What is an H1 Tag: How to Write the Best One for SEO

What is an H1 Tag Cover-Image

Did you know—according to a recent case study on Moz—the simple act of improving your site’s H1 element has shown to increase traffic by an average of 9%? (1)

When it comes to building great SEO content, it starts with your H1 tag. A carefully crafted H1 tag will immediately capture your user’s attention and sets the tone for the entire article.

Any SEO guru worth their salt will tell you that a catchy H1 title tag can make all the difference. But somehow, many SEOs fail to pay attention to these itsy-bitsy pieces of code.

That’s a shame because if you are strategic about your headings, they can really work in your favor.

Today, we’re going to dissect SEO H1 tags like surgeons. You’ll find out exactly what an H1 tag is, why your SEO headings are so important, and how you can write the most effective headings in HTML for yourself.

If you’re looking to boost your traffic today, don’t forget to run my quick and easy H1 tag audit located at the bottom of this page. Enjoy!

What Is An H1 Tag?

First, let’s break down exactly what an H1 headers HTML tag is and what it looks like.

An H1 tag in HTML is formatted with the opening <h1> tag, followed by your H1 title or text, then closed with the closing </h1> tag. Here’s an H1 tag example in HTML code:

<h1>This is an H1 tag.</h1>

HTML stands for Hypertext Markup Language, which is the code that most developers use to create websites.

An HTML tag is a little bit of that code that dictates how that code will display your data, whether it’s an image, text, or something else.

Header tags (H1, H2 and so on) are like titles in that they appear in large, bold letters (often bigger than the body text) and are often used to break up sections of a page.

Main Heading and sub heading n content illustration

HTML headings are numbered from 1 to 6+, with H1 headings being the largest, most important, or highest in the hierarchy. This header is followed by H2, 3, 4, 5, and 6 at the bottom of the hierarchy.

Sometimes, the H1 tag functions as the actual title for the web page. But that’s not always the case.

You can have a different title (the title that shows up on the search engine results) from your H1 header (the main heading that shows up on the web page itself).

Let’s take a minute to look at the differences between each tag, and why it’s important to understand them.

Title Tags vs. H1 Header Tags

Before we get any further, let’s quickly go over the difference between H1 headers (our current focus) and page title tags.

H1s are often used to provide the most visible “title” for a given page. For that reason, they can be easily confused with title tags. However, your page title is a distinct type of heading in HTML, and it has its own specific purpose.

What Is a Page Title Tag?

A page title tag is an HTML element that provides a title for a given page. It has its own tags, and appears in code like this:

<title>What is a page title tag?</title>

Despite the name, it is not visible on the page at all. Instead, it is featured most prominently in search results. If it is used by the search engine, you can see it at the top of any search listing, like in the example below:

diggity marketing page title serp

While each search engine can read the HTML title, it’s important to understand that Implementing title tags does not guarantee that you’ll get the title you want above your listing.

For several years now, Google has reserved the right to decide how title tags appear in their search results. According to their guidelines

“Google’s generation of page titles and descriptions (or “snippets”) is completely automated and takes into account both the content of a page as well as references to it that appear on the web”.

Google’s automated titles may be produced from anchors, on-page text, the current H1 heading HTML, or other references on the page.

There is currently no way to block Google from using the title it wants without blocking the whole page from appearing in search results. It may generate a new title for any of the following reasons:

  • The official title is too long
  • It’s stuffed with keywords
  • It’s too much like the title on some of your other pages
  • It’s not currently branded

While Google’s AI-generated titles may get in the way of your personal optimization goals, many digital marketing specialists have found that their stats improve after the changes.

Google has far more information than it shares on what makes title tags clickable. If yours is changed by their algorithm, it’s usually to your benefit.

Can I Use h1 and Titles With Identical Text?

You can use identical h1 and title tags, but many digital marketing experts recommend against using the same text.

h1 and page title element

It’s not recommended because the two elements serve slightly different roles. If you’re using the same text for each one, you’re just not taking advantage of the ways that you can optimize either one.

  • The role of the h1 element: To provide a clear topic for the page and its content
  • The role of the title element: To introduce the page and entice people to choose your result over any of the others that appear in SERPs.

The title tag is not just about defining the purpose of the page. It’s job is to sell the page to people who haven’t clicked on it yet.

