Most modern-day web designers strive for semantically-correct use of header tags (H1, H2, H3, etc.) in their code. However, the fact remains that many sites still are not using them in a strict heierarchy, if at all. Legacy sites often used header tags solely for presentation, and many CMS themes use H1 for the site title, so the same H1 tag content is on every page sitewide.
Does this incorrect header tag usage negatively affect your SEO efforts? Do you need to rewrite code or redesign your site? At a recent Google Webmaster Central Office Hours hangout, Google’s John Mueller weighed in on this issue:
Question: It’s a common rule to use just one H1 tag per page. Is it ok to use multiple h2 and h3 tags per page?
John explained that headers help Google to better understand the structure of the page and the context of the text, and went on to say that the important thing was that you structure a page in a way they can understand it.
As long as you group related content together logically he said, (for example, blocks of related content grouped together) you don’t have to have a clean structure of just one H1 tag, or H1 -> H2 -> H3 – “some pages just have h3 tags on there and that would help us understand the structure as well.”
He also pointed out that some pages might “have multiple H1 tags and we’d probably be able to deal with that as well.”
So it sounds like if your site uses just h2 or h3 tags because someone liked that font size, or your WordPress theme uses H1 for the site title and for the page title, you should be OK as long as your content is well organized .
A couple of caveats:
- What Google says and what they mean aren’t necessarily the same. These comments are always open to interpretation. Listen carefully, read between the lines and if possible, verify using your own data.
- This is just Google’s stance – other search engines may take a harder line on markup. Bing, for example, will flag your page in their Webmaster Tools if it finds more than one H1 tag.
Keywords in header tags: Are they necessary?
In continued discussion, a participant asked about keyword usage in header tags and their effect upon rankings. While John didn’t answer this question directly (Googlers are notoriously coy about answering questions that would disclose details of the algorithm), he stressed that the important thing was to let Google know what your page was about. And that putting this information in a small font at the bottom of the page probably wasn’t going to cut it.
He also mentioned that stuffing keywords in header tags or wrapping your entire content in an H1 tag (Seriously? People still do that?) was not going to help you!
So it sounds like he was saying that keywords in header tags may help indicate what a page or a section of a page is about, but on a page without header tags they can still draw this information from other page elements.
Watch the video below and draw your own conclusions. (It should start to play at the beginning of the discussion.)