We know that the overuse of <h1> can lead to an over-optimization penalty, but now, in HTML5 it's allowed to use multiple <h1> in the same page (inside nested sections).

What will Google do with pages containing <h1> titles only?

  • I don't know what Google does, but I hope one day it'll penalize them and send them to hell for the rest of their lifes! With all the beautiful things brought to us by HTML5, I really struggle to understand why people need to bloat use nested <h1> tags in code. Ask yourself: "Is there more than one <title> tag in my pages?" the answer is NO, so why do I need to add more than one <h1> tag in a page?! – Marco Demaio May 2 '12 at 13:03
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    Very similar, if not identical to SEO regarding using multiple H1 tag? – Zhaph - Ben Duguid May 3 '12 at 21:05
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    @MarcoDemaio, H1 tags aren't the same as TITLE tags. The HTML5 outlining algorithm, as well as pretty much every sectioning element introduced by HTML5, was created to address the concept that a single page might contain more than a single article. When one page contains a single article (like most pages on Wikipedia), using H1-H6 alone makes sense. If you start displaying multiple article teasers on a page, you'll end up with mess if you rely on H1-H6 tags alone to structure your content. – thirdender Dec 31 '13 at 2:44
  • @thirdender: IMHO if you show one page with multiple artciles in it you can use <h1> to wrap the real name of the page "Articles talking about ..." and the articles heading could be wrapped into <h2>, I still don't see why you have to use <h1> mutliple times in the page. – Marco Demaio Jan 6 '14 at 18:45
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    @MarcoDemaio, yes, it's possible to do it that way, but then you're not leveraging HTML5 sectioning elements to their full advantage. See Smashing Magazine: Structural Semantics – The Importance Of HTML5 Sectioning Elements. He really hammers home the shortcomings of the historical document outlining mechanisms, and how they are addressed by the new HTML5 sectioning elements. These benefit programmers by making life easier, and benefits users of screen readers by standardizing outline practices in a meaningful manner. – thirdender Jan 6 '14 at 20:59

According to Matt Cutts, Google doesn't penalize sites just for having multiple <h1> tags. It's possible that their indexers may be programmed to detect egregious overuse of <h1> — like, say, having all your text inside <h1> tags — and to penalize such pages, but I've seen no direct confirmation of that. It is very likely that their human staff, if alerted to such a page, will see it as abuse and act accordingly.

I don't work at Google and I've no idea how their algorithms actually work (beyond what can be inferred from observations and posts by folks who do know), but if I were to write their heading handling code, I'd allocate a certain amount of "heading weight" per page and divide that weight proportionately across all the headings on the page. That way, having two <h1> tags would have exactly the same effect as having a single long one, and using only, say, <h3> tags on a page would have exactly the same effect as using only <h1>. It's such an obvious solution that I'd be rather surprised if Google didn't do something more or less like that.

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    Asker doesn't mention exactly what's being referred to, but it's worth noting that the video Ilmari links to is from 2009. The update that's specifically been targeted at being an over-optimization penalty(eventually named Penguin) was only introduced about a week ago. – Su' Apr 29 '12 at 21:09

It's generally accepted best practice to have only a single <h1> on a page, or only 1 <h1> in a section for HTML5. Google will not penalise you for meeting the HTML standards, nor will it penalize you for having multiple <h1>'s - it may penalise you for having ONLY <h1>'s though.

The important point is that it's about the requirements of the content and the requirements of the users - be they sighted or not, that should carry the day.

Here's Google's Johnathan Mueller confirming that Google can index HTML 5, and that it doesn't do anything special for it, i.e. reward you for using HTML 5.

Our crawling and indexing systems currently don't do anything special for HTML5, so there is no "bonus" for using HTML5 constructs, but similarly also generally no downside. That said, most of the pages with HTML5 markup that I've seen tend to be very clean - with little "cruft" and unnecessary elements. While having clean markup isn't something that our algorithms explicitly look for, we occasionally see pages that are almost unparseable. Also, clean markup makes it much easier to maintain the website, easier to add new elements like microformats, and frequently makes the pages more portable across a variety of browsers and devices. So with that in mind, there's nothing holding you back (from a search point of view) from creating an awesome site in HTML5 :).

  • prove what you're saying. prove that google understands TODAY html5... it will certainly in future. but today? – skyline26 Apr 29 '12 at 15:49
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    from the matt cutts' blog: Excessive H1 tags – all together now: H1 is for the top heading; H2 and H3 for the rest. You should only have one H1 heading per article or page. – skyline26 Apr 29 '12 at 15:50
  • @toPeerOrNotToPeer yes, precisely. Follow the standards and you will have no problem, but Google does not penalize for multiple H1 and it does understand HTML 5. – toomanyairmiles Apr 29 '12 at 16:10
  • The single-H1 restriction has never been true. – Su' Apr 29 '12 at 21:21
  • @Su' it's not in the specs, no. It is generally accepted practice though - I did overstate the case though. – toomanyairmiles Apr 29 '12 at 22:15

Everyone always points to the Matt Cutts post from 2009. Here is a video from 2011 during a live web cam chat where Matt Cutts specifically states his preference for a single <h1> tag per page.

  • Welcome to the site! That's an informative link - can you expand your answer a little to address the question better? Otherwise your answer is closer to a comment. Thanks! – dan Nov 27 '13 at 20:54

It's always been allowed to use multiple <h1> in a document, and was never arbitrarily penalized. Overdoing it is what could make itself a problem.

As far as Google, you're just going to have to trust that the engineers are doing their jobs and if they're indexing HTML5 properly, Googlebot knows that nested <h1> are effectively pushed "down" a level. If you don't trust that, then don't do it and just manually make them <h2> until you get a clear, direct answer on it. (The link to Johnathan Mueller's post in @toomanyairmiles' response is interesting, but not complete enough for me.) I haven't seen this happen yet.


I assume this question is based on the logic that an <h1> tag represents the one main title of the page. While that may have been true in previous days, HTML5 has changed that type of logic. In HTML5, the <h1> tag is the main title of a section. This could be a full page, a subpage, a module, etc. A good example of why this difference matters is when building a modular system of different sections dedicated to different activities.

Imagine a system with multiple "pages" lined up next to each other. Each page serves a different purpose: one for the weather, one for organizing tasks, one for display customers, etc. Each of these pages can be further drilled down into (hour-by-hour forecast, single task, single customer) and these "subpages" could be visually placed alongside the actual pages.

Before HTML5, you would need to logically determine which header tag was appropriate and, if you went more than 6 levels deep, you ran out of header tags. With HTML5, you can set them all as <h1> without extra logic or a nesting limitation.

  • But he asked "will Google do with pages...". The system you imagine in you answer looks more like a web application interface rather than a webiste. Usually web application are supposed to stay behind a login, therefor Google can not crawl them at all. – Marco Demaio Jan 6 '14 at 18:41

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