Written by: Kali Wyrosdic
Our conclusion is that while it’s fine to stick with one H1 per page, multiple H1s can be used as long as A) they are not being overused to the point of spamming, and B) the H1s fit contextually within the structure of the page.
Update: Confirmed by Google on 12/21/2017 https://www.youtube.com/watch?time_continue=76&v=WsgrSxCmMbM
The Multiple H1 Tag Debate
HTML5 “officially rolled out” in October 2014. This sparked renewed interest in an old SEO debate amongst web designers and online marketing pros. Is using multiple H1 tags on a single page bad for SEO? Depending on the school of thought, some web designers debated the true use case in document outlining, as did some SEOs. We know H1 tags have value. Some SEOs try to insert several H1 tags on a page (usually with target keywords), believing they are impacting an outlining algorithm. I’ve seen H1 tags in breadcrumb trails, hidden behind wordless graphics, and pushed to the margin with CSS.
But other SEOs who worry about being spammy, go with the “one H1 per page” rule of thumb. When a client asked about this topic, we reassessed our multiple H1 best practices. We had to establish where we stood on this matter. We wrote this blog post with the input of fellow SEOs and web designers via social media.
Quick Overview on HTML5 Document Outlining
For all you non-techies, since 1997, HTML4 was the go-to way for developers to outline, code and build sites. In fact, many of the sites that exist today are built in HTML4. Whether you’ve made the switch to the HTML5 specification or are using HTML4, using multiple H1 tags is OK. Be sure there is a logical reason for them and that you aren’t abusing them at the cost of user experience. This old-but-relevant video from Matt Cutts concurs.
Beginners Guide: The Use of H1 Tags
We (SEOs, writers, and web designers/developers alike) always say H1 tags are similar to how an article’s title is structured. Because of this, it makes sense that Google would use them as signals or contextual clues towards your subject matter. They help search engines better understand what the page, article, or piece of content is about.
Technical SEOs then put their spin on this fact. The old-school way of “optimizing” HTML header tags and H1 tags for better rankings was to stuff them with keywords and place several on one page. Google was aware of this tactic. What followed was the tactical portion of the SEO industry performing experiments on the value of H1 tags, most of which were convoluted and had inconclusive results.
For as long as I can remember, there have been contradicting articles proclaiming the H1 has no power, to only the first H1 matters, to all H1s have a huge impact. The eventual general conclusion was akin to, “Google is on to us – only use one H1 tag and make sure it’s keyword rich.” I would argue that that is where half the SEO industry is today.
But does that make sense from a content marketing and digital marketing perspective? Aren’t there situations where a page might aggregate several topics (despite some SEOs’ recommendations), where a few H1 tags are apt? Thanks to HTML5 document standards finally being agreed upon, using multiple H1 tags on a single URL is now accepted as semantically correct – as long as they are used the right way and not as a spammy trick. Simply put, there are new usage rules. The following is how H1 tags can be used within your document structure:
- An H1 should always be in the first section of the page’s content (usually the logo or header area)
- H1 tags can be used for dividing content sections (traditionally where most considered an H2)
- H2 tags are used as HTML headings to detail an outline to support the H1 section label, with H3 etc. following
From our perspective, as Google grows its comprehension past simple keywords, encouraging us to always write for humans, we’re going to recommend using H1 tags as needed for users. Then, work in keywords when it makes sense. We are no longer of the “one H1 tag only” mentality, and see no reason against recommending the HTML5 usage rules. It feels like an appropriate match to Google’s desires post-Hummingbird.
Example of HTML4 Document Outlining
Example of HTML5 Document Outlining
Now, this is the same article created using HTML5 document standards:
So what do these two examples show? In a simplified nutshell, the reason why it’s OK to use multiple H1 tags in an HTML5 document is because of elements such as the <article> and <header> tags. These HTML tags tell search engines that they should treat those sections as separate articles.
Since Google is favoring sites with longer-form, more holistic pieces of content (as evidenced by Hummingbird), as well as increasing its semantic understanding ability, having multiple H1s on a single page may continue to become more common. It could actually be beneficial in helping both users and search spiders better digest the content on each page. It’s a safe assumption to think Google will get on board with HTML5 regarding H1 tags – if they haven’t already.