In my quest to learn more about search engine optimization (SEO), I came across some interesting info regarding h tags. H tags are the headline tags that are used when creating content for your website. They are not to be confused with the header of your website (the area that typically houses your logo/wordmark and your navigation). These are the headlines that draw your users to the page.
When using WordPress, you have the option of selecting all the available HMTL headline tags, H1-H6. Some platforms, like Squarespace or even MailChimp and other email marketing platforms, only offer H1-H3 or maybe H1-H4 out of the box. Those selections tend to be fine because how often do you really need to use allll of those headlines styles anyway? H5 and H6? Meh. BUT, there are also other reasons to consider using them, beyond design aesthetic and style. We’ll get to that in a minute.
When Google was first coming into its own, the number associated with that h tag was an indicator as to the importance of the content within the tags. Meaning, H1 told Google that the content within the tag was the most important, whereas content within an H6 was not as important. Google also used the content within the h tags to look for keywords for which that page should rank.
But as Google has evolved, this is no longer the case.
How Google (and other search engines) use h tags
Google and other search engines are now more focused on the content as a whole, and no longer looking only at the content within the h tags to figure out how to rank that page. According to Google Webmaster Trends Analyst John Mueller, Google is ranking content not keywords. The number associated with an h tag no longer indicates its importance. H1 can be just as important as H6, because Google is using these headlines to better understand the content and structure of the page. However, those h tags are not the only factor that Google considers when determining page content (and thus, SERP ranking).
Importance of H Tags
So here’s the rub: while Google may not discern H1 from H2 in terms of importance, those different headlines are used as clues to the structure of your content and to help visitors better understand your content. They also serve as a guide to those users with visual impairments or those using screen reader technologies. H tags suddenly provide a road map as to the page content for those users. It’s not only best practice to keep h tags in an ordered hierarchy, but also a factor in keeping your website ADA-compliant. For example, content within an H1 tag should not be immediately followed by content in an H3 tag (because you’ve skipped H2).
Final Thoughts on H Tags
Use headlines (and subheadlines) to call out a synopsis of what that chunk of content is all about because ultimately, it’s best to structure your content in a way that will serve your readers. They will spend time on your site reading the content and Google will recognize and reward that.