Simply stated, H1 header tags are important.

But it isn’t just making sure we use H1s on webpages or even how we use them.

It’s actually understanding what an H1 is (in modern definition) and how it fits into a page’s organization.

More importantly, it’s knowing how an H1 – and other header tags (H2, H3, H4, etc.) – fit into the overall user experience of that page and the website as a whole.

Technically, that main header tag doesn’t even have to be an H1.

But, whether it is an H1 or another header tag, that main header is incredibly significant.

Let me explain.

H1s Aren’t What They Used to Be

H1s used to be systematic and standardized; but no longer, as search is smarter than ever before and getting smarter every day.

The idea of using an H1 as a main category – a headline, if you will – has not changed.

But the role of that header is built more around the overall user experience of the page – and how it helps to improve that experience – than the keyword variations included in it and the order in which an H1 shows up in the header hierarchy.

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So, that main headline doesn’t have to be an H1, but the fundamentals behind it acting as an H1 remain.

The main header of a website, which could easily be an H1, should be an overarching, short summary of the content on the page.

And the rest of the page’s content should comfortably exist below it on the page, likely in the form of subheaders.

To further understand the importance of an H1 – and how to craft perfect ones for your content – it helps to understand where H1s came from and how they evolved.

Because now, their purpose is important, but their formality is unrestricted with rules or prerequisites.

What H1s Used to Be

There used to be some pretty straightforward requirements for H1s in regard to SEO.

  • Include the most important keyword(s).
  • Don’t use more (or less) than one H1 per page.
  • Make sure the H1 is the first and largest text on a page.

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But Google has made it clear these are no longer the rules of the land.

Websites have evolved, as has the way they are presented, the way they are crawled (by search engines), and the way they are consumed (by humans).

What H1s Are Now

Having multiple H1s isn’t an issue.

It’s actually a fairly common trend on the web, especially with HTML5, according to Google’s John Mueller in the video linked above.

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And how many H1s there are or where they line up on the page shouldn’t be overthought if the heading structure of a certain page is the best, most organized way to present the content on that page.

“Your site is going to rank perfectly with no H1 tags or with five H1 tags,” Mueller said in late 2019.

We should always favor the user experience over keyword density or even the hierarchy of headers.

(Since some CMSs use styling that may make other headers more prominent than the H1 for whatever design reason.)

And, since having multiple H1s doesn’t negatively affect a page’s organic visibility, nor does an H1’s lack of high-value keywords (if it makes the most sense and still summarizes the content on the page), crafting headers on a page should be done without too much focus on those elements being an H1 over an H2 or vice versa.

It’s just about making sure the content is organized in a practical and sensible manner.

Mueller cited three ways Google’s system works to understand page headers and how they support a page.

They include a page with:

  • One H1 heading.
  • Multiple H1 headings.
  • Styled pieces of text (without semantic HTML).

This obviously illustrates a lot of freedom when it comes to page style and organization, as well as header tags in general.

And plenty of sites are being rewarded that use all three of the above-mentioned layouts.

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Header tags, including H1s, are also useful for accessibility.

Especially for visually impaired site visitors that don’t have the ability to actually look at the website and its design.

Software that aids users with disabilities to consume websites will read headers in the order it sees them.

Thus, H1s are a large part of a website communicating with those users, but multiple H1s won’t affect that page’s effectiveness, even for the visually impaired.

Remember, it’s about the user experience.

10 times out of 10, having that semantic structure that indicates a clear organization of the content on the page is going to work in that webpage’s favor in terms of crawlability, digestibility, and ultimately, visibility.

Getting the Most from H1s & Header Tags

While it’s been said that H1s don’t directly affect organic rankings (i.e., keyword inclusion, multiple tags, etc.), it’d be impossible not to consider them to be a significant part of each webpage’s overall optimization and, therefore, presentation.

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If headers can help people understand the content on the page in an easier way, it’s likely they can help search engines in a similar manner.

And they do.

Consider your main header, which may very well be an H1, to be an accurate summary of the page and its content.

All other topics and categories on that page would likely line up below that main header as a subhead, typically going more in-depth about a topic within that main header.

Think of the semantic structure of a page in a simple way:

  • Main header (could be an H1).
    • Subhead 1 (could be an H2).
    • Subhead 2 (could be another H2).
      • Secondary subhead 1 (could be an H3).
      • Secondary subhead 2 (could be an H3).
    • Subhead 3 (could be another H2).
      • Secondary subhead 1 (could be an H3).
      • Secondary subhead 2 (could be an H3).
      • Secondary subhead 3 (could be an H3).
    • Subhead 4 (could be another H2).
    • Subhead 5 (could be another H2).

Some content won’t have many or any subheads.

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Some will have multiple.

Again, it’s about the content and the best way to present it to the audience.

Headers Are More Important Than H1s

Headers can be H1s, but they don’t have to be.

The main heading of a page can be an H1, but it doesn’t have to be.

The main heading of a page should be an overarching topic/summary of the page, and thus likely will also include target keywords.

But it’s not for a page’s SEO; it’s for the website visitor and the experience they have on the website.

Remember: it’s not about SEO.

It’s about users.

Make the message clear and each page layout simple.

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