For that reason, titles are often longer than h1s. The extra length tends to accommodate extra information like:

  • Actions verbs and phrases such as “learn why” or “discover how”
  • Branding
  • Country or city location (especially important in local results)

Most of this information isn’t useful to people who are already on your website. However, it’s all important to searchers who still need to decide whether yours is the right result for them.

These details may suggest that titles are more important than your H1 tags, but that’s not the case at all. Let’s dive back into H1s, and explore why it’s so important to include them—and to include them in the right way.

Why Are H1s So Important?

Now that you understand exactly what HTML H1 tags are—and can differentiate them from title tags—you’re probably asking how H1 tags and SEO are related.

More importantly, you may be asking what makes your HTML H1 tag crucial to your SEO success.

html h1 tag

In a recent study, the Search Engine Journal found that one of the most important factors for organic rankings in search engines was your Page Title Tag and website headings – including and most especially your H1s. (2)

This makes a lot of sense when you look at this situation from both a user and a crawler’s perspective.

Your H1 is the very first on-page SEO element that will get the attention of your visitors. It’s big, centered, and (if built correctly) straight to the point. In short, it’s your first impression, and you can’t afford to waste it.

From a user’s standpoint, your H1 heading tag tells them what your content is going to be about. It gives them a sneak-peek into whether or not they’ll find the info they need on your page.

Why h1 is so important

Ease-of-use is one of the most essential parts of the user experience. Frustrating your visitors before they’ve even reviewed your content is not a recipe for a fast conversion.

It’s simply the most eye-catching visual element on the page. You’d just be wasting all that space if you didn’t use it right.

It’s no less important from a bot’s perspective, either. Crawlers look at your HTML or CSS H1s to determine what your page contains. It scans for important keywords and catalogs them accordingly.

If you don’t add an H1 tag in your HTML code, the crawler will spend more time and resources figuring out the content of that page. Without a proper h1, it’s not guaranteed to successfully find the right information.

This problem can lead to bad snippets in cases where Google generates its own titles for your pages. Bad snippets can directly impact your traffic, send your bounce rates up, and damage your place in search results.

Angela Hilty, the SEM Specialist at OuterBox Inc, puts it like this: “Header tags should make sense to the reader. If your visitors understand the header on your page, the search engine will likely be able to do so as well.” (3)

The bottom line is that good H1 code benefits both your on-page SEO and the understanding of your site’s visitors.

Good H1s also makes it easier for your users (and the search engine spiders) to understand how each page fits into the larger context of your site. That means applying best practices can result in more accurate titles being generated across your whole website.

Finally, tweaking your H1 tag for SEO is relatively easy and it’s FREE. If you can boost your rankings in search engines with minutes of effort and no cost, why wouldn’t you take that opportunity seriously?

How Do I Create SEO-Friendly H1 Tags?

We’ve already established the importance of H1 tags, so by now, you know that you can’t just put any text as your header 1 and call it a day. The words, the placement and even the font size can all make a big difference.

Unfortunately, many webmasters and digital marketing pros still fail to give their H1s the attention they deserve. So, if you’re looking to craft more “SEO-Friendly” H1s, these are the protocols I follow and recommend you use.

Only Use One H1 Tag In Your HTML Code

An SEO H1 Tag should be used sparingly—it doesn’t get more effective if you keep adding more of them.

In fact, you should only have a single H1 tag in your HTML code. Why? Because there is simply no benefit to having more than one H1 tag per page. Having multiple H1 tags on a page can be confusing to both site users and search engine bots.

Your H1 title tag should contain the keyword that you want to rank your page for in search engines for (more on that later).

If you use multiple H1s, the search engine that’s crawling your page may not know which keyword is the most accurate one. It may choose one that doesn’t match the intent of your page.

h1 main heading to sub headings

Each additional H1 could also reduce the ranking pull of those headings. If you take your SEO seriously, that’s the exact opposite of what you want to accomplish.

If you need other headings to break your web page into sections, don’t use H1s—use <h2>, <h3>, <h4>, <h5> and <h6> instead.

Unlike the H1 title tag, you can have as many H2 tags to H6 tags on your page as you want. They can cover a range of different subtopics without confusing the intent of the page as a whole.

