What is an H1 tag? It’s an HTML element that’s usually used to identify the title of an article.
But from an SEO perspective, it’s much more than that.
Some digital marketers have noticed significant ranking improvements when they optimize an H1 tag and do nothing else on the page. That’s evidence that the Google search algorithm takes the tag very seriously.
If you want to ensure that your business gets maximum exposure online, then you need to know how to properly use the H1 tag in your content marketing efforts.
Here’s an overview of the H1 tag and how to optimize it for search.
What Is an H1 Tag?
Let’s start with an in-depth answer that’s asked in the title: What Is an H1 Tag?
It’s a defined element in HTML. If you’re not familiar with the acronym HTML, it stands for HyperText Markup Language.
HTML is interpreted by web browsers like Google Chrome and Firefox to output certain formatting on a web page. In this case, the H1 tag is usually presented in large, bold letters as a header.
There are other header tags as well. They are H2, H3, H4, H5, and even H6.
In the old days of HTML, the size of the lettering decreased as the number in the header tag increased. In other words, the font size in H2 was smaller than the font size in H1. The font size in H3 was smaller than the font size in H2. And so on.
It doesn’t necessarily work like that anymore. However, it’s still often the case that H1 lettering is the largest of the lot.
That’s why the H1 tag is so frequently used as the title of a page.
Be Careful About the Use of “Title,” Though
Before we go on with more info about H1, we should talk about the title tag. It’s not the same thing as the H1 tag.
That might seem confusing because the H1 is often used as the title. But that’s not required.
At least it’s not required from a technical standpoint. You can have different content in the title tag than you have in the H1 tag.
There’s a “but” coming, though.
It’s generally considered good SEO to make your title tag the same as your H1 tag plus the title of your website.
For example, if the title of your article is “Guide to African Safaris” and the title of your website it “World Travelers Blog,” then your title tag should be something like “Guide to African Safaris – World Travelers Blog.”
As you can see, the article title and the website title are separated by a dash. It’s often the case that they’re separated by a pipe (“|”) instead.
In fact, if you do a search on just about any popular keyword, you’ll likely see Page 1 of the search results populated with titles that follow that format. Take a look at the search results for “LCD TV Reviews” for some examples.
Keep in mind: it’s the contents of the title tag that appear in the search results, not the contents of the H1 tag.
The contents of the H1 tag are important for user experience. We’ll delve into that subject more in another section.
H1 Markup (What Is an H1 Tag)
As we’ve seen, the H1 tag is a markup in an HTML document. But what is markup, exactly?
It’s an element within an HTML document that’s interpreted rather than printed.
For example, an H1 tag looks like this in HTML: <h1>
When your web browser encounters that text string, it knows that it’s markup because it’s surrounded by the “less-than” and “more-than” signs. As a result, it doesn’t output the string “<h1>” to your screen.
Instead, your browser formats the string that follows it.
If your browser sees “<h1>A Guide to African Safaris”, it will format the string “A Guide to African Safaris.”
How does it format the string? Usually in large lettering, but that’s really up to the styling on your page. We’ll cover styling in just a bit.
You also might be wondering how the browser knows when to stop formatting the string. In other words, when does the formatted text end.
It’s simple. Your browser looks for an ending H1 tag to determine where the formatted text stops.
In the example above, the whole string would look like this: “<h1>A Guide to African Safaris</h1>”.
That “</h1>” is a closing tag. It tells your browser when to stop formatting the text.
If the HTML document author forgot to include that closing tag, the whole page would appear in large font. Nothing would stand out.
H1 Vs. h1
You might have noticed that the tag is called H1 and h1 interchangeably. That’s perfectly acceptable.
Why? Because HTML is case insensitive.
That means <h1> is the same as <H1>. You can feel free to use either case interchangeably on your website.
How to Find the H1 Tag for a Page
Next, let’s take a look at an actual H1 tag in action. Head over to an article entitled “How to Use Amazon Product Ads to Drive Sales.”
View the source of that article. If you aren’t familiar with how to view source, you can usually do it by right-clicking on the article and selecting “View page source” from the context menu that appears.
A new window will open in another tab. Take a look at the URL bar and you’ll see the exact same URL you just clicked on but with “view-source:” in front of it.
First, pay attention to the HTML document’s raw source. You’ll see plenty of tags in it.
Remember, tags begin with the “less-than” sign (“<”). Look on the left-hand side of the page and you’ll notice a number of tags.
In fact, there are so many tags it’s not easy to find the H1 tag. To make things easy, just search for it.
Type Control-F (for “find”) on your keyboard. That should bring up a search bar.
In that search bar, enter “<h1>”. The browser will take you to the location of the H1 tag. It should be highlighted.
