The H1 tag is an HTML tag that website owners use to mark the title of a page — it’s also the first thing you see after clicking on any page in organic search results.
I’m sure you know what the H1 tag is and why it’s an important part of both search optimization and SEO copywriting.
Which is why we’re going to go beyond general facts surrounding this topic today.
Ready for advanced H1 optimization strategies, how to run an H1 tag audit on your website, and absolute don’ts of using H1 for SEO?
Let’s jump in!
The Anatomy of the H1 Tag
The H1 tag consists of:
- An opening tag — <h1>
- The title of a page
- And the closing tag — </h1>
H1 tags are typically displayed in larger, bolder fonts than the surrounding text, making them stand out and grab users’ attention.
You can style the H1 tag with CSS to make it distinctive from other headings. This will help you establish a visual hierarchy of the content on a page. However, if you forget to close the H1 tag, the CSS style of the H1 tag will be applied to an entire web page. So keep that in mind when working with H1 tags on your website.
Search engines also pay close attention to H1 tags. Well-crafted H1 tags can help you improve rankings in search results, making it more visible to potential visitors.
The H1 Tag vs. Title Tags
Let me clarify that an H1 tag and a title tag are two different things.
The <title> tag is an HTML element that contains your web page’s title. The title tag is located in the <head> section of an HTML document and is visible to search engines. It’s also displayed on the search result page, helping users better understand what it is about.
On the other hand, the <h1> tag is used within the <body> section of an HTML document. It is immediately visible to users after opening a web page.
As you can see, <title> and <h1> tags serve two different purposes. The first one helps distinguish your web page from the rest of the organic search results. If it’s well-written and optimized, users are more likely to click on your search result and see the H1 tag at the top of the page.
Google recommends matching these two tags to avoid wrong titles appearing in search results. However, you can make them slightly different if needed.
H1 Heading Best Practices: 5 Strategies to Improve SEO
Even the tiniest SEO improvements can help your website outrank your competitors in organic search results. That’s why following SEO best practices is never a waste of time.
Here are proven-to-work strategies you can use to improve your website’s SEO:
1. Include the Target Keyword
You might have heard different opinions about the impact of the H1 tag on SEO. Some say it doesn’t impact rankings. However, we have an official response from John Mueller, who sheds light on the H1 tag:
“Headings on a page help us to better understand the content on the page. They are not the only ranking factor that we have — we look at the content on its own, as well. But sometimes having a clear heading on the page gives us a little bit more information on what that section is about.”
So, search engines use H1 tags to better understand what your web page is about.
Therefore, I recommend including your target keyword in the H1 heading. This keyword should capture the essence of the content and appear naturally within the tag.
For example, at TTT, we always include target keywords in the H1 tag so that Google understands our content and ranks it for the right keywords.
2. Match H1 with Search Intent
Every user wants to achieve a particular goal when searching for something on Google. Depending on their search intent, users may want to buy something, navigate somewhere, or find more information.
For example, the top search results for “famous paintings for a living room” share various wall art ideas. The search intent is mixed since the top-ranking pages are blog posts and online stores.
Knowing this information, you can create content and the H1 title that will appeal to your target audience — people interested in purchasing art paintings.
3. Keep the H1 Tag Under 60 Characters
If you use the same copy for the H1 and title tag, the recommended length should be under 60 characters.
Even though longer titles look fine on web pages for users, search engines often cut off long title tags.
Therefore, I recommend checking the lengths of your title and H1 tag with the help of SERP preview tools. It will help you understand whether your title fits in the character limit and how it will potentially look in search results.
4. Make the H1 Tag Unique
If you understand your audience’s wants and needs, you can better optimize your page’s title tag and H1.
I encourage you to analyze the top 10 search results before crafting the heading. The more compelling and unique your title tag is, the higher your organic click-through rate (CTR) will be.
Ask yourself the following question when working on the H1 heading: “Would I click on this title in search results?” If the answer is no, it’s probably better to create another one.
Here are a few things you can do to make your H1 and title tags stand out:
- Make your H1 descriptive.
- Add power words to evoke emotions.
- Include numbers for listicles.
- Add the current year.
- Use brackets.
- Highlight the benefits of visiting your web page. Use phrases like “Learn How,” “Get Help,” or “Unlock [Benefit]” to entice users.
- Use action words like “Discover,” “Optimize,” and “Master.”
- Include your brand name.
- Use location-specific keywords.
5. Place the H1 Heading at the Top of Your Page
If you work on a new page, ensure you place an H1 tag above any other heading tags in the code. It’s essential for user experience and search engines.
As you already know, the H1 is one of Google’s ranking factors — it helps search engine crawlers understand the content and your page’s relevance to particular keywords.
Additionally, the H1 heading helps your visitors immediately grasp your page topic and quickly assess whether they are interested in reading it further.
The Don’ts of Using the H1 Tag for SEO
Got those five best practices for using the H1 tag?
But that’s not enough to create an optimized H1 title tag — you must also be aware of the following harmful practices that can hurt your website performance.
1. Using Multiple H1 Tags
Did you know that HTML5 markup language allows multiple H1 elements on a single page?
