Are more than 50% of SEOs doing wrong?

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Recent discussions on social media indicate that there is considerable disagreement over how to use the headline elements (H1, H2). Despite Google’s advice on using headers, the SEO industry still can’t agree on how to use headers.

An informal Twitter poll with nearly 2,000 votes shows that more than half of SEOs don’t know what Google’s headline recommendation is.

Does Google recommend using a single H1 headline for SEO?

Cyrus Shepard (@CyrusShepard) conducted a survey asking what Google’s direction is on several H1 titles.

Surprisingly, nearly sixty percent of respondents indicated that Google recommends a single H1 title to a webpage.

Google’s official recommendation on the number of H1 titles

Does Google recommend using an H1 header? The answer is no.

Google’s John Mueller said in an office-hour hangout that publishers are free to use as many H1 titles as they want.

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John Mueller said:

“You can use the H1 tags as often as you like on a page. There is no limit, nor upper or lower limit.

Your site will rank perfectly without H1 tags or with five H1 tags. “

Google even posted a video on this specific topic to dispel the idea that Google only recommends one H1.

In the video, John Mueller says:

“Our systems don’t have a problem when it comes to multiple H1 headlines on one page. It’s a fairly common pattern on the web. “

SEOs cannot agree on the proper use of headers

Anecdotal evidence of online discussions in Facebook SEO groups also show that there is broad disagreement on the appropriate use of headings. Some in the SEO industry cling to ideas that date back to the early 2000s. Others argue that John Mueller’s statements are not entirely true.

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The topic of title tags is so basic that despite Google’s many clarifications, the topic remains extremely polarizing.

Heading Tag SEO is a controversial topic online

SEOs say the H1 tag is more important than H2, H3, etc.

Some in the SEO industry will admit that Mueller has said it is okay to use more than one H1. But they will also insist that an H1 element is more important than an H2.

This was the case at the very beginning of the 2000s. This is no longer true.

The first clues used by Google to understand web pages

In the early 2000s, Google used headers as a clue of what a web page was.

Google also considered the content at the top of the webpage to be more important because it gave another clue to what a webpage is, as this is where writers often point out what it is.

Words written in bold, italics, and larger fonts (using the older HTML 4 Font tag) were also considered clues to the topic of the webpage in the early 2000s.

Some of these grading factors were part of the original Google PageRank search document published in 1998 and in subsequent research papers and revealed by Googlers in statements.

The point is, headers and other elements have been used as clues to what a web page is. Google arguably started to move away from finding clues about what a web page was in 2012.

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This is the date that Google announced a new direction for understanding what things are like using a Knowledge Graph.

The Knowledge Graph has given Google a better understanding of what things are so it can move away from looking for clues in sequences of words (strings of data).

Google announced this in an article titled, Understanding the Knowledge Graph: Objects, Not Strings.

Google’s ad said:

“This is an essential first step towards creating the next generation of research, which taps into the collective intelligence of the web and understands the world much more like people.”

Following the announcement of the Google Hummingbird update in September 2013, Google began a transition to a more natural language style for understanding content and search queries.

In a September blog post, Google announced that you can now make comparisons between objects by talking to the Google search app and other cool stuff that relies more on knowing what things are and less on clues as to what they are.

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That was eight years ago, and natural language processing has advanced so far that Google doesn’t rely on clues to guess what a page is about.

In 2021, Google can figure out what it is and link it to a search query.

It’s much more sophisticated than matching search query keywords to keywords on a web page.

And that’s why Google’s Mueller told the SEO community that it doesn’t matter how many H1s you use. The sole purpose of a title is to communicate what a content section is about. That’s it.

The old 2001 way of giving Google a clue with keywords is a thing of the past. Google no longer does an exact match with keywords in search results because natural language and AI technologies allow Google to understand what a page is, especially if it is well structured with a good use of the title elements.

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No magical ranking power for an H1 tag

John Mueller’s statement expressly says that a site will rank well without an H1 or with five H1s. This means that no additional importance is given to an H1.

Mueller also said in another Hangout during office hours that a page will rank well if you use an H2 or H1, that they could be used interchangeably.

In response to this question:

“An untitled H1 page will always rank for the keywords appearing in the H2 title”

John Mueller replied:

“Of course.

… Are you still okay? I don’t know if this will always be the case, but it is possible. It is absolutely possible.

Mueller went on to say that page headers (not just H1, but also headlines) help tell Google what that section of content is about.

Mueller said:

“The titles of a page therefore help us better understand the content of the page.

Headlines on the page aren’t the only ranking factor we have.

We also review the content on its own.

But sometimes having a clear header on a page gives us a bit more information about the topic of that section. “

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Header tags continue to be a strong signal of what a content section is. Lily: Google: title tags are a strong signal

Headers used to help with keyword rankings

From 2001 to 2005, there was a keyword ranking bonus with header tags. It was necessary to use keywords in the headers. It was in the early 2000s.

Yet, for some reason, this particular habit of seeing H1 as very important continues even though we are in the age of AI and natural language processing.

Do some research in Google and you will see that this sort of thing doesn’t matter anymore. You will see that the top ranked sites are ranked because they are relevant to the topic, not because they have an exact keyword phrase in their header tags.

So, to finish, what’s important is to accurately describe the topic of the article with your headings and use headers to provide a description of what a content section is.

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This will help Google understand the content better, because in 2021 Google isn’t ranking exact keywords like it did in 2001 (I know this because I was doing SEO in 2001).

Today, Google ranks content, not keywords. It helps to think of the whole page in terms of “What is it?” and each section as to how it relates to that general topic.





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