn’t be competitively ranked. Of course, Google has come a long way since then and is much better at reading what a page is about, which is why what Mueller has said is so interesting.
To understand where Mueller is coming from, it’s a good idea to understand how headings (H1, H2 etc) are used in SEO. In HTML code, the H1 is considered the most important tag, often used as the title or first header of the page and followed by H2 and H3 tags and so on, as subheadings. Generally, using heading tags help break up the document and make it easier to read and understand, as opposed to a solid wall of text, which helps improve the usability of a web page.
H1 tags are different from title tags, as these show in the SERPs and are part of the page header. When it comes to on-page SEO, the page title is more important, but both need to be optimised for the best results. The key for H1 tags being used well is not if a page has one, but what text makes up the tag.
It is easy to see that H1 tags are important for SEO, particularly regarding usability and accessibility, so ideally there should be one on each page of a website. Google has previously said there can be more than one, but it makes sense to just use a single H1 and use the other headings in a hierarchal way, otherwise you can cause unnecessary confusion to both search engines and users.
Regardless of what John Mueller has said recently, headings still have a use in SEO when used correctly. It’s a complex task for search engines to read the context of a page, so they use data from different factors, including the page title and H1 tags. Reading the HTML code, Google can help identify the page content and know whether it is relevant to a search based on the information in the title and H1 tags. And sometimes, H1s are used in place of a title tag in SERPs, so it makes sense to include the topic of the page, so you still have a good headline.
Headings help improve a page’s usability as they make it easier for users to navigate. A glance at the H1 tag will indicate what the page is about, and the following headings provide users with an idea on how the page progresses. It’s a little like chapters in a book (giving you a good idea of how the story develops) but you don’t want to have long headings as it’s better to keep them short and to the point.
Nevertheless, despite the importance of H1s in SEO, a page needs more than that if it’s going to rank; there are hundreds of variables that go into ranking a webpage, and all these things combined can improve your search rankings. Ensuring your website contains relevant, quality content that will answer a searcher’s query and proves you are an authority on your product or service.
You should also look at sprucing up your meta descriptions; even though it isn’t a factor which directly affects ranking and search crawling, it has an impact on click through rates. Well written meta descriptions encourage users to click on a webpage, which results in more traffic and potential new customers. You can also use keywords in metadata, making Google highlight them when the page appears on SERPs.
It’s a good idea to work on links too, creating relevant internal links in your website’s text, especially ones that blend into the text – not just having a random ‘click here’ (a phrase with zero search engine value). You also don’t want broken links, which can create a disruptive user experience and be detrimental to Google’s crawling of your site.
Come talk to us at Bluesoup if you are thinking your website needs an SEO boost! Our experts are happy to help you improve your organic visibility, and we can help you understand the jargon and how it all relates to optimising your site!