What Is An H1 Tag?

Austin Mahaffey
By Austin Mahaffey

An H1 tag is an integral part of search engine optimization. A good, concise, Google-focused H1 tag can mean the difference between getting an article on page 1 of Google and page 10,000.

Search engine optimization can seem like a daunting task when one thinks of all of the trillions of articles that exist on the internet. Google always tells the reader how many results were found as result of a search. That number is rarely under a million. To add to the stress, Google normally completes the search in a matter of milliseconds. Writers are often intimidated by these occurrences, which hurts their ability to stand out. H1 tags are a great first step to figuring out how to stand out above the rest.

Related: H1 Tags – What Are They & Why Should You Use Them for SEO?

Search engines read the source code of a website. Source code is that long and confusing page that pops up when the wifi or computer is not working correctly. It tells the search engine what is going on on the page and the location of every word. This is where website coders work to design the website, including colors and arrangement. Every element of the website lies within the code. Within this page lies the article copy as well.  Internet marketers that want to truly understand the path to great search engine optimization should become familiar with the source code page. The H1 tag is one of many indicators that the search engine must read.

The H1 tag is one of many types of tags that this article will touch on. There are two types of tags that often get confused when talking about search engine optimization. These are the title tag and the H1 tag.

A title tag is the title of the entire website and is often what shows up in the tab bar. Title tags are also the main description that is shown on a results page. Viewers rarely pay attention to title tags that are not the same as the website name or the H1 tag. An H1 tag and title tag can be the same, but are often different.

For example, if I were to go to Google.com, the title tag and H1 tag are the same. Both are “Google.” However, if I were to go to verticalmeasures.com and go to an article about the H1 tag, the title tag would be “H1 tags & Headings Improve Rankings-SEO Video.” The H1 tag would be “Using H1 tag Improves Search Engine Ranking.” The tags are different but similar.

Related: How to Write a Compelling, Attention-Grabbing Title Tag

An H1 tag indicates to a search engine where and what the heading on a website is. This tag makes the heading stand out and be distinguished from the rest of the article. For example, if I were to write an H1 tag for this article, “What is an H1 tag?” would be within the brackets. This would distinguish the heading. If Google wanted to look at this article, the H1 tag would indicate to the engine what the article is about and the location of the header. This is the first of many indicators of where a search engine will place your article on the results page.

Search engines focus on the length of the tag and the keywords within the tag to determine placement. The heading for this article would be a good H1 tag because it is short and specific. H1 tags should be 20-70 characters including spaces. That is half of a tweet or less, so when writing an H1 tag, get to the point quickly. However, unlike a tweet, punctuation and grammar are still required. The addition of  punctuation leaves less room for words. It also has the article’s basic keywords within it. H1 tags should describe the article that it is heading. H1 tags that are difficult to understand or do not describe the article are not optimal tags.

As for the physical placement of the H1 tag in the content, the H1 tag should be at the top. The point is for the reader to be able to quickly and easily read the heading. The design of the tag should be simple but still distinguishable. The flow of the website page and the needs of the company determine the degree to which the H1 tag is distinguishable from the rest of the page.

Some articles may need the font color or font type to change in order to be seen. Other articles may simply need the arrangement of the page to focus on the H1 tag. The Google search page simply has Google in the middle of the page. There is not much else that it needs compete against on the page. As for this article, a simple font size change was all that was necessary to distinguish the heading and meet the needs of the article.

Related: How to Get Your Website on Page 1 of Google

H1 tags can be game-changers and as a result, website creators may want to add as many of these game-changers to their site as possible. As mentioned before, the task of making a website that stands out among the crowd can be daunting. Sometimes people can overcompensate. However, a website creator should only use one H1 tag.

More than one H1 tag confuses the search engine and moves it lower on the results page. There are different levels of H tags. If necessary, a website creator can use H2 or H3 tags to describe other headings. The importance of the tag descends down from the H1 tag. This means that the H1 tag is more important that the H2 tag. The H2 is more important than the H3, so on and so forth.

Keywords must be in the H1 tag and can be in the H2 tag. However, the focus should be to make the content readable and understandable. Do not fill the headings with keywords unnecessarily, in other words, don’t be a keyword stuffer. Website creators should not include so many keywords that it affects the article’s message. Keyword placement should be natural, placed in areas where the creator would originally put the word when not considering SEO.

Website creators should not add a bunch of keywords and spend time making sure that they are not noticeable to the viewer. The search engine will notice and will act accordingly.

When thinking of keywords, it is important to think about the core of your article and the needs of your audience. People search Google billions of time per day and companies want their website to show up on the first page. Studies have shown that readers are very unlikely to look at the second or even third page for responses to their search. The first page of Google is the goal because it is the most likely way that a website will receive traffic through a search. The key when choosing a basic keyword for a website to think like the target market. Website creators should consider how their market thinks.

Related: Are You Choosing the Right Keywords? A Guide to Search Intent

Imagine that a flower company created their website and wanted to target 30-year-old married men with 2 or more children. A basic keyword of “dandelion” would work better than “Taraxacum,” which is the scientific name for dandelion. Creators need to consider the education level and lifestyle of their target market in order to choose a good keyword.

In addition, the key word still needs to differentiate the article from others. Dandelion could be one of the keywords, but there are still millions of dandelion sites that stand in the way of that flower company. If the site sells dandelions,  the keywords could be “dandelion sales” or something similar. More specific keywords would occur throughout the body of the article.

There are often multiple pages within a website, all of which have relevant and engaging content. Website creators need to write a unique H1 tag for each page that they want to drive traffic to. There should be one H1 tag per page. All of the H1 tags for the website should follow the basic guidelines for a H1 tag; short, relevant and include keywords.

RelatedA Guide to the Most Effective SEO Techniques

Easy to read, well placed and relevant H1 tags are good indicators of an engaging article that readers want to see. As a result, the search engine puts articles with good H1 tags higher up on the results list. There are more ways to ensure a high placement, like a keyword balance, readability and design of the website, but that is for another article. However, overcompensating with search engine optimization can turn out to do more bad than good.

Think back to the age old advice: be yourself, because everyone else is taken. Be natural and put keywords in places that make sense and do not push the boundaries too far. Do not try and copy the keyword balances of other pages. The search engine is looking for articles that are easy to use and are the most likely to answer the viewer’s question. With that idea at the focus of website creation, a website page can be well on its way to the first page of results.

Austin is an SEO project manager and account manager who has been with PDM since 2015. Austin has a passion for entrepreneurship, which he received a bachelor's degree in from Point Loma Nazarene University. Using his passion for business development, Austin focuses on leveraging a strong Organic traffic to help sustain overall business growth. Austin is also known as the best ping pong player in the office as he easily defeats his coworkers on a daily basis.