Describe Your Content In The H1 Tag

What would happen if you clicked on a page that had the header/H1 tag as “Things to do this summer”, but when you scrolled through the text, it was actually about the best swimsuits you can wear at the beach?

h1 describing your content

While those things might be tangentially-related, the content clearly wasn’t what you expected to find when you clicked on that title.

If you’re like most searchers, you value your time. You don’t like ending up on pages that don’t match your user intent. You’ll feel confused by the page content, maybe even a little bit betrayed.

Don’t make your users go through the same thing. Make sure your H1 tag actually describes what they’re about to read. Your H1 tag and title tag don’t have to be the same, as we mentioned earlier, but they should at least refer to the same topic.

How to Pick The Right Keywords For Your H1 Header Tag

Keywords are the lifeblood of SEO. They signal to Google and other search engines what your page content is about, whether it’s “best donuts in Memphis” or “how to unclog your drains.”

Without a strong targeted keyword, how are you going to rank for the search terms that matter to your website? How are you going to attract visitors with the right user intent to convert?

Pick The Right Keywords For Your H1

Of course, it’s important that you’re careful not to go overboard. As with anything SEO, there are some best practices that need to be considered.

Your H1 tag should not be overstuffed full of keywords in an attempt to rank higher in search engines. That hasn’t worked in many years.

Being clear is far more important, so use just one of your most relevant keywords in a way that feels natural. Any supporting keywords can be used in your H2 tags (and so on), and body content.

Format Your H1 Tag To Make It Stand Out

This tip is less on the technical side of things and more on the aesthetic side.

The <h1> HTML tag tells Google to pay particular attention to that set of text since it describes your page’s content. As one of the more important pieces of code (for SEO, at least), its formatting should reflect that.

“We perceive bigger things as more powerful and dominating as compared to smaller ones. So whenever we see this difference in size, we automatically put them at different levels in the hierarchy and define a relationship. Creating a visual hierarchy in UI is really important. It helps users scan through the content at a high level before diving deeper into the content.”

Neil Patel imgNayan Suthar
Product Designer & Medium Contributor

Your H1 needs to be easily recognizable on the page. You can do this by making the text bolder and font size larger than the other headings and body text. You should also place your H1 at the top of the page so that it grabs your user’s attention right away.

Get The Right H1 Tag Length

Getting the perfect length for your header tag is both an art and a science.

If it’s too short (e.g. just your long-tail keyword), it will seem generic and may not communicate enough information. If it’s too long, and you’ll probably lose your user’s interest before they even finish getting through it.

So how long should H1 tags be?

Generally speaking, you should keep your H1 tag limited to about 20-70 characters.

h1 characters number length

Remember: that’s characters (including spaces and punctuation in addition to text), not words!

If you’re careful, this still gives you more than enough space to create interesting, descriptive H1 heading tags without creating an annoying user experience.

Address Your User’s Intent

To convince users to click on your site and read your content, you need to understand them.

What are they looking for? What are their major concerns and needs? If they search for this particular keyword, what kind of content are they expecting to find?

 

For example, if a user searches for “SEO tips evergreen”, what does that tell you about the user’s intent?

From the evidence, you can deduce that they want some quick, bite-sized suggestions on how to improve their search engine rankings that are effective regardless of what year we’re in or how algorithms have changed.

So, an H1 tag that addresses the user intent could read like this:

“10 Easy SEO Tricks That Will Boost Your Rankings NOW (Evergreen Edition)”

When Writing Your Header/H1 Tag, Your User Should Always Come First

What it all boils down to, is this; Writing effective H1 HTML code is all about the user experience.

Sure, you’re also trying to cater to Google’s guidelines. But also, Google has evolved to the point where they can tell if you’re trying to cater only to their algorithm.

The algorithm is increasingly getting better at being able to tell if you’re putting in the effort to provide value to your users as well.

writing h1 with user experience first

Google and other search engines look at a variety of factors to determine whether or not your content is useful. They review your site data to ask:

  • How many users click on your site?
  • How long do users stay on the page?
  • Do they click out quickly?
  • Do they follow a link further in?

If you design with your user in mind, you are more likely to keep them on your site. And trust us, Google rewards sites that prioritize the user experience.

