In a recent discussion that transpired over Twitter, Google’s Search Advocate reaffirmed what the SEO community always believed, somewhat. Yes, using a hierarchical structure with heading elements on a web page is useful to Google. But before we get into the why’s, let’s take a minute or two to understand what hierarchical structure with heading elements actually means before we move on to how it positively impacts your site’s search performance. Heading elements (H1, H2, H3, H4, H5, and H6) are indicative of what the web page is all about, or a section of it, where H1 is the highest rank of importance and H6, the lowest. The purpose of using different heading elements is simply to make the content piece more accessible to the users, and help search engines understand which sections of the page are most important and which are the least.
What is the official word on using a hierarchical structure with heading elements?
Official HTML Specifications, in Section 4.3.11, states that:
“h1–h6 elements have a heading level, which is given by the number in the element’s name. If a document has one or more headings, at least a single heading within the outline should have a heading level of 1.”
Mozzilla’s official developer reference page states something similar:
“The <h1> to <h6> HTML elements represent six levels of section headings. <h1> is the highest section level and <h6> is the lowest. Avoid using multiple <h1> elements on one page. While using multiple <h1> elements on one page is allowed by the HTML standard (as long as they are not nested), this is not considered a best practice. A page should generally have a single <h1> element that describes the content of the page (similar to the document’s <title> element).”
In either of the cases, it is quite clear that using more than one H1 element is not recommended as it can, possibly, confuse search engines about important sections on a page.
What does Google say about it?
When a Twitter user, an SEO by profession, suggested that he is too traditional with header elements and would recommend using just one H1 element on a page, John Mueller backed it up with a response and said that he thought it was an excellent idea. He also added that hierarchical structure is not useful to Google but is also important for accessibility.
John Tweeted, and we quote:
“I think that’s an awesome idea & a great practice. Header hierarchy is not just useful to Google, it’s also important for accessibility. (Google still has to deal with whatever weird things people throw up on the web, but being thoughtful in your work always makes sense.)”
While it is true that back in the day the H1 element used to be an important ranking factor and an used (and abused) strategy to get Google’s attention was to put the keyword in the H1 in hope to get higher rankings. However, that is not the case now, no matter how many people still persist with this strategy. Over the years, Google has evolved to a higher plane and can easily decipher what the whole page is all about. Nevertheless, using different heading elements by implementing a proper hierarchical structure can make it easier for Google to better understand your page as well as help your users easily access all the important sections on the page.
I'm too traditional with header elements. (HTML 4 for Life! lol)
I'd still recommend using just one H1 element on a page.
I patiently go back to pages to implement header hierarchy for fun.
— Deji Luminous (@deji_luminous) February 2, 2023