Header Tags in 2023: Re-Assessing On-Page Optimization Elements





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June 6, 2024


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Header Tags in 2023: Re-Assessing On-Page Optimization Elements

Header Tags in 2023: Re-Assessing On-Page Optimization Elements

When I first started in SEO, I remember having a heated debate with my boss about the future of search engine algorithms. I argued that Google would eventually rank pages based on their understanding of the content, rather than just relying on simple keyword matching. At the time, it seemed like a radical idea – but fast forward a few years, and that’s exactly what’s happening with Google’s advances in semantic search and entity understanding.

In the early days of SEO, we used to obsess over header tags as a key on-page optimization element. Stuff that H1 tag with keywords, sprinkle in some H2s and H3s, and voila – your page was primed for search engine domination, right? Well, not so fast. As Google’s algorithms have become more sophisticated, the role of header tags has evolved.

So, in 2023, how should we be thinking about header tags and on-page optimization? Let’s take a fresh look.

The Changing Landscape of Header Tags

Back in the HTML4 era, the conventional wisdom around header tags was pretty straightforward: one H1 tag per page, with strategic use of H2, H3, and beyond to outline your content. This made sense from a purely technical standpoint – the header tags were meant to provide a hierarchical structure to your page, helping search engines understand the relationships between different sections.

But as Google’s algorithms became more advanced, SEOs started to experiment with alternative approaches. Some tried stuffing multiple H1 tags onto a single page, believing this would send stronger signals to the search engine. Others went the opposite route, strictly sticking to a single H1 and avoiding any additional header tags altogether.

The HTML5 Shift and Semantic Markup

The introduction of HTML5 in 2014 was a turning point. This new standard placed a greater emphasis on semantic markup, encouraging web developers to use header tags in a way that accurately reflected the structure and meaning of their content, rather than just optimizing for search engines.

Under HTML5, using multiple H1 tags on a page is considered perfectly acceptable – as long as they’re used logically and in a way that enhances the user experience. The key is to think about header tags as a way to outline your content, not just as a vehicle for keyword stuffing.

According to Greenland Marketing, “There are new H1 usage rules. The following is how H1 tags can be used within your document structure:

  • Use an H1 tag for the main title or subject of the page
  • Use additional H1 tags if the page covers multiple distinct topics or subjects
  • Make sure the H1 tags are used in a logical, hierarchical way that makes sense for users”

This shift towards semantic markup and user-centric design has been echoed by Google itself. Semrush notes that “the appropriate H-tags (header tags) help Google understand the structure of your page.”

So, in 2023, the focus should be on using header tags to create a clear, logical outline of your content – not just cramming in keywords.

Striking the Right Balance

Of course, that doesn’t mean header tags are completely irrelevant from an SEO perspective. They can still provide valuable signals to search engines about the main topics and subtopics covered on your page. But the key is to strike a balance between optimizing for search and providing a great user experience.

Here are a few tips for using header tags effectively in 2023:

  • Start with a clear, keyword-rich H1 tag that accurately reflects the main topic of the page.
  • Use additional H1 tags judiciously if your page covers multiple distinct subjects.
  • Utilize H2, H3, and beyond to create a hierarchical outline of your content.
  • Avoid keyword stuffing – use header tags in a way that makes sense for your readers, not just search engines.
  • Remember that header tags are just one piece of the on-page optimization puzzle. Focus on creating high-quality, engaging content that meets user intent.

At the end of the day, the role of header tags in SEO has evolved. Rather than obsessing over technical tricks, the focus should be on using these elements to enhance the structure and readability of your content. By doing so, you’ll not only satisfy search engines, but more importantly, you’ll provide a better experience for your human visitors.

And that’s what SEO is all about – leveraging the latest best practices to connect your audience with the information they’re searching for. So keep that in mind as you re-assess your use of header tags in 2023 and beyond.

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