How To Run An H1 Tag Audit To Boost Your Site’s SEO This Week

Now that you know how to make your H1 actually work for you, it’s time to go through your site and make sure your header tags follow some SEO-focused guidelines.

You want to do this by launching an audit. The idea of the audit is to catalog all of your existing headers so that you can confirm that they all meet the standards you’ve recently learned.

Running an H1 tag audit isn’t difficult. However, it can get a bit time-consuming depending on the size of your site. We’ll try to provide you with some structure that can help it all go a little faster.

First, it’s important to understand that you’ll need to go through each of your pages (yes, pages, not only your blogs or articles).

The easiest way to do this is with a free software like Screaming Frog. This tool can quickly scrape all of the pages on your website, and provide you with a sheet that includes the h1s for each URL.

screaming frog h1 tag

Once you have that ready (using SF or another program), run through the list and confirm the following for each URL:

  • There is only ONE H1 tag per page.
  • The H1 is located at the top of the page.
  • The H1 is within 20-70 characters.
  • The H1 accurately describes the content on the page.
  • The H1 contains ONE long-tail keyword related to the page’s content.
  • The H1 is formatted as the biggest and most striking visual element on the page.
  • The H1 answers the question “what does the user want and expect from this content?”

Now, if you have a lot of content, checking each of them manually might not be a good use of your time.

To speed up the process, you can use an H tag checker. These are lighter-weight applications that are designed to scrape just the header information for each of your pages.

heading tag checker

Once you’ve found and installed one you like, scan through your content and check your H1 tags to make sure they’re optimized. Apply the checklist above so that you can make a list of the pages that are or are not ready.

Depending on the program that you choose, you’ll also get a list of problem URLs and recommendations on how to make them better.

Summing It Up

Many SEOs fail when they treat their H1s as a small or inconsequential piece of code. Now, you know better. Having a strong header is an easy (and cheap) way to win yourself a real boost in your SERP.

H1 headings tell users and crawlers what to expect when they click on your page. It convinces them to stick around and take the next step toward converting.

That can easily spell the difference between poor traffic and SEO success.

Now it’s time to put your newfound knowledge on H1 tags to good use! Audit your site, rewrite your H1s, and see those clicks roll in.

Frequently Asks Questions (FAQ)

OK, we’ve covered a ton of information. Let’s quickly review some of the big questions, and make sure you understand the role that your h1 has one your search engine optimization.

Do I need an h1 tag?

Yes. The h1 tag is considered the “main topic” of your article and helps to give a signal to Google of what your page is about. It’s true that you don’t necessarily need it in the sense that your page can rank without it—but you definitely want it. Any subtopics that you feel need to be covered can be mentioned in your h2-h6 headers.

What is a title tag?

Title tags are established in the HTML code with the <title></title> tags. They help to also establish the main topic of a page, but they are mainly known for the role that theft plays outside of your website, in search results.

The title tag designates what you would like shown in the search result when your page listing comes up. Remember though, Google reserves the right to change your title tag to a phrase of their own choosing.

Is the h1 tag the same as the page title?

No, h1 tags are not the same as title tags. They have different locations in your HTML code and are used in different ways. You may choose to use the same copy for both, but if you do, you’re likely not optimizing as well as you could.

Should the h1 tag match the title?

No, the h1 tag should not match the title. Take advantage of the fact that you can represent your content in different ways by using both to their full potential. Your h1 tag should plainly cover the topic. Your title tag should work to attract people to click on the link.

How many times can I use the h1 tag?

It is recommended that you only use one h1 tag per page. Having more than one tag doesn’t necessarily damage your SEO, but it offers no benefits and may confuse crawlers and searchers. You can use sub-headings (h2, h3 and so on) as much as you want to break down the main topic into subsections.

What are the 6 levels of heading tags?

The 6 levels of heading tags are h1, h2, h3, h4, h5, h6. The headings follow a hierarchy. The H1 tag is the highest/most important level and H6 is the least.

References

  1. https://moz.com/blog/on-page-seo-changes-case-study
  2. https://www.searchenginejournal.com/important-tags-seo/156440/
  3. https://www.outerboxdesign.com/search-marketing/search-engine-optimization/H1-header-tag-seo-importance
  4. https://medium.com/@nynsuthar/space-size-style-aba80f820716