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On-page SEO: Multiple H1 Elements Yea or Nay?

(Reading time: 3 – 5 minutes)

Updated November 26, 2012. Thank you for visiting. This is the (second) most popular blog post on Website In A Weekend. Your +1 is highly appreciated!

Here’s an interesting email I received concerning on-page SEO html structure and its effect on search results:

I finally have a minute to reach out. We haven’t spoken since you left your comment on my site. I haven’t had a chance to review the hRecipe plug in [sic] and all the updates you made. Could you please advise if the layout now has the option of tagging the <post type> titles and subtitles to H1?

-Grace

After a few back and forth emails concerning whether hRecipe plugin for WordPress should, by default, use the h1 element for recipe titles, we turned to Google.

What says the Big G?

Let’s take a look:

Matt Cutts states in this video that multiple h1 elements is something Google watches for, and may penalize if the useage doesn’t make sense.

Since Google gets to decide what makes sense, I’m keeping hRecipe titles marked up as h2 elements.

Also, and this is important, hRecipe is open source under the GPL. Everyone is free to modify, or have someone else modify the plugin any way they see fit.

Arguments for and against multiple h1 elements

People arguing for multiple h1 invoke Google’s ambiguity (as of 2009), the lack of a definite standard for structural elements in HTML, etc., and how multiple h1 results (apparently) get better results for them.

People (i.e., me) arguing against multiple h1 elements can’t seem to come up with arguments much better than “Based on my professional experience as an information architect working on the web since the early ’90s, multiple h1 is a bad idea. And, it doesn’t make any logical sense at all, either.”

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A slight digression… Being intimately familiar all the arguments for or against some contentious issue makes one an expert on the arguments.

It does not make one an expert on the issue itself.
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If you like this article and find it helpful, you could help me in return with a +1. Thanks!

Perhaps you are now at that success point where hiring professional SEO help makes sense. I recommend the folks at SEOMoz. I’ve met Gillian Muessig personally and can vouch for her professionalism. Scott Hendison of Seo Automatic is another excellent SEO professional. (Note: I do not have affiliate relationships with either, I simply respect their expertise.)

The upshot: If you’re worried about how many h1 elements (and they are elements, not “tags”) on your web page is best for SEO, you should purchase professional SEO help. Or, you need to run your own SEO experiments (which is what professional SEO people do) and figure out how many h1 elements work best for you.

More about On-page SEO

The really cool thing about on-page SEO is it’s in our control. We can choose whether to use h1, or h2, or what keyword density to write against, or whatever.

(Wrox) Professional WordPress

I took a look around the web (that means I searched Google) for the latest and greatest articles. I didn’t find much I haven’t already written about (Read through the Building Traffic archives). This article showing 4 graphics illustrating on on-page SEO by Rand of SEOMoz was an interesting and highly relevant exception. As it turns out, getting the simple stuff is still important, but even more important, is good writing.

Content is still king!

And WordPress makes delivering that content easier than ever. I’m happy to be an Amazon affiliate, and even happier to recommend Professional WordPress from Wrox. I use it myself.

Comments

  1. Do you get around this a bit with hRecipe using semantic markup for parts of the recipe? Or would you want the title of the recipe to be in your H1 tag (demoting site title, tagline, etc down a level)?
    Sean´s last post ..Direction III

    • It turns out that the semantic markup is orthogonal to SERPs, it’s not currently weighted at all. Which is something a lot of people don’t realize. The benefit is for improving click throughs once on the SERPs.

      The structural elements h1, h2, etc do contribute some weighting for ranking, thus are important for SEO.

      In this case, Grace wanted the post title as h1, and the recipe title as h1, which is redundant. Which is also a matter of opinion, but my opinion is based on how WordPress (that is, almost all theme authors) has decided to structure blog posts.

      I’ve chosen the more conservative approach for hRecipe, h2 for recipe title, no chance of sending an inadvertant spam signal to the search engines due to markup.
      Dave Doolin´s last post ..Ask Anca: Replacing static HTML sites with WordPress

  2. OK, I’m definitely not an SEO expert, but I’m quite interested in the subject. Just from a logic standpoint, I think that if Google intimates they may be unhappy with multiple H1 elements on a page, that right there is enough to make me not do it.

