Do Search Engines Still Look At Heading Tags?
Heading tags cause confusion for a lot of people. There is conflicting advice from various reputable sources. Rand Fishkin says that H1 headings aren’t necessary for effective optimisation and that large text at the top of the page has the same effect. Matt Cutts on the other hand seems to indicate they still carry some weight (Sadly I could only find his response in someone else’s video).
In addition to Matts comments there is also the more recent development of Schema.org and strucutred data within sites. The overall aim of this is to give search engines more information about the meaning and content of web sites. It could be argued that heading tags are a form of structured data, showing topic hierarchy within your content.
Finally, there are my own tests, which have shown the possibility of a correlation between H1 usage and increased rank, though this is admittedly a small scale experiment.
The evidence indicates that there are benefits to using properly structured headings.
Hang on! What Is A H1 Tag Anyway?
I’m glad you asked. A H1 tag is the HTML text contained within the Tags <H1></H1>. There are other headings too, with different numbers. Typically these are in order of importance/size on the page. If you were to create headings without any CSS styling, they’d look like this:
You can use CSS to style your headings, but it would make sense to preserve their size and prominence relative to other text on the page.
How Many H1 Tags Should I Use On A Page?
Matt Cutts seems to give a couple of different answers to this question. Generally he is saying that you can have as many as you like, and even make your headings as long as you like, but doing so will decrease the weight that is put on them. Strategically this means you should focus your efforts by only including your target keywords in the main (H1) heading.
Can I Use Heading Tags Around A Paragraph?
This is related to the answer above. You could, but there will be less weight put on the words contained within the heading.
This could also look quite odd. Headings are supposed to be larger or more prominent than other text on the page. If you have more than one or two lines of text in big, bold font, what impression will it leave on your users? Having said this, in some cases it does make sense to have highlighted font at the start of the article. In this case it would be okay to use heading tags, as long as it looks right. You should also consider using headings lower down the taxonomy, such as H3 or H4, so you can still place emphasis on the keywords targeted in H2s.
How Should I Use Keywords In Headings?
Each page should target one keyword. This keyword and variations of it should be used in the headings, with the primary keyword/phrase in the H1, and variations & co-occurant words in the sub headings. Eg:
- <H1>Ice Cream Makers</H1>
- <H2>Ice Cream Maker Features</H2>
- <H2>Can I Make Gelato & Sorbet?</H2>
- <H2>Where Can I Find Good Recipes?</H2>
Using a diverse range of exact match, related and co-occurant keywords will help you write broadly, make the page appear less like it is trying to manipulate ranking with on site factors, and generally be more attractive to users.
Can I Hide Headings Using CSS?
Hidden text is against Webmaster Guidelines. This means, Google doesn’t like it when you do this. Why should you care? Because it can result in penalties against your site.
Can I Use Headings in The Logo?
Yes and No. Typically when people do this they include the heading tags around logo and either rely on the alt text or html text which is hidden using CSS. This is not ideal for three reasons
- This is hiding text, which as mentioned, is against Webmaster Guidelines, although this is unlikely to result in a penalty.
- The logo is typically a sitewide element, so you can’t target keywords with individual pages
- The user can’t see the heading. That means you optimising for the search engines, not people. This is generally considered a bad strategy
So what should you do? Ideally you should include the H1 heading in the main content area of the page and it should be visible and descriptive for users.
Do I Need A H1 Tag?
In addition to Matt Cutts statements, my own tests have shown that there is an advantage in using H1 tags in a targeted way. However, the benefits are not huge. If your site’s CMS makes it difficult to add a properly targeted H1, then you shouldn’t spend hours or hundreds of dollars trying to fix it. It’s just not that much benefit. Instead, spend the time writing a high quality article for your blog, engage with your users on social media or build relationships with influential people in your industry. All these things are more important than having a targeted H1 tag.
If you can’t add a H1 tag, you should try and add a big heading at the top of the page, which is distinct from the rest of the text on your site and uses the target keywords.
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