As you can clearly see, the text that follows the H1 tag is the title of the article: How to use Amazon Product Ads to Drive Sales.
If you use the search bar to also search for the title tag, you’ll see that the text in the title tag is the same as the text in the H1 tag plus the name of the website (“Ignite Visibility”).
H1 Tag and Styling
As we’ve seen, the H1 tag formatting varies from website to website.
Why? Because each site has its own, unique stylesheet.
If you’re unfamiliar with the concept of a stylesheet, it’s a bit of code that tells browsers how to format text on a web page.
For example, one website might style the H1 tag to display in 24-point, bold font that’s colored orange. Another site might style the H1 tag to display in 26-point black italics.
In some cases, the styling for the tag is embedded within the web page itself. It’s usually at the top, in the <head> section.
Many sites externalize the styling, though. They reference a stylesheet file that exists independent of the HTML document.
That file is often named style.css. The “.css” extension stands for “cascading stylesheet.”
The bottom line is this: you have the power to dictate how your H1 tag looks on your website. You can set the font size, color, and family.
In addition to that, you can also set other stylesheet attributes such as line spacing and margins.
If you’re using WordPress for your content management system (CMS) of choice, then you’re probably already using a great theme. In that case, your theme designer has set up an H1 style and you likely don’t need to do anything.
H1 Tags and SEO (What Is an H1 Tag)
How important are H1 tags to SEO? In a word: very.
It looks like a lot of digital marketers don’t see it that way, though. As late as 2015, Searchmetrics found that one out of every five sites in Top 10 results surveyed didn’t use an H1 tag.
The research did, however, find that webmasters using the H1 tag increased by 4% from 2014 to 2015. So apparently the news is catching on.
That’s a good thing. Search Engine Land says flatly “that the H1 tag holds the most SEO weight out of all headings.”
Also, Moz’s 2015 survey of search engine ranking factors lists “Page-Level Keyword and Content-Based Metrics” as the third most important ranking factor. That large category includes “keyword term/phrase in particular parts of the HTML code on the page (title element, H1s, alt attributes, etc).”
There’s anecdotal evidence to support the importance of the H1 tag in SEO as well.
So it’s important to optimize your H1 tag for search results.
How Do You Optimize an H1?
What does it mean to “optimize” an H1 tag?
In a nutshell, it means populating the tag with content that’s guaranteed to get you maximum exposure in the search engine results pages (SERPs).
There’s a lot that goes into making that happen, though.
For starters, make sure that your H1 tag includes your keyword. That means if you want your article to show up at the top of the results when people search for “women’s handbags,” then you should include the phrase “women’s handbags” in your H1 tag.
Keep in mind: it’s also important that you deliver in terms of your content.
In other words, if “women’s handbags” is in your H1 tag, then your content had better be all about women’s handbags. Google will notice if it’s not and the page won’t rank well.
Does it matter where in your H1 tag the keyword appears? Probably not.
Some people think it’s best to have it right at the beginning. Unless those folks have seen the code that’s used to rank web pages, though, they’re just guessing or basing their analysis on personal experiences.
For practical purposes, none of the commoners outside of the Google engineering team knows exactly what goes into ranking a website.
But you don’t need to know.
Why? Because Google has dropped a big, fat hint about what it takes to rank a website.
It’s covered in two words: user experience.
What does that mean for your H1 tag? It means that it should accurately reflect the contents of your web page.
So rather than guessing where you should put the keyword in your H1 tag, you should instead make sure that its contents include the keyword and appeal to your target audience.
This is where we should take a break for a moment and stress the importance of the current trend in SEO.
Modern-day SEO is really not about search engine optimization. It’s about user optimization.
That means Google isi far more likely to show you some love if you show your website visitors some love. If you produce amazing, original content that answers their questions, gives them what they’re looking for, and keeps them coming back for more, you can be sure that Google will reward you with positive search rankings.
On the other hand, if you opt for a strictly technical route and try to manipulate the search engines to give your site a good rank without regard for user experience, you can expect to fall flat on your face.
And you should.
So when it comes to optimizing your site, your page, and your H1 tag, follow the #1 rule of journalism: give the people what they want.
Use a Single H1
Another important H1 optimization technique: use only a single H1 tag per page.
Although you can use multiple H1 tags, it’s frowned upon in digital marketing circles. For good reason.
That’s because you could dilute the SEO value of one H1 tag when you add a second H1 tag. In that case, you’ll end up with a lower rank.
Also, if you have multiple H1 tags, how will Google determine which one has the keyword? You’ll confuse the search engine.
Instead stick with a single H1 tag. Even the longest of longtails should fit into a single tag.
If you have an article with multiple subheaders, use the H2 tag instead of the H1 tag for each of the subheaders.