In HTML5, each <section>, <article>, <nav>, and <aside> element can contain its own H1 tag. So, technically, you can use multiple tags on one web page.
John Mueller confirmed this, “Our systems don’t have a problem when it comes to multiple H1 headings on a page.”
However, he also mentioned that a page should have a clear and semantically understandable heading. If it doesn’t, Google might have issues understanding the context of your page.
I recommend creating a clear hierarchy on every page with only one H1 tag. I’m not the only one — the popular W3School online coding resource recommends using only one <h1> per page without skipping heading levels.
2. Using the Same H1 on Many Pages
Search engines rely on H1 tags to understand the main topic of each page.
If you repeat the same H1 across multiple pages, it can dilute the impact of keywords. Consequently, it can negatively impact your website’s organic search rankings and share of visibility.
Moreover, the H1 tag serves as a primary navigation cue for your users. Duplicate H1s can confuse them and worsen the user experience.
3. Overstuffing the H1 Tag with Keywords
While keywords play a vital role in SEO, overstuffing them into your H1 tag can be perceived as spammy by search engines. The worst-case scenario could result in a drop in organic search rankings.
If you’ve ever tried to shoehorn two or more keywords into metadata, you know it often sounds odd and unnatural. Even though search engines might not notice the issue, your users definitely will. Therefore, each H1 tag should be distinct and relevant to a specific page.
4. Wrapping Logos with an H1 Tag
The first heading on your web page should clearly describe what your web page is about for users and search engines.
However, I’ve seen examples where website owners wrapped their logos in an H1 tag. Even though using <img> attribute is allowed in <h1>, I encourage you to avoid this practice – it’s misleading to both search engines and users.
<h1>Text <img src=”image.jpg” alt=””/></h1>
The H1 heading tag should provide semantic meaning to the content of your page and contain your target keyword. Using the same H1 for all pages (with the logo) can dilute the impact of these tags and make it difficult for search engines to understand your website content.
How to Run an H1 Tag Audit
You can easily review and update H1 tags on small websites. However, what would you do if your website had thousands of pages? Reviewing all of them one by one would take way too long.
I recommend conducting an SEO audit to check all H1 tags in bulk and discover any possible errors.
To do this, I personally use Semrush’s Site Audit tool, but there are many other tools you can try.
The great thing about Semrush is that it can scan websites for over 140 technical errors, including crawling, site performance, and internal linking. You can learn more about this tool in Nick’s Semrush review.
Now that I’ve convinced you to run a tag audit, here’s how to do it:
Start the SEO audit by inserting your website’s domain and hit “Start Site Audit.”
It usually takes a couple of minutes for Semrush to complete the site audit. You’ll also get an email notification once the SEO report is ready.
The overview tab will show you the overall health score of your website, ranging from zero to 100%.
If you navigate to the “Issues” tab, you’ll see all errors, warnings, and notices on your website.
Check the H1 tag errors on your website by typing “h1” in the search bar. In my example, the website has four pages without an H1 tag.
Semrush also explains why this issue is critical to fix for your website:
“If a <h1> tag is empty or missing, search engines may place your page lower than they would otherwise. Besides, a lack of a <h1> tag breaks your page’s heading hierarchy, which is not SEO friendly.”
Fixing H1 tag errors is relatively easy if you know about these issues on your website. Therefore, I recommend conducting weekly technical SEO audits for websites with 100+ pages. This way, you can fix any issues and keep your website healthy.
If you want to learn advanced technical SEO strategies, check out this TTT course on “How to Perform a Technical SEO Audit.”
What You Should Know About H2, H3, and Optional Tags
The H1 tag isn’t the only tag you can use to structure your content.
The H2, H3, and optional tags are essential for creating a content hierarchy that enhances user experience and SEO performance.
The H2 tags are used under the main H1 tag and serve as “paragraphs” – they help users and search engines understand the relationship between different topics on the same page.
The next subheading in the content hierarchy is H3. These tags break down the H2 paragraphs into more specific points, helping readers navigate through longer pieces of content. However, you can also include optional HTML tags, such as H4, H5, and H6. They aren’t always necessary, but they can help organize complex information into easily digestible subparagraphs.
I created this visual to help you better understand the headings hierarchy on a page.
Ensure you don’t skip any level in the hierarchy because it might confuse your readers and search engines. I recommend using every heading starting with the H1 tag, followed by H2, H3, etc.
I also suggest using different heading sizes and styles to create a content hierarchy and help readers quickly skim through a page.
The further you go from the H1 tag, the smaller the headings should be. You can also use bold or italics to distinguish some headings and highlight keywords.
Discover More Advanced SEO Best Practices in TTT Academy
While H1 tag optimization is important, it’s just one thing you need to keep in mind when optimizing your content for rankings.
Instead of trying to figure out SEO alone, I invite you to join TTT Academy and connect with 40+ top SEOs worldwide. Some of the expert course instructors include: Aleyda Solis, Nick Eubanks, and Lazarina Stoy.
When you participate in the Q&A live sessions, you’ll get answers to your trickiest SEO questions, learn advanced techniques from world-known SEOs, and build a network you can turn to for advice anytime!