I recently changed a lot (most?) of H1 tags on my site to match the page title. Then my rankings plummeted.

I'm now on page 5.

I then learned that matching title and H1 tags may be considered over-optimization by Google.

So I changed all the titles again.

Have I just ruined my website forever or will it eventually recover from this?

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    This site uses the H1, a tag, and the brand name as the title, so the title and the h1 tags mostly match on every question page. I'm not sure that an over optimization penalty is what is what is wrong with your site. Commented Nov 16, 2021 at 12:27
  • I saw it in a warning in the SEMRush report. Here's what it says about it: "It is a bad idea to duplicate your title tag content in your first-level header. If your page's <title> and <h1> tags match, the latter may appear over-optimized to search engines. Also, using the same content in titles and headers means a lost opportunity to incorporate other relevant keywords for your page."
    – Richard
    Commented Nov 16, 2021 at 12:44

1 Answer 1


Your h1 is likely not the culprit, but let's find out

First of all, I'd wait about 2 weeks before doing anything. Google just finished rolling out their November spam update. SERPs are a bit volatile at the moment. Sit tight until the dust settles.

Below is all you need to think about when writing title tags and h1's. Do this and your meta data should be just fine.

  1. Choose a primary and secondary (variant) keyword for a page. Your secondary keyword should be another way people refer to the primary one.
  2. Use your primary keyword somewhere in the title tag
  3. Use your variant in your H1 tag
  4. Write great content and publish it. Then wait 3 months, see how it's doing, and then think about tinkering with things.

Focus on writing in a captivating way that intrigues people. Use natural language. Also don't forget about your meta description. Go through this process once and if you get your rankings back, leave em alone!

If you don't then...

You can recover, but you need to find the problem first.

Like I said before, I would be surprised if your h1 is the cause here, but I hope I'm wrong. We just wouldn't normally expect rankings to "plummet" like that because Google doesn't give the h1 that much weight. Heck, I've ranked pages in the top 10 without having one! In my experience a significant drop like that is almost always due to one of the following:

  1. Penalty after a Google algorithm update
  2. An unrealized mistake caused a crawling/indexing issue

At this point you'd want to audit your site, dot your i's and cross your t's, and don't make any drastic changes until you know what's actually going on. Probably half the issues I find in audits are the result of a client trying to fix the problem.

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    Thanks for your input. I've been trying to get this site to rank for over 10 years with no joy. It kept falling towards the bottom of page 2 where it stayed for years - and recently (within the last month) it plummeted to the bottom of page 5. And getting people to link to me - even though the software is free - is like pulling teeth.
    – Richard
    Commented Nov 16, 2021 at 15:24
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    @Richard I just looked at the site briefly. Seems like an awesome tool. Currently your blog is only 6 pages - one page for each year. These need to all be unique posts! Go through the steps I outlined in my answer for each. When it comes to writing new content - some long form stuff could do you good. Guides, How-to searches, web development news/opinion. Here are some resources I think you'll find useful: mailchimp.com/resources/best-free-keyword-research-tools. I hate this buzzword, but you have a lot of "low hanging fruit". Commented Nov 16, 2021 at 16:21
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    @barbecue That's easier said than done - for some reason my software doesn't seem to have a great reputation.
    – Richard
    Commented Nov 16, 2021 at 21:01
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    @Mike I think it's awesome too! Trying to get others to see that too is proving to be rather tricky.
    – Richard
    Commented Nov 16, 2021 at 21:03
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    It's a shame that the actual usefulness of a product plays less of a role in its success than the marketing. Unfortunately, it's really hard to be noticed without playing the soul-sucking games of flavor-of-the-month UI and SEO shenanigans.
    – barbecue
    Commented Nov 16, 2021 at 22:35

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