Google: Heading Tags are a Strong Signal

Google: Heading Tags are a Strong Signal

The process of technical SEO optimization involves the correct filling of certain tags and meta tags on the page. They are used by Google search bots to rank and compile relevant search results correctly.  Title tags are among the most important tags.

By competently composing the headlines, you can simultaneously solve several critical tasks for promoting a page. In addition to being used by Google in the ranking process, headings can be useful for conveniently structuring information, interconnecting different parts of the text, making it easier to navigate a document, and motivate a user to take targeted action.

Later in this article, we will take a look at how to use, fill in, and optimize heading tags properly to achieve maximum results.

How Google Uses h1-h6 Tags to Rank Pages

Previously, it was considered that the serial number of a tag is inversely proportional to its importance.  That is, the h1 heading would have much more weight to Google than the h6 heading. Also, SEO specialists and webmasters found it necessary to include relevant keywords in the headlines. Today, the situation has changed, as confirmed by John Mueller, a Google employee.

Last December, he held a videoconference with webmasters, where he noted that discussions about the impact of headlines on search rankings were highly overrated. According to him, the practice of using the most crucial keywords in high-level headlines and less essential keywords in lower-level headings was relevant fifteen years ago.  Today, using different levels of h tags is more of a proper organization of a web document than a ranking factor. Google crawlers use headers to better understand what a web document is about; however, they do not need to use keywords.

Later in August of this year, he held another video meeting in which he emphasized that heading tags are a strong signal for Google. However, this does not mean that a page will rank lower without correctly used h tags.           

He explained that search robots crawl the content on pages on their own, and headings are necessary for a better understanding of the content. At the meeting, John Mueller emphasized the importance of using title tags for images. Since Google cannot view images, it only understands its content by the title tag and its context. By crawling these elements and the content of the page as a whole, search robots decide to deliver relevant images to users’ requests. Read more in the article: SEO Images: 11 Perfect Tips for Optimizing Your Site.

The Google employee has reiterated that, for the search engine, there is not much difference between the h1, h2, or h4 tags. The main thing is that the headings correspond to the content of the web page and are used logically to structure the document.

The Benefits of Using Heading Tags in a Web Document

Let us summarize all of the above and consider the basic rules and recommendations for using headings in a web document.           

  • It is a way to get the user interested. Behavioral factors have an impact on SERP; therefore, from an SEO point of view, it is necessary to keep the user on the page as long as possible. Creatively written headlines that catch the eye of a user can help with this. According to statistics, the majority of site visitors do not read the entire text; it is enough for them to find the information they seek. The text, without an optimized structure and appropriate pointers, is challenging to parse. It is not credible, and the visitor is likely to leave the site. 
  • In this way, a convenient content organization is ensured. In the process of creating a text, you need to take care of its competent division into semantic sections and come up with headings of the optimal length that will characterize the content of the passage as accurately as possible. It will make the content easier to find information and read. Besides, the filled h tags will facilitate a more detailed understanding of the content of the document by search robots. Just look at the heading example below and see that the unstructured content is hard to read and is not interesting.

  • Google Featured Snippets. Featured Snippets from Google are a nice, structured presentation of content in search results. It can help you drive additional traffic to a relevant web page. Here is how it looks for the query “best notebooks 2020”:

Several conditions must be met for a page to get into Featured Snippets. First, it should already be on the first page of the SERP. Secondly, it should be well-structured. In this example, the phrase “The Best Laptops in 2020” is used as the first level heading, and all list items are formatted as h2 headings. It is worth noting that the phrase in h1 does not match the keyword entered in the search field exactly.

Despite this, Google easily understands the request and shows the page that is the most relevant and properly structured. Also, as you can see from this example, you do not have to use a specific keyword in h1. The main thing is that the title and content are as relevant to the request of a user as possible. For more information on the topic, check out the articles: How to Optimize Featured Snippets Google to Increase Traffic and What are Rich Snippets?

  • The use of keywords in titles. As mentioned earlier, the use of keywords in the <h1> – <h6> tags is not binding, which has been confirmed repeatedly by John Mueller. Since the introduction of the Hummingbird algorithm, Google has understood the content of a text and the value of a page by more than keywords. For this, it takes into account various factors, including images, structure, synonyms, and semantic relationships. Read more in the article: Google Algorithms That Affect SEO. Nevertheless, no one forbids the use of key phrases in headlines. The main point is to make the headlines as relevant to the content and as intriguing as possible. If it makes sense to use a key phrase for this, then use it.