    Even if it seems fine now, what happens if Google rolls out an update that punishes multiple H1 elements? Down goes the search traffic.
    John Soares´s last post ..25 Ways to Boost Your Freelance Writing Business in Under 5 Minutes

  3. I like to think of creating heading tags in the same way you would when composing a document. The H1 is the main document title, there should be only one. H2 is a major section, there should be maybe 2-4 at most. Think of it as a way to organize data, too many titles and headings would confuse most people!
    Andre Morris´s last post ..What Factors Affect Your Site Ranking?

    • Andre, this is, in fact, the correct way to think about it. Burt makes a case for having more than one document on a web page, but that’s not something most people are prepared to deal with.

  4. I haven’t personally done it but a friend of mine commonly uses several h1 element is his blog posts. I ain’t no expert myself, but I believe as long as it’s suitable and that it makes sense, I think Google won’t penalize you.

  5. Dave

    Great debate!

    I was told many years ago about only using one H1 per page and have stuck with it that approach ever since.

    Andrew
    Andrew @ Blogging Guide´s last post ..How To Make A Blog: Everything You Need To Know

  6. Hi Dave

    I think multiple uses of the H1 tag are not logical and as Matt Cutts says not only does Google look suspiciously on multiple instances, but its algorithm takes the fact that people try to abuse this element into account. I think if it makes sense to use more than one H1 element then that’s OK, otherwise I always stick to one.
    BB´s last post ..Get Your Ex Boyfriend Back – Some Things You Shouldn’t Do

  7. Personally, I like having just one a page. This means I’m not really diluting its importance (in my own head, if nowhere else), and I can make my subheaders either h2 or h3 (I’ve tried either, doesn’t make much difference from what I’ve seen).

    One quick note though; your tweet meme button thing is pointing to a 500 server error. I used buffer anyway so its no big deal for me personally but thought you should know.

    H
    Heather´s last post ..Happy New Year – World Domination Just Round The Corner…

  8. I think that the best strategy to do is use only one H1 tag per page because more than one could cause problems and cause a drop in ranking. Like someone also suggested if they put out an update that more than one H1 tag could hurt that pages that wouldn’t be good. I always try to not confuse Google as much as possible and be obvious in everything I do. If you have no H2 on a page, but you have a H6 that could confuse Google and that is why I wouldn’t do it.
    Caleb´s last post ..What Traffic Travis has to Offer (SEO Tool)

  9. Hey,

    I definately got to know a lot from this article. Never knew how Google interprets the H1 tags, or multiple use of it. I will stick to using it only for the main title. The remaining can be H2 tags or just normal bold headings. :) Thank you.

  10. I don’t think using multiple H1 tags for on page seo is a good idea. If anyone using this technique then he might be losing something from major search engine. Using multiple h1 tags makes search engine spider confused. I’m not a seo genius, I just tell what I think…. !

  11. I use a plugin (SEOpressor) that rates your posts based on a certain number of elements; relevant to this post are the h1, h2, and h3 tags. This particular plugin gives you “points” for each one you have in your post, but only awards them once (ie you can’t get closer to a 100% rating on a post by putting more h1 tags). Obviously this is just one example from a plugin, but I think it helps support the argument about overusing the h1 or any other heading tag for that matter. This was a helpful post; I especially like the reading time estimate at the top. I found this blog off SEOmoz, and I definitely will be back regularly. Thanks.
    Richard´s last post ..White Garlic Chicken Pizza

  12. An another on page SEO is the url structure, it should be user friendly and not in any numbers or special characters. It’s good to use h1 and h2 tags and the meta tags are very important.

  13. I like to think of creating heading tags in the same way you would when composing a document. The H1 is the main document title, there should be only one. H2 is a major section, there should be maybe 2-4 at most. Think of it as a way to organize data, too many titles and headings would confuse most people!

  14. I agree that you should only use one H1 element per page. Use H2 for subheadings and so on. I think it keeps with proper semantics as well as keeps things ‘modular’. From an SEO standpoint I’d be interested to see an actual case study, but I suspect that proper use of headers can only help, and improper use may be seen as spammish.
    Steve´s last post ..Livestrong LS13.0E Elliptical Sale

  15. runner2009 says:

    When you really think of it there is no “proper use of header elements”. In my opinion, proper use depends on the type of document one is using.

    An example; if your document type is strict HTML5, you can and are expected to have multiple H1 headers in a document by seperating the content by using the new HTML5 tags such as articles asides etc. You can use the hdgroup tag to group your multiple H1 tags within multiple articles on a page.

    One would believe by this time that Google or the other search engines would have crawled enough pages to have “learned” how to identify the content without having to rely heavily on the structure of documents as they did in the beginning.

