The internet has revolutionised modern business practices. Apart from creating online trading platforms, the internet has also changed how businesses market or advertise themselves. Therefore, any business that takes advantage of the benefits provided by the internet is assured of success in the market. Central to this success is the concept of content marketing.
A business that owns, or operates, its own website gains instant exposure to both the local and wider market. However, this benefit has spurred businesses to have their own websites, and this has led to proliferation of commercial websites and consequently competition for web visibility. Since most people use search engines to find websites that can help them get what they want, most businesses have prioritised on how well they rank in the search engine results pages (SERPs). Better ranking means greater web visibility and more audience, which normally translates to more sales.
Even so, search engines have their own guidelines and protocols that determine how they show results for search entries provided by users. For each search engine, these guidelines and protocols are incorporated into a set of instructions which are then set out as program codes which make up a problem-solving procedure known as an algorithm. This means that any search query that a user inputs into the search bar of popular search engines, such as Google or Bing, are processed by the algorithms and then the results are displayed. Each search engine has its own unique algorithm that functions to display results for search queries.
Google is by far the most dominant search engine, and for this reason most business prioritise on ranking well in Google SERPs. To rank well, the website must be able to interact well with the algorithm of Google. This led to the emergence of Search Engine Optimisation (SEO). SEO works to improve the ranking of a website in non-paid SERPs. The ultimate goal of SEO is to ensure that a website ranks in the first page, preferably as the top result, of search engine results. To do this, SEO practitioners work to ensure that their website presents the right data in the right format to the search engine algorithm.
A decade ago, SEO practice relied on link building and highly technical website coding. However, Google changed and updated its algorithm and this forced SEO practitioners to change their practice as their previous SEO practices were rendered redundant. The present-day algorithm places a high priority on the quality of the content, and how this content is presented to the user. In simple terms, the updated algorithm places a high value on user experience. Therefore, the practice of modern content marketing must also prioritise user experience so as to succeed.
The most unique aspect of any content, whether published or not, is the title. Expectedly, search engines also place a high priority on the title of a web-page. The formatting and wording of the title is the focus of the H1 tags.
What is H1?
The most basic definition of H1 is that it is top HTML header tag that indicates the title of a web-page. To better understand what an H1 is, there is need to understand the primary basics of HTML.
HTML stands for Hypertext Markup Language, and is the standard used to create web-pages and websites. A web browser cannot recognise or process the standard text as created by a text editor. In order for the text content to be displayed by a web browser, the text needs to be formatted by enclosing it in special elements called HTML tags.
HTML tags are program codes that instruct a web browser how it needs to display different parts of a text. Insertion of HTML tags converts a normal text document into an HTML document. This HTML document is then displayed by a web browser as a web-page.
Web browsers can only read HTML documents. The same also applies to search engines as their algorithms can only process HTML documents. This highlights the importance of HTML tags as they not only determine how the web browser displays the text content, but it also determines how the web-page ranks in search engine results (SERs).
To convert a normal text document into a web-page, different HTML tags must be placed correctly into the text. For instance, the title of the document must be enclosed in the right HTML tags that will identify it as the title of the HTML document. The HTML tags used to identify the title of a web-page are called H1 tags. H1 stands for header 1, which denotes the highest ranking title in a document. The header (H) tags are numbered from 1 to 6, with H1 marking the title of the entire document, while the H6 tag marks the lowest subtitle of a subtitle.
In HTML documents, the title is enclosed in this tag pair <h1> title </h1>. This tag pair marks the text between it as the most important text in the entire document, and consequently this text is emphasised by being given large font which makes it the most noticeable aspect of the web-page.
To locate the H1 tags for a web-page that is being displayed, the user needs to instruct the web browser to show the source code of the web-page. This is usually done by hovering the mouse pointer into the web-page, and then right-clicking the mouse. This displays a list of option, with one being the ability to show source code. Clicking on this option displays the HTML code of the document. At this point, the user needs to use the find function of the browser to locate the <h1> tag. The text immediately following the <h1> tag is the title of the web-page, and the title is closed by a </h1> tag. All the text that follows the </h> tag can never be displayed as the title of a document by any web browser or search engine.
Search engines only process the HTML document, and the HTML tags instruct algorithms how the text of the web-page must be processed and ranked. For search engines, the H1 tags are the most important header tags in the entire web-page, and they use these H1 tags to rank search results.
Importance of H1 tags
When search engines display their results, the results are displayed in the following distinct format. For each result, the title of the web-page is displayed first, and is then followed by the URL of the web-page, and then a random snippet of text contained in the web-page. This means that the one of the first things that a search engines look out for before displaying results is the title of the web-page. Therefore, proper H1 formatting and styling of the title of any HTML document is important in SEO, as it naturally improves the ranking of the web-page in SERPs as the algorithm of search engines find well-formatted HTML documents easy to handle, and they therefore give them higher precedence over poorly formatted HTML documents.
