Thursday, May 29, 2014

Importance of H1 Tag in SEO

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 As search engine algorithms continue to evolve a range of elements, both on and off page, experience shifts in their import as a ranking factor. Elements that were once significant ranking factors have lost some of their power on search engine performance in the modern day landscape. Moreover, as more and more new ranking factors are introduced, the impact of any one factor is reduced.

The H1 tag has long been an example of an important ranking factor and important signal to search engines as to what a page of content is about. The proportion of the H1’s authority on rankings compared to the overall picture has diminished over time, but is still an important ranking factor to many of the top minds in the SEO industry. This is illustrated by Moz’s bi-yearly survey on search engine ranking factors. 

Based on the opinions of 120 leading search marketers, the latest survey (conducted in 2013) ranked page authority as the most important ranking factor with a relative score of 0.39. Keyword usage in the H1 tag received a score of 0.12. This places the H1 tag in the bottom half of ranking factors, but nonetheless still a factor.

H1 Effect on Other Ranking Factors

While keyword fame is still an important ranking factor, whether it is within the H1 or simply highlighted at the top of the page, there is another level to the consequence of the H1 tag on organic search performance. A page’s skill to effectively engage users is another way Google organizes its search results. The bounce rate is arguably the most significant engagement metric as calculated by Google’s algorithm. Technology reporter Steven Levy was granted access to Google’s headquarters for his book In the Plex.

 According to the book, Google’s engineers recognized bounce rates of search results as a signal of quality or lack thereof. If a search engine user does not return to a search results page after clicking on an individual result, this is the strongest signal to Google that the user was happy with the result. instead, if a user quickly returned to a search engine results page after clicking a result, the page will be identified to be a poor result and can therefore be demoted in rankings.

The Hummingbird viewpoint

The Google Hummingbird algorithm update, which aims to offer a positive user experience, opens up a great opportunity for optimizing an H1 tag. A key feature of the Hummingbird algorithm is Google’s drive and ability to look past the keywords in a search query and pull out the user’s intent. By understanding the search intent behind a target keyword query, an H1 can be crafted to speak directly to that intent. If Google agrees with your interpretation of the user’s intent and it is effectively communicated in the H1 tag, this can certainly lead to a ranking promotion.

In order to position a content piece as an answer to a user’s query, it is good practice to format the H1 tag as a question, and answer that question in the body of the page. Since the launch of Hummingbird, I have taken note of an influx of top search results containing a question in the H1 tag. Although this is not a scientific observation, it is reinforced by Google’s knowledge graph returning a question based on a short-tail search query, such as “allergy symptoms”.

 In order to have some great, Hummingbird-optimized H1 tags, try to understand what a user may be asking when they are searching for a keyword the page is targeting and format that question on the page with H1 tags.

All in all, when focusing on on-page optimization in 2014, it is absolutely still valuable to spend some time and thought on the H1 tag. With an H1 optimized for the 2014 SEO landscape, you will be providing a positive experience to your users and still receiving the added advantage of improved positioning in search engine results.

You might also like: SEO changes 2014

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