Google won’t have a problem with multiple H2 tags. In fact, Google expects multiple H2 tags in great content.
If you hire a company to conduct an SEO audit on your website, you can expect to get a number of red flags if your site has pages with multiple H1 tags.
Try to Limit Your Tag to 20-70 Characters
As we’ve seen, you should be able to fit even longtail keywords into a single H1 tag. If possible, though, try to limit your H1 tag length to 20-70 characters.
Why? For a couple of reasons.
First, recall that you’re trying to create a positive user experience. If you keep your title brief, your visitors will appreciate it.
Second, remember that you want your H1 and title tags to match. So if you have a very lengthy H1 tag, then you’ll likely have an even longer title tag as it usually contains the website name as well.
And remember: the title tag is what gets displayed in the search results.
If you have a really long title tag, you can expect that Google won’t display the whole thing in the SERPs. Instead, it will shorten the title and add ellipsis (“…”) to the end of the shortened version.
Clearly, that’s not a positive experience for people in your target market who are looking for info related to your business.
That’s why, whenever possible, you should limit your H1 tags to 20-70 characters.
You’ll find that some high-profile website max out titles at 70 characters. That’s for the reasons described here.
Make a Statement With Your H1
Remember, your H1 styling is likely already established by whatever WordPress theme you’re using. You probably don’t need to change anything.
But your site might be the exception to that rule.
That’s why you should check the styling of your H1 tag. See if you need to make changes.
You can either look at an existing article that you’ve already published or create a test article and preview it in Draft mode.
When you’re looking at your H1 tag, ask yourself the following questions:
- Does the H1 tag text stand out?
- Is it the largest text on the page?
- Does the design fall in line with the overall look and feel of the page?
- Is there plenty of whitespace before and after the H1 tag so that text isn’t running together?
As you evaluate the H1 design, put yourself in the shoes of a visitor to your site. Ask if it would look great to somebody in your target market.
Let’s take another look at the “How to Use Amazon Product Ads to Drive Sales” article.
What do you think? Does the title stand out?
It’s safe to say that the title does stand out. It’s presented in white text with a contrasting but theme-compliant background.
In fact, it’s almost impossible to miss it.
Those subheaders you see just below it are using H2 tags.
Avoid Keyword Stuffing (What Is an H1 Tag)
If you use the keyword in your H1 tag (and, as we’ve seen, you should), then make sure you avoid stuffing it throughout the article.
That’s because Google hates keyword-stuffing.
In the old days of SEO, online marketers ranked a web page by with keyword-stuffing. They just repeated the keyword as much as possible throughout the content so that Google would think it was relevant.
Those days are long gone.
That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t use the keyword in your content at all, though. In fact, you should use it as much as possible.
Just make it look natural.
If you try to force keywords into content where they don’t belong, you’ll provide a lousy user experience. Don’t expect a good rank.
Address User Intent
Thus far, we’ve gone over user experience. Now, it’s time to look at user intent.
User intent answers this very simple question: “What does the user expect to see when he or she clicks on my article in the search results?”
Your H1 tag (and therefore your title tag) should answer that question.
Let’s take a look at an example.
Suppose somebody out there is looking for a great overview of how to use the Google Search Console. However, in this case the user is aware that Search Console has gone through a number of revisions over the years. She wants something that’s more recent.
So she Googles “using Google Search Console 2018.” And lo, one of our own articles emerges on Page 1 of the SERPs.
Now ask yourself this question: does the title display in the search results address the user’s intent?
First, it offers a “Full” guide to the Search Console. That tells the user that the article is a thorough analysis of the tool.
Next, it also puts “2018 Edition” in parentheses That tells that user that it’s not an old version of a guide to Search Console.
So yes, the title effectively addresses user intent.
And so does the H1 tag in the article itself.
Although user intent isn’t a ranking signal (Google isn’t that smart), bounce rate is a ranking signal.
That was confirmed by Steven Levy who, in fact, was granted access to Google’s headquarters. He wrote a book about his experience.
According to Google engineers, if a user doesn’t return to search results quickly after clicking on a link, then that’s a good indication that he or she is happy with the result. In that case, the bounce rate is low.
On the other hand, if a user jumps right back to search results after clicking on a link, then the user didn’t find what he or she was looking for. That means Google will likely demote that search result for the keyword.
That’s why it’s important that you align your H1 tag, your title, and your content with your keyword. Then, people will click on your link in the SERPs and hang around for a while.
You’ll provide a much more positive user experience and enjoy a higher rank.
Wrapping Up “What is an H1 Tag”
Now you know what an H1 tag is and how you can use it to improve your rank. Make it a point today to go over your content and find areas of improvement in your H1 tags so that you can attract more people to your website.