If you’re in the business of SEO (why else would you be reading this?), welcome to your life, it’s a good one.
In fact it’s so good and so important, you could say that this life is an H1 Life.
There are few things more exciting than picking up SEO tricks, implementing them, and watching them succeed.
But let’s be clear, we’re not about hacks. We know that SEO involves hard work, patience, and most importantly, specific knowledge. That’s what builds an expert.
Hacks aren’t easy, anyways. Just ask any hacker. They work hard at that stuff because breaking through firewalls isn’t a bowl of Fruit Loops. It takes some pretty astute expertise acquired through nature, luck, experimentation, but mostly through a very shrewd connecting of the dots.
So what I present here as it concerns The H1 Tag, is a hack in the traditional sense of the word, but not in the sense that it’s come to mean today, which is a shortcut to success.
Simply put, you can’t put all your SEO eggs into an H1 basket and expect all American breakfast with bacon, hash browns, and buttered toast.
Using a combination of strategies is necessary for ranking. That’s why we wrote the 12 Steps to SEO Success.
But let’s get cracking on the H1 Tag for now and worry about the other stuff next.
What is an H1 Tag?
The H1 tag is the first header in a piece of content following the title. In technical terms, it’s the HTML code that wraps a line of text to display it as the largest and most important message in the content. In a lineup of 6 headers, it comes in first place and has the most value for SEO.
In some cases, the H1 is the title tag, but not always. The title will have its own code as the title tag, which may or may not concern SEO. Sometimes, the title is used to creatively capture a reader’s attention rather than for indexing purposes. The H1 on the other hand, should tell the reader exactly what the page is about, which makes it naturally indexable.
A classic example is the H1 here: What is An H1 Tag? There’s no room for confusion, is there? For readers or Google’s web crawling bots.
‘Cept the bots are viewing the source code, which we can do too because not every page makes the H1 so apparent.
Try this now, right here, on this page:
In Chrome, right click and select “view source code”. Up pops the HTML view of this page. Go to your search/find function and type in H1. Look for the highlighted H1 that appears at both the beginning and end of a statement within the < >.
That’s all it is, and you can notice the same for H2, H3, and so on.
Image: The HTML version of How to Write SEO Content Like a Pro.
Why is an H1 Tag Important?
I hinted at it earlier when I stated that it had more value for SEO than other headers. Other important tags include the title tag, previously summarized, and the meta tag, also known as the meta description. You can read about it in detail HERE, but in a nutshell, it’s a brief description about a page that appears beneath the title in the SERPs. It’s critical for indexing but also for influencing a reader to click on your page instead of a different related page.
Let’s get something straight. There are lots of trends in SEO, and they fade just as quickly as acid-washed denim jackets with pleats and leather tassels did in the 80s (and should have stayed that way).
Optimizing your H1 is not a trend. It has been a consistent ranking factor since the dawn of SEO.
That’s the technical significance of the tag. But that doesn’t mean you go around tagging every line of text an H1. Google has rules.
A second reason by the H1 tag is so important is for user experience. It’s vastly improved when a page has noticeable headers because most readers aren’t actually readers, they’re scanners. They want clear, obvious answers to their questions. And just like the words quickly, easily, and free are the most effective words in ad copy, they also apply to the user experience.
How to Use an H1 Tag
Like any SEO “hack”, there’s always going to be a bit of controversy. The following are themes that have emerged from all the work I’ve done with clients over the years. They’ve formed my general, slightly-bendy (though less bendy than this) rule kit for H1 tags.
Use one only. You want to avoid diluting the power of The Very Important H1 Tag. More than one of anything automatically decreases its value. (Imagine there was more than one Superman? Suddenly he’s no so super without an average point of reference).
Describe what the article is about.
You might have taken care of this already with the title tag, in which case, be more specific.
Keep it between 20-70 characters.
That’s roughly 4-14 words, not a lot. Too much overwhelms and remember, most readers are scanners. They’re spending less than a second glancing at your H1. Make it noticeable but know that the semantic element is most important.
Choose words that pack some punch.
Go heavy on the consonants and use alliteration when possible (alliterations are a string a words that begin with the same sound, eg. What one-word weapon wins the war? (the answer is sorry, in case you were wondering).
Use a long-tail keyword for indexing.
You may also use this keyword in your title tag. This makes it more specific, which means it’s also more relevant and will rank better than a seed keyword, which, incidentally, your long-tail keyword may contain anyway.
Satisfy the user’s intent.
Deliver what people are searching for quickly, easily, and explicitly. Think, what words are they using and in what order to research their question? For example, someone wants to find out how to better train their dog. You have a dog training website that offers free video tutorials. They may type: “how to train my dog” or “dog training guide” or “dog training help” or even “dog training videos”. Though technically not a long-tail keyword, “dog training” is relevant, satisfies their search for info on dog training, and helps Google properly index your page.
This Is Your One and Only H1 Life
Tuck this little philosophy in the back of your brain when you’re slugging through the SEO grind of developing the real hacks that are going to put you in a position of privilege in the SERPs.
Writing a header isn’t rocket science.
(Oh, by the way, don’t use cliches like that in your H1 because, well, notice how it made you cringe a little? I only put that in there to demonstrate what not to do).
But for it to be effective, you should know why it’s important, which, as you’ll see, will help naturally guide the process of constructing it so you can make the most of it.
Like Foucault argues, it’s the order of things, both in life and in SEO (‘cept SEO was a nonexistent term back then), that require us to understand, not blindly accept, the way things are.
Logging out (and tipping my top hat),