Updated: December 26, 2012 Google, Bing and Yahoo cracked down…
A client who I am consulting on changing his domain name asked me an unrelated SEO question about H1 tags. He received an external website audit that recommended removing excessive H1 tags from his sites. The funny thing about SEO audits (or rather the sad truth about SEO audits), is that they often come purposely without a lot of explanation so that the recipient must hire more SEO services to get really actionable recommendations. This is almost as dangerous as when people receive random SEO advice or see an SEO To-Do list of things that will help optimize your website. SEO is something you have to see within context. Websites are complicated and its way too easy to put general SEO advice to practice the wrong way on your website.
Here is my client’s question about H1 tags for SEO.
It turned out that there were loads of H1 tags in the headers added by the back-end team that were dinging us from an SEO perspective. Anyway, we just removed those tags in the global header which resolves this issue on thousands of pages.
Today however as I review this work I see that there are still many “<h1 class=“ tags on share.[client_website].com. Is H1 class a problem? Normally content classes should be immune to such things, but out of an abundance of caution I thought it might be a good idea to remove these as well. What do you think?
My Response Explains How H1 is used for SEO & Excessive H1 Tags
The class part of that tag is just for CSS styling purposes and has very little bearing on the bigger SEO concerns (unless you were using CSS to do something black hat, like stuffing an area with keyword spam and hiding it). If you are removing excessive H1, it doesn’t matter if it also has class=”name-of-the-class” or style=”whatever-styling-code” inside the H1 tag. By the way, your H1 tag will open with <h1 and close with >, and capitalization does not matter.
The idea behind removing excessive H1 is that a webpage is supposed to use H1 to code the main heading of text content, like a headline for an article. There is only supposed to be one H1 heading for each page. It is supposed to identify to the user what page they are on. It usually coordinates with the navigation that got them there and the title tag. Because those elements are used that way, search engines weight them highly in terms of understanding the theme of the page and what keywords the page should rank for. Back when basically all SEO was black-hat, people started using multiple H1 tags and stuffing them with keywords. In response, search engines started looking for excessive use of H1’s to help identify if a website is using keyword spam and should be penalized. But they also realize a lot of people are using multiple H1’s who aren’t trying to do anything black hat, but are just using an H1 several times on a page to identify different sections within the page (ideally, those would be tagged as H2). So you probably won’t get penalized unless you are accidentally doing something black hat.
My advice is not to get to hung up on how many H1 tags are used on a page, but at least make sure the first H1 tag has meaningful text.
You could definitely be leveraging your H1’s better.
Generally in a blog post, like this [URL omitted for client’s privacy], the title of the post would be the H1.
That webpage actually has six H1 tags, and this is what they each say…
- Your account has been created and you are signed in. Congratulations!
- something went wrong
- Your account has not been created
- Add a Comment
How to Use H1 Tags for SEO
I recommend changing the template so that you have a post title using H1, followed by the author by-line using H2. So you would make the title of the post H1, move the name of the blog below the post title and make it an H2, and make the author name an H2. You can insert words in the template, like “by” and “in”, so the user understands the context and use CSS classes in the H2 to make sure they are styled the way you want them to look. It might look like this.
[Title of Post Omitted for Client’s Privacy]
By [author] in [name of blog] Aug 22, 2014 7:55 AM
Or you could do the by-line as all one H2 tag using <span class=”name-of-CSS-class”> tags inside it to bold/color the author name and blog name. Your span tags would wrap around just the author and just the blog name inside the H2, which wraps around the entire by-line. And by the way, it’s nice to use a standard by-line because Google specifically looks for it and makes it clickable in search results if the author has a Google+ account (but that’s a whole other strategy we could talk about).
If you click the name of the blog and to view the full blog [blog name omitted for client privacy], I would make the name of the blog an H1 and the name of each post an H2. She only has one post, but others I saw show a long list of their posts listed, so there would be multiple H2’s that make sense for the page.
That just covers 2 pages within your blog template. I usually include steps in our SEO plans to review and give technical SEO recommendations like this for the architecture of each different part of a website (like forums, galleries, news, ecommerce, etc).
Thanks for the question, I love digging into this kind of stuff! Let me know if my response makes sense.