Headings help readers who scan through to know what to expect when reading an article. Headings also play a heavy role in SEO presence, but not necessarily for the reason you may think. Google uses H1, H2, and other HTML headings in a specific way for displaying articles in searches on its platform. When Google speaks, we listen, because we want to make sure to incorporate its advice into our SEO strategy.
A Bit Of History On Headers
In the early 2000s, heading elements were among the ranking factors Google used to determine where to rank a page for a particular keyword or phrase. If you wanted to rank, one of the most important things to do was to use your keywords throughout the headings. For the past few years, this hasn’t been the case, but it’s still a common SEO practice today. It’s a habit for many, though if you look at top-ranked sites, you’ll likely see headings that don’t include keywords.
Google’s Thoughts on Headers and Keywords
John Mueller was recently asked about Google’s thoughts on the use of keywords in a heading and their ranking ability.
Mueller responded: I think in general, headings are a bit overrated in the sense that it’s very easy to… get pulled into lots of theoretical discussions on what the optimal headings should be.
Google no longer ranks by keyword but rather the heading and the following contents. They examine the heading to ensure the subsequent information matches. The way that headings should be.
H1 Headings Do Not Outrank H2 Headings
In the past, it was understood that headings were hierarchy based. H1 was more important than H2 and H2 was more important than H3. The most important keywords would be placed in the highest level of heading. The lesser important keywords were in lower-level headings. Though this may have been the case 15 years ago – it doesn’t apply today – despite the fact that many people still approach using headings this way.
Google explains that headings are irrelevant to rank. Should they still be used? Yes! They are essential for accessibility and for user experience.
What Is The Proper Use For Heading Tags?
Google stands by the idea that the best use of heading tags is for the reader. They indicate the information to follow, introduce a video, or an image. Google doesn’t look for the keyword but the quality of the text. They want to rank a site because the information is relevant to the heading and they can draw the reader to look at more information. The right searches will find your information, not the keywords in the header.
Heading Tags Aren’t Ranked
Headings tags used to make the top lists of ranking factors for decades, even though Google has made changes and has been transparent about them. If you do your own search and really study the results, you will notice the results don’t include the headers with a keyword. Google stands by providing search results with information about the content and that is all.
John Mueller has said: So it’s not so much that suddenly your page ranks higher because you have those keywords there. But suddenly it’s more well Google understands my content a little bit better and therefore it can send users who are explicitly looking for my content a little bit more towards my page.
Mueller also took the time to explain the proper use of heading tags: So obviously there’s a little bit of overlap there with regards to… Google understanding my content better and me ranking better for the queries that I care about. Because if you write about content that you want to rank for which probably you’re doing, then being able to understand that content better does help us a little bit. But it’s not that suddenly your page will rank number one for competitive queries just because you’re making it very easy for Google to understand your content. So with that said, I think it’s useful to… look at the individual headings on a page but… don’t get too dug down into all of these details and variations and instead try to find a way to make it easy for people and for scripts to understand the content and kind of the context of things on your pages.
What This Means For Websites
The great thing about understanding the way Google uses headings is that it encourages more quality content than keyword stuffing we saw for several years. Quality content is much more beneficial to your audience than keyword-stuffed fluff, and Google wants to make its users happy. If people can’t find what they’re looking for in Google, then Google risks losing them to other search engines.
By worrying less about keywords in your content headings, you can ensure your content comes across with more authenticity. You’re less likely to be hit with penalties for keyword stuffing, and more likely to rank ahead of any competitors who are still relying on the old school tactics. Ultimately, you’ll earn a reputation for quality, which helps to build and strengthen relationships with your consumers.