It is critical to pay attention to a frequent mistake of novice webmasters. To attract their target audience, they create viral headlines that easily attract attention. At the same time, the content itself is poorly optimized and does not match the content of the headings, which can negatively affect behavioral factors and have the opposite effect. The position of the page in the search can remain unchanged for a long time or even drop.

Correct Optimization of Heading Tags

There are many benefits to using h1-h6 headings on a web page. Consider the recommendations for creating and optimizing headings proven by practice and research.

Correct Use of the First-level Heading

According to the above-discussed statement of John Mueller, the representative of Google, today, it is not necessary to use heading tags on a page, in particular the <h1> tag. However, many webmasters and SEO specialists believe that without filling the <h1> tag, the page SEO optimization will be incomplete. Also, this may somehow affect the page ranking, although not critically.

John Mueller’s Twitter can indirectly confirm these statements. In his microblog, in response to a user’s question, he noted that if the document contains the <h1> tag, then Google can use it to understand the content better. Otherwise, the crawler will try to understand the content anyway.

Twitter

Many webmasters share the opinion that it is better to highlight important parts of the document yourself than to leave it to Google, which is also evidenced by Moz’s study. As a result of the experiment, experts have made several basic recommendations for using h1-h6 tags on a web page:

  • It is recommended to stick to a clear structure of your content using headings of different levels. Ideally, the structure of the text should resemble an inverted pyramid. This concept is widely used in journalism, but it has proven to be effective in the field of content marketing. To understand what this means, let us take a look at the following scheme:

This structure implies the division of content into three not-dependent parts, which are located at a parallel level, using the h1-h6 tags. First, it is better to highlight the most important topic, then describe the essential details, and finalize with additional information. The pyramid scheme allows the readers to navigate the text and find the information they need with ease. Also, it improves the overall visual experience, which is also crucial for the behavioral factors on the page.

  • Headings should be made noticeable by highlighting them with a large font. It will make it easier for users and Google to pay attention to them.
  • If the content management system has restrictions on the use of h1, do not despair, the main thing is to adhere to the optimal content structure.

The Frequency For Using the h1 Tag

According to the HTML5 spec and John Mueller’s tweet, any number of first-level headings can be used on one web page.

Twitter

However, many experts tend to use the <h1> tag only once. And there are objective reasons for this:

  1. The first-level heading is intended to describe all of the content accurately. Using it several times violates the reverse pyramid scheme and the structure of the text.
  2. It is unknown how Google handles multiple h1 tags. It can either distribute the weight evenly between them or give preference to the very first heading. In any case, there is a risk that the search robot will not correctly understand the content.

The Use of h2-h6 Tags

The use of h2-h6 tags directly depends on the complexity and length of the content, which is apparent because short texts do not need detailed structuring. Besides, it is impossible to sufficiently divide these texts into independent fragments to be separated by different headers.

In practice, headings up to the fourth level are used most often, although there are no restrictions. The main thing is that they must be appropriate and relevant to the content. With their help, it is easy to organize the structure of the reverse pyramid and make the text easy to read, understandable, and visually attractive.

Basic Guidelines for Using h2-h6 Tags

Let us consider the main recommendations of experts on using these headings:

  1. They should be natural, concise, and relevant to the content.
  2. The content of the headings must raise the interest and curiosity of the user to read the entire text.
  3. The frequency of using the h2 tag can be anything. It is mainly used to highlight important information per the medium level of the pyramid structure. The main thing is to not skip levels and keep the content structure optimal.

It is also worth mentioning the general recommendation for composing headings and structuring text, which will help to do this faster and easier. Before you add text to a web page, you should write down all the questions that this content answers. Next, correctly distribute the paragraphs following these questions. And finally, combine them with the appropriate headings maintaining the correct structure.

Summing up, it should be said that, despite all the rules and recommendations, the main criterion is the only factor that is the end-user. Google representatives have repeatedly stated that modern smart search algorithms are primarily designed to ensure that the user receives the content that is relevant to the query and the most useful. This factor remains the main one in the SEO optimization of any page. If visitors like a page and spend time on it, then Google, in turn, will rate it as useful and raise it in the SERP, even if the web document is not fully optimized according to all the requirements and recommendations. Also, read the related article H1 Tag: How To Create a Great Header.

Author

Alex Allsopp Alex Allsopp

Alex is a Java developer, electronics engineer and freelancer. His experience in IT is over seven years. During this time, Alex was working as a web back-end developer, a robotics engineer at the robot exhibition, as an editor of the business portal and as an SEO specialist assistant. He has written many articles about software development, SEO optimization and IT in general.

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