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What Are Headings Tags in HTML and How Many Headings Should You Use?

TL:DR : Heading tags have some influence on pages when it comes to ranking in Google in 2017. If you are a desgner and don’t know what you are doing, or want to approach this simply, stick to one H1 on the page, and make the rest of the text headings ‘H2’.

Write simply and naturally with keywords in them if relevant. Avoid keyword stuffing and take note that ‘Each piece of duplication in your on-page SEO strategy is ***at best*** wasted opportunity.’ Simple handling of H tags is often more manageable than ‘optimal’ and a lot easier to achieve with most of the benefits, and there is often no exactly correct way to apply any specific SEO element in every instance.

Read on for a more detailed explanation of how I handle headings from H1 to H6 on a web page, and why I only use 1 H1 on a normal web page unless I am specifically asked to do something different, or am working with a very bespoke HTML document.

HEADING TAG

What Are Headings Tags in HTML?

These are my notes on using Headings in SEO.

In HTML (the markup that makes web pages) the W3C describes Headings, thus:

The six heading elements, H1 through H6, denote section headings. Although the order and occurrence of headings is not constrained by the HTML DTD, documents should not skip levels (for example, from H1 to H3), as converting such documents to other representations is often problematic.” W3C

There are six levels of headings in HTML with H1 as the most important and H6 as the least.” W3C

Does Google Use Heading Tags in SEO?

Yes.

We do use H tags to understand the structure of the text on a page better, John Mueller, Google

 

Google looks at a lot of different things we look at over 200 things PageRank is just one of them whenever we rank things other things we use things in the title things in the URL even you know things that are like really highlighted like h1 tags and stuff like that Matt Cutts, Google

How Many Headings Should You Use? Does the Order of Heading Tags Matter?

Question: “Can the H1 Tag appear below the h2 tag in the code does the spider still know what’s going on?”
Answer: “yeah I wouldn’t worry about it we handle h1s and h2s very well but don’t make your entire page h1 or h2” Matt Cutts, Google

You can use them all, or none at all. You can use as many as you want. You do not need to use all six HTML elements to structure your pages. Google ESPECIALLY is used to broken HTML on the web.

The W3C lays down more elegant recommendations:

documents should not skip levels (for example, from H1 to H3), as converting such documents to other representations is often problematic.

 

For example, this is semantically correct:

<h1>Website Design Basics<h1>
<p>Here is some text</p>
<h2>HTML</h2>
<p>Here is some text</p>
<h2>CSS</h2>
<p>Here is some text</p>

I always only use one H1 Element on any page. I am old school when it comes to web accessibility and SEO and I like to keep things simple so as to move onto other things that matter more.

How Many H1 Tags Can You Use On A Page for SEO Benefit?

Question: “How many h1-tags should be used on a single webpage?”

Answer: “As many as you want.” John Mueller, Google

This argument seems to confuse and aggravate HTML experts, too.

Google evidently does not care that much, and it will probably attempt to ignore any attempt to manipulate it anyway.

Some argue that having more than one H1 per page is sensible in some instances (and HTML5 certainly allows for this, in some interpretations).

HOWEVER – and not getting into the actual HTML5 argument here, the W3C HTML5 Recommendation 28 October 2104 states:

“Warning! There are currently no known implementations of the outline algorithm in graphical browsers or assistive technology user agents, although the algorithm is implemented in other software such as conformance checkers. Therefore the outline algorithm cannot be relied upon to convey document structure to users. Authors are advised to use heading rank (h1-h6) to convey document structure.

 

“Unfortunately, despite all the activity in the standards world along with the lack of activity on the part of the browsers, many developers continue to be unaware that this imparts no benefits to users and even harms many of those users. …. This was part of the spec, and it was “revoked”, which is not a nice thing to do. And it was revoked not because they considered that it was a bad idea, but because of screen readers not implementing it correctly … Disregarding the fact that it was never part of the final W3C spec, that the spec had a warning for three years, that nobody considered the algorithm a bad idea, that screen readers had nothing to do with it, and that browsers not implementing it is different from correctly implementing it …. Like it or not, browsers are not moving on this feature and citing the purely theoretical document outline does nothing to move it forward. We as developers need to resolve this while still making it easy for content authors. There is a new issue opened against the W3C specification to try to understand how the outline algorithm is supposed to work so a polyfill can be created. This is sometimes a first step to getting support built into browsers.”

