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My company's website uses page templates that don't include an <h1> element anywhere in the page. The main heading, as seen by the user, is actually an <h2> element and the company logo (linking to the homepage) simply sits in a hierarchy of <div> and <span> elements. The one exception to this seems to be the homepage, which has 2 <h1> elements ("Welcome..." and "Our products").

Is this insane?

I guess my concern is that we'll suffer a lower page ranking on search engines. However, the templates were produced by an external web design company (I'm not a web designer/programmer myself), so I can only assume they knew what they were doing. Can anyone confirm the wisdom of their approach, one way or the other, please?

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Are you interested in SEO only? Or is accessibility relevant also? –  unor Jan 27 '13 at 20:11
    
Everything, I guess. But this question's specifically about SEO. –  Mal Ross Jan 28 '13 at 9:48
    
Right, I'm accepting the top (and only, at this point) answer. If anyone thinks it's not worthy, please offer a better one. Thanks. :) –  Mal Ross Jan 30 '13 at 11:22
    
Also just noticed this similar question, which you may find helpful: webmasters.stackexchange.com/questions/25493 –  Mal Ross Feb 5 '13 at 10:52
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2 Answers 2

up vote 4 down vote accepted

All of Stephen Ostermiller's answer is correct and Google is indeed now working to reward quality content rather than elements that are easy to spam. However, having an <h1> tag on a page is good practice and good for accessibility. It tells bots and screen readers that the text within those tags indicates the title on the page. If Google is rewarding well structured pages that are good for human users, then this would be included in that.

It's the kind of thing that is so easy to implement, that it comes under the category of "you might as well." As for the web development company knowing what they were doing - don't assume that. For some reason many web design/development companies think their responsibility ends at how the front-end looks. But the code is also their responsibility, in my opinion, and they should make sure that the sites they build are technically and structurally sound.

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Its OK not to use H1 tags. On page optimization techniques and page structure matter much less to SEO now than they did even two years ago. You still need to use keywords and synonyms in the text of your pages and the title tag is the place in the page that matter the most. Beyond that, using H1, bold, and link anchor text may help a very small amount if done in moderation. Used too much, with too many occurrences of the keywords you wish to rank for, then your site can suffer an over-optimization penalty.

Three years ago to rank for a keyword the formula was

  1. Make a page featuring that keyword
  2. Put the keyword at the beginning of the title, in the h1, use it several places in the page maybe with a bold
  3. Give the page lots of internal pagerank by linking to it from your site extensively
  4. Start building external links to that page that use the keyword of the anchor text.

Today that is a formula for disaster. Here is what you need to do today:

  1. Build a section of your site (at least several pages) that cover all aspects of that keyword.
  2. Use the keyword and its synonyms in a natural way. Put the keyword in the title, but not always at the beginning, use other related phrases in the titles too.
  3. Link the pages in that section together and link to the section of your site internally, don't use the keyword as anchor text too much.
  4. Do user testing and make sure that your site satisfies people looking for that keyword. (Keep in mind satisfied depends on whether they are looking for info, ready to buy, trying to navigate somewhere, etc.)
  5. Build links to the pages externally. Anchor text should be 50% domain name, 20% "click here" variations, 10% page title, 2% keyword, 18% other. Don't pay or spam for links.

As you can see, Google has made "doing SEO" much harder. They are now trusting on-page signals much less than they used to. They are paying more attention to user reaction to your pages. They are penalizing much more often for keyword stuffing and spammy link building.

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Thanks for the insight. Sounds like Google are doing the right thing to me - rewarding good content. And yes, that is hard to write. :) –  Mal Ross Jan 25 '13 at 16:44
    
that's wrong, keywords in H1 effect your SEO for the worse, take a look at Google's ranking factors. –  user34145 Dec 2 '13 at 15:44
    
@majestsick You're going to have to show evidence that backs this up as it goes against generally accepted SEO principles –  John Conde Dec 2 '13 at 15:56
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