How To Use H1-H6 HTML Elements Properly

Proper Use Of H1, H2, H3, H4, H5, H6 heading elements:

The six heading elements, H1 through H6, denote section headings. Although the order and occurrence of headings is not constrained by the HTML DTD, documents should not skip levels (for example, from H1 to H3), as converting such documents to other representations is often problematic. W3C

However you do not need to use all six elements to structure your pages.

For example:

<h1>Website Design Basics<h1>
<p>Here is some text</p>
<p>Here is some text</p>
<p>Here is some text</p>

I aim to use only one H1 Element on any page. Google has recommended this in the past.

There are instances today when it could be argued that having more than one H1 per page is sensible (and HTML5 certainly allows for this).

In the end – it will depend entirely on the site you want to make and the audience it serves. I think it is important to KEEP IMPLEMENTATION CONSISTENT across your entire site to maximise usability. If using multiple H1 – I certainly would not be stuffing them with keywords.

I usually aim to use the H elements as explained above, and generally only reach level H3 as each page is a concise investigation of one topic.

The following is also semantically correct:

For example, here is where I live:


… or vice versa.

You can use any number of H2, H3, H4, H5, H6 Elements on any page.

You can use any number of H2-H6 elements on any one page, but this might be a bit cumbersome for the typical web designer.

So as you can see there is a few definitive ways to implement these elements. We would recommend that possibly you keep your pages specific about one topic and use

  • One H1 Element (tag as it is commonly talked about)
  • As many as required H2 elements to denote sections on the page (you should really only need one or two or 3 if you are keeping your page concise.
  • Consider using H3 Elements for useful link groups to other relevant sources but recent advice (2013) would be to try and keep headings for TEXT content and not to group template navigation, for instance.

SEO Headings Elements

It has been posited by correlation studies that Google adds some weight to H1 elements (and studies claiming the contrary).

While the THEORY of a benefit is sound, for me there is little hard evidence that H1-H6 headings improve seo perfromance (For Google). I would CERTAINLY NOT want to see a keyword phrase I am targeting appear in every heading element.

Use <h1> for top-level heading

<h1> is the HTML element for the first level heading of a web document:

      If the document is basically stand-alone, for example ‘Everything you want to know about SEO’, the top-level heading is probably the same as the title. If it is part of a collection, for example an introductory section on ‘SEO then and now’ in a collection of pages about ‘search engine optimisation’, then the top level heading should assume a certain amount of context; just write
<h1>SEO Then and Now</h1>
      while the title should work in any context:
<title>Everything you want to know about SEO</title>

Common usage sees the Page Title Element of a page often repeated as the H1 of the page.

Unlike the title, this element can include links, emphasis and other HTML phrase elements.

Consider using CSS (Cascading Style Sheets), which are designed to express the author’s preferred font sizes corresponding to elements such as H1 etc

The six heading elements, H1 through H6, denote section headings. Although the order and occurrence of headings is not constrained by the HTML DTD, documents should not skip levels (for example, from H1 to H3), as converting such documents to other representations is often problematic. W3C

Google Will Use H1,H2,H3,H4,H5 & H6 As Titles For Page Snippet

I like finding Google’s limits. I ran a quick test to see if Google will use any H Tag as a page title if for some reason it does not like the page title element you give it (as I thought it might).

The result was if the title element is malformed, Google can use any available heading, be it a H1, H2, H3 H4 H5 or H6 as the page title.

The snippet below shows Google using a H6 as the page title (in 2012)

Screen Shot 2012-04-02 at 01.56.59

Although here is that result today:

Screen Shot 2015-03-18 at 01.19.33

…Just because Google can – or could – doesn’t mean it will play ball.

SEO H1-H6: How Many Keywords Can I Use?

I can’t find any definitive proof online that says you need to use Heading Tags (H1, H2, H3, H4, H5, H6) or that they improve rankings in Google, and I have seen pages do well in Google without them – but I do use them, especially the H1 tag on the page.

It is another piece of a perfect page, in the traditional sense, and I try to build a site for search engines and humans and humans.