 

Which is why I think sticking to simple solutions often works best. I am an SEO, not a markup artist.

Google expects variation. Google’s (rather old but still relevant) pdf on SEO indicates it expects to find and process variations of use on the web, although the examples never indicate multiple H1 uses e.g.:

Google expect variation when it comes to the use of HTML Headings

The W3C advises

“Nest headings by their rank (or level). The most important heading has the rank 1 (<h1>), the least important heading rank 6 (<h6>). Headings with an equal or higher rank start a new section, headings with a lower rank start new subsections that are part of the higher ranked section.”

“Skipping heading ranks can be confusing and should be avoided where possible: Skipping heading ranks can be confusing and should be avoided where possible: Make sure that a <h2> is not followed directly by an <h4>, for example. It is ok to skip ranks when closing subsections, for instance, a <h2> beginning a new section, can follow an <h4> as it closes the previous section.”

It is worth noting that in their examples in their tutorial the W3C utilise only ONE instance of H1.

W3C on Headings Usage in HTML

and

Examples using 1 Headings Tag and different variations of page structure in HTML

What Is The Proper Use Of H1, H2, H3, H4, H5, H6 heading elements?

I usually aim to use the H elements as explained above, with one H1 on the page and only reach level H3 (on this site) as each page is a concise investigation of one topic.

The following is also semantically correct:

For example, here is where I live:

<h1>Earth</h1>
<h2>Europe</h2>
<h3>UK</h3>
<h4>Scotland</h4>
<h5>Renfrewshire</h5>
<h6>Greenock</h6>

Or vice versa.

You can use any number of H2, H3, H4, H5, H6 Elements on any page.

You can use any number of H2-H6 elements on any one page, but this might be a bit cumbersome for the typical web designer.

So as you can see there are multiple ways to implement these elements. I would recommend that possibly you keep your pages specific about one topic and use:

  • One H1 Element (or tag, as many call it)
  • As many as required H2 elements to denote sections on the page (you should only need one or two or 3 if you are keeping your page concise.
  • Consider using H3 Elements for useful link groups to other relevant sources but advice (2013) would be to try and keep headings for MAIN CONTENT TEXT content and not to group template navigation, for instance.

SEO Headings Elements

Correlation studies have posited that Google adds some weight to H1 elements (and other studies claim the contrary). John Meuller, from Google, did say in the above video that there is a ‘slight boost‘ to using them.

While the THEORY of a benefit is sound, and keeping in mind John’s advice that there is a ‘slight boost‘, for me there is little hard evidence that H1-H6 headings improve SEO performance in a very noticeable way (in Google). I would CERTAINLY NOT want to see a keyword phrase I am targeting appear in every Heading element.

Use <h1> for top-level heading

<h1> is the HTML element for the first level heading of a web document:

    • If the document is stand-alone, for example, ‘Everything you want to know about SEO’, the top-level heading is probably the same as the title. If it is part of a collection, for example, an introductory section on ‘SEO then and now’ in a collection of pages about ‘search engine optimisation’, then the top level heading should assume a certain amount of context; just write
<h1>SEO Then and Now</h1>
    • while the title should work in any context:
<title>Everything you want to know about SEO</title>

Everyday usage sees the Page Title Element of a page often repeated as the H1 of the page.

Unlike the title, this element can include links, emphasis and other HTML phrase elements.

Consider using CSS (Cascading Style Sheets), which are designed to express the author’s preferred font sizes corresponding to elements such as H1, etc
Remember:

“The six heading elements, H1 through H6, denote section headings. Although the order and occurrence of headings is not constrained by the HTML DTD, documents should not skip levels (for example, from H1 to H3), as converting such documents to other representations is often problematic.” W3C

Google ***CAN *** Use H1,H2,H3,H4,H5 & H6 As Titles For Page Snippet

I like finding Google’s limits. A long time ago, I started a (simple) test to see if Google will use any H Tag as a page title if for some reason it does not like the page title element you give it (as I thought it might).

The result was if the title element is malformed, Google CAN use any available heading, be it an H1, H2, H3 H4 H5 or H6 as the page title, but that is not to say it WILL.

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