Recently, on a Google Webmaster Hangout, a user asked a question about the role of H1s on a web page. John Mueller came back and said that heading tags were good for a number of reasons - but added that they're not a critical element, by any means.
Back in the early 2000s, it wasn't just advisable to add your target keyword phrase in the H1 heading - it was the rules. Google has moved on a long way since back then, however. They can now tell a lot about your page without needing to look at your H1 - and that's why what John Mueller said is important.
This was the original question: "Is it mandatory to just have one H1 tag on a web page or can it be used multiple times?"
John Mueller answered by saying you can use as many H1s as you want, but he went on to say you can also omit the H1 heading tag: "You can use H1 tags as often as you want on a page. There's no limit, neither upper or lower bound. Your site is going to rank perfectly fine with no H1 tags or with five H1 tags."
Mueller went on to reveal that H1 tags can be a great way to outline page structure: "H1 elements are a great way to give more structure to a page so that users and search engines can understand which parts of a page are kind of under different headings. So I would use them in the proper way on a page. And especially with HTML5 having multiple H1 elements on a page is completely normal and kind of expected."
This is going to be news to a lot of people, but it's good to know that H1 tags aren't vital to making a website of page effective - and worth knowing not to sweat too much or waste time on them. As Mueller puts it: "So it's (using H1 tags) not something you need to worry about. Some SEO tools flag this as an issue and say like Oh you don't have any H1 tag, or you have two H1 tags... from our point of view, that's not a critical issue."
It's worth, however, giving some thought to usability before you completely give up on H1 tags. After all, tags make pages easier to read. Mueller had this to say on the matter: "From a usability point of view maybe it makes sense to improve that. So it's not that I would completely ignore those suggestions, but I wouldn't see it as a critical issue."
I think this story is fascinating and thought-provoking for a couple of reasons. I'd be interested to hear if any Warrior Forum users disagree with what John Mueller said - or with how he said it.
It's undoubtedly true that cramming keywords thoughtlessly into headings can mislead. Do you think you're doing yourself more favors by forgetting keywords when it comes to headers, and that you'll communicate far better what the page is about when you do?
We're all used to using H1 to H4 tags for hierarchy and to help the crawlers. Tags not only let bots and people know what a lage is about - they can help with navigation of information too, for people that skim - especially on mobile. We usually break things down using H1 through H4 tags. The main topic is H1, subtopics are H2, and when a subtopic goes off on a tangent, we use an H3 - and so on.
And let's not forget internet users who rely on assistive devices to access websites. ADA Compliance consultant, Kim Krause Berg, gave some fascinating insight into what heading tags mean for accessibility: "We use one H1 tag at the top to indicate the start of the content for assistive devices and organize the remainder from <h2>-<h6> similarly to how an outline would appear. The hierarchy of content is important for screen readers because it indicates the relationship of the content to the other parts of content. Content under headings should relate to the heading. A bad sequence would be starting out with an <h3>, then <h1>."