<h1>The Hobo SEO Company, Scotland</h1>

I still generally only use one <h1> heading tag in my keyword targeted pages – I believe this is the way the W3C intended it be used – and I ensure it appears at the top of a page above properly marked up < p > tags and written with my main keywords or keyword phrases incorporated

I have never experienced any problems using CSS to control the appearance of the H tags making them larger or smaller.

I use as many H2 – H6 as is necessary depending on the size of the page, but generally I use H1, H2 & H3.

How many words in the H1 Tag?

As many as I think is sensible – as short and snappy as possible usually. Aaron Wall at SEOBook recommends not making your h1 tags the exact same as your page titles, although I personally have never seen a problem per say with this on an intelligently optimised page – and he is of course crystal clear in his reasoning

“The bottom line is using more relevant keyword variations = more traffic”.

He goes further with an excellent piece of advice even for 2015:

Each piece of duplication in your on-page SEO strategy is ***at best*** wasted opportunity. Worse yet, if you are aggressive with aligning your on page heading, your page title, and your internal + external link anchor text the page becomes more likely to get filtered out of the search results (which is quite common in some aggressive spaces).

Be sure to make your heading tags highly relevant to the content on that page and not too spammy, either.

Concentrate on making page text rich and engaging, first.

Further Reading

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11 Responses

  1. Header Tags says:

    It’s amazing how many webmasters or so called “seo experts” still don’t know the proper use of heading tags. First, many people forget they aren’t just used to inject keywords onto your web page but rather to “structure” the content so a search engine and web visitor know what the web page is about. Good to see more blog posts aimed at the proper use of header tags.

  2. MK says:

    I totally agree to your setup advice and prefer that logic, too. I don´t use or like the H1 for logo/companytitle as it is done by some templates. I have one issue, where i could not find any answer… As far as Joomla is used in the typical way (menuitems with blogviews, plus its single articles as additional menuitems), what happens to this typical blog-views… they which will list and contain many, many H1 Tags. Does it have a bad influence on my site and indexing? I know, there is an extra option in sh404, to change all H1 into H2 tags, if there are more than one… but is this really helpfull? What about the CSSstyling? It would change… Any clues?

  3. Staysure says:

    Wow this is stunning information. Looks like what”s happened is google really doesn’t like your page title and has chosen something else. This looks like a pretty good thing to do in most cases when the title is irrelevant or perhaps gibberish.

  4. Mark says:

    Cool, nice little test ;)

    • Shaun says:

      Cheers – Love doing that stuff…. and as I say, got a few things to add :)

  5. David Hopkins says:

    Interesting test. Surprised you are doing it on a legit domain though. I didn’t know they would fall-back to H tags. I think that the precedence must go something like this: title h1-h6 incoming link text title tags of other sites on the server I saw a site managed by a “professional seo company” that accidently had a noindex robots.txt on it … for about 3 – 4 months. Think the site had also taken a hit for hacked links on DeviantArt, Google had decided that the title of the site was going to be something like: “LinkBanba Premium Web Directory” The same company had a site that had no title tag and all the content was loaded via AJAX, in this case Google decided to use another site on the same server’s title tag.

    • Shaun says:

      Thanks for the comment David. Surprised? I’m not doing anything fishy – I’m just reporting how Google handles page elements. Yeah I saw a professonal SEO company doing the same thing – but funnier :)

  6. Richard Ball says:

    For good optimization you should always run the heading H1-H6 But why use H4-H6. I’ve found that there should only be one H1 but as many H2 as you like With a H3 in you footer combined with bullet points and bold text.

  7. Shaun says:

    I too use H1-h3. Here’s an example of what you can do with H1-H6 :)

  8. Jack Osborne says:

    @Richard Ball This comment obviously depends on what your definition of a footer is. If it’s where you put all your copyrighted information such as company, vat and telephone numbers then you shouldn’t have any H(n) in there at all. If you take a look at newer languages, such as HTML5 then you will see that pages do not validate when you put have placed an H(n) in the footer element.

  9. Jeet says:

    Supercool stuff. Please change that ‘soes’ to ‘does’ :-)

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