The utility of H1 tags can be highlighted by a simple experiment. One can publish a document in the internet and instead of enclosing the title in H1 tags, instead use H2 tags. Thereafter, the document can be searched for using search engines. If the webpage is displayed in any SERP, then it is usually one of the last SERPs. Thereafter, this webpage can be reformatted, and H1 tags used to identify the title, and then published. If searched for using search engines, the SERP ranking of the document will have greatly improved. A title that is enclosed in H1 tags is called a H1 title.
The Broad Search Ranking Algorithm of Google rank H1 titles as the third-most important ranking factor, after domain level authority, and page-level link metrics. One of the factor groups in the Google algorithm is the content-based metrics. One of the foremost considerations made by content-based metrics is the wording and formatting of H1 titles. This implies that poor HTML formatting of the title, or a poorly-worded title, does cause a web-page to rank low in SERPs. Likewise, poor use of H1 tags leads to low SERP rankings.
It is therefore evident that H1s are important in SEO, but how does one create a good H1 title for a web-page in a website.
How to Make Perfect H1 Titles for SEO
The following are guidelines on how to create good H1 tags and perfect H1 titles that will enable a web-page to rank well in SERPs, or to dominate search engine results.
1. Use a Maximum of One H1 in Each Web-page
Only one H1 tag pair should be used in a web-page. This may raise a question: why use 1 H1 tag pair if the pair improves on-page SEO? There are two reasons why only a single H1 tag pair should be used in a web-page.
The first reason relates to how search engines crawl and interpret HTML documents. Once a web-page is published in the internet, search engines will identify the HTML document of the web-page in the web-server and then crawl it. Crawling is done by a special component of the search engine algorithm called the spider. The search engine uses the HTML tags of the HTML document as guides during the crawling process, and because the crawling process starts at the top of the HTML document and then moves downwards, the first H1 tag pair encountered is automatically interpreted as the title of the web-page. If other H1 tag pairs exist in the HTML document, they are simply ignored and marked as HTML errors. If there are many H1 tag pairs in the web-page, the spider can mark the HTML document as poorly formatted due to many HTML errors, and poorly formatted web-pages are ranked poorly in SERPs. Therefore, many H1 tags, or improper use of H1 tags leads to poor ranking, and should be considered as act of Negative SEO.
The second reason relates to H1 tags being semantic elements. Semantic elements in HTML
explain the meaning of the tag to both the web browser and the web developer. In thic case, H1 means the most important heading for the document, and both the web browser and web developer can understand this. Therefore, the words enclosed by the H1 tag pair are considered the main key phrase of the entire document, and the keywords during search processes are first compared to the main key phrase (title) of the web-page. If multiple H1 tag pairs are used, there will be many key phrases in the document, and most search engines consider this an act of keyword stuffing, and Google penalizes websites that engage in keyword stuffing by giving them a lower rank in SERPs. Therefore, this should be considered as another act of Negative SEO.
2. H1 Must Describe the Topic and Answer User Intent
The title of any web-page must provide a proper and concise description of the topic that the document focuses on. Therefore, the H1 title must describe the content of the web-page as this gives an idea to the audience of whether what is contained in the web-page suits their needs or not. For this reason, the title of the document must be properly thought out, before being written down. Also, this title should be used as the H1 title.
Likewise, the H1 title must aim to satisfy user intent. The title should aim to answer this question: what would a user look for in this topic? This way, the title can be properly worded.
3. H1 Title Length should Range between 20 and 70 Characters
Search engines usually display the title of the web-page up-to its seventieth character. This means that the 71-st character is omitted from the display. This means that the title must describe the content in less than 70 characters. For this reason, the title must focus on the keywords. Likewise, a title shorter than 20 characters does not provide ample description of the content, and does not give the author ample opportunity to incorporate keywords, especially long-tail keywords, into the title.
4. The H1 Must Stand Out
HTML supports styling of webpages, and web developers should strive to ensure that any text marked by the H1 tag pair is properly-styled to stand out from the rest of the text. By default, HTML gives the text enclosed by the H1 tag pair the largest font in the text, as well as making the text bold, so that this text becomes the most noticeable part of the webpage. The H1 title can further be styled by giving it a different colour and a different font from the rest of the text.
5. Focus on Long-tail Keywords
Short keywords tempt many author to stuff the text with the keyword, and this lead to the text having an exceptionally high keyword density which usually disrupts the flow of the text thus lowering the quality of user experience. To avoid this, it is better to focus on long-tail keywords, and then ensure that the H1 title features the long-tail keyword. Also, long-tail keywords provide better SEO performance in terms of SERPs ranking than short keywords.
6. Optimise H1 for better User Experience
The H1 title must feature a visually-appealing design, and should incorporate the main keywords. This also means that the H1 title should appeal to the sentiments of the audience. This is important as well-optimised H1 not only attract many people to click the link, but it also makes it easy for search engines to relate the keywords contained in the H1 title to the search query of users. As machine learning improves so does the capability of search engines to intuit what users probably want based on their search history, web design preferences, and how long they focus on specific web-pages. Therefore a well thought out title that is properly formatted according to HTML rules, and well presented text does improve the SEO-ranking of a web-page.