    I have personally seen many WordPress sites where the authors have used multiple header tags within the document as a way to format the document – in many cases corretecting this had minimal if any affect on rankings. Many web designers continually use h#s as anchors for CSS markup instead of semantically
    correct HTML pages and again you would believe that the SE algorithms have evolved enough to decipher this.

    Runner2009
    Burt

    • Burt, not sure how I missed this, but your response rates an in-depth reply.

      When you really think of it there is no “proper use of header elements”. In my opinion, proper use depends on the type of document one is using.

      This is an excellent point.

      I’ve avoided going into details on what kinds of web pages are best served with multiple h1, as the focus here is (more or less) on WordPress and “normal” blog posts and pages. Which is the situation inspiring the article.

      An example; if your document type is strict HTML5, you can and are expected to have multiple H1 headers in a document by seperating the content by using the new HTML5 tags such as articles asides etc. You can use the hdgroup tag to group your multiple H1 tags within multiple articles on a page.

      Agreed.

      For an example supporting your remark, some of the popular Javascript-based presentation apps use h1 to denote a new slide, where the h1 doubles as the title.

      This is fine when the slide deck is presented as a series of web pages, but I’m not sold when the same file used for the slides is presented as a single web page. I don’t feel multiple h1 make sense in that case. (Yes, I’m talking to you, Mr. C. =)

      One would believe by this time that Google or the other search engines would have crawled enough pages to have “learned” how to identify the content without having to rely heavily on the structure of documents as they did in the beginning.

      These kinds of things turn out to be very easy for people to figure out, not so easy to write an algorithm for computers.

      I have personally seen many WordPress sites where the authors have used multiple header tags within the document as a way to format the document – in many cases corretecting this had minimal if any affect on rankings. Many web designers continually use h#s as anchors for CSS markup instead of semantically
      correct HTML pages and again you would believe that the SE algorithms have evolved enough to decipher this.

      I’d prefer to punish lazy or ignorant designers and developers with low SERPs. It’s just not that hard to get right!

      Thanks for stopping by.

  16. I don’t use any H1s!!!!!!!!!!!! Only H3s. No idea why though:)
    Annabel Candy, Successful Blogging´s last post ..5 New Year’s Resolutions I (and my blog) Will be Making

    • You should know better than that!

      Restyle your h2 to the same styling as h3, then you get the look you want.

      As you audit your material over time, you can replace the h3 with h2 in existing posts.

  17. That’s very interesting information. As a beginning webmaster I thought H1 and all other h tags were for decoration purposes only!

  18. Anything against common sense is bad. So are multiple h1′s. Thanks for starting this theme.

  19. One of my clients insists that the h1 element should be used and that too multiple times. I try reasoning with her but nothing helps. I believe that using h1 multiple times will be harmful than beneficial in the long run.
    Chitra@SocialVani´s last post ..Decoding Google’s Policy & Principle Update w.e.f March 01, 2012

  20. I agree with John. Just the fact that Google may penalize sites with multiple H1 elements would make me stay far away from the practice. I just don’t want to take a chance when there are many more ways to try to rank better in search results.
    Brian@pizza blog´s last post ..Pizza Recipes

  21. Guys newbie here,Hearing what matt cutts says,i am confused why do we need to have too many headers in a page.After all header is for headers right.am not understanding why people make multiple Hs.
    johnavery´s last post ..Motorcycle Salvage

  22. At first this didn’t make any sense at all to me, but then I thought if I had a blog and each post was an article, just because I posted an article last week doesn’t make it less relavent than an article I post today, I would use H1 on both article titles. If I have 5 articles on one page then I would use it 5 times.

  23. Multiple H1? Not for me. I personally don’t like the concept of using multiple h1 tags on the same page, h1 is for the main title of a page, you can use h2, h3 for other titles
    Sarah´s last post ..Construction Machinery

  24. I’ve been doing SEO for almost ten years. I learned early on one rule to follow – if you have to question your tactics at all – they are wrong. Plain and simple. If you’re going to present confusion to visitors or the search engines, then the route you are taking is a route down the wrong road.
    Rebecca Gill´s last post ..Our New Child Has Finally Arrived: A Genesis Theme Store

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  2. [...] On-page SEO: Multiple H1 Elements Yea or Nay? | Website In A …By Dave DoolinHere's an interesting email I received concerning on-page SEO html structure and its effect on search results: I finally have a minute to reach out. We.Website In A Weekend [...]