Each year the ranking factors for on- and off-page SEO shift as search engines like Google update their algorithms. The H1, or title of the page, is an example of a long-standing influential ranking factor that doesn’t seem to be fazed by algorithm updates.
Some SEOs believe an H1’s impact on search results and rankings has diminished over the years, but others feel the H1 is still an essential on-page element of SEO – and we would have to agree.
Part of the reason why the H1 and any keyword used within it is important is that it has a major influence on the user experience. The title of the page is the first thing a searcher sees and it can make all the difference in whether a visitor stays and keeps reading or leaves and finds their information elsewhere. Visitors that leave become part of the bounce rate, which has long been an important metric measured by Google’s algorithm.
The bounce rate can be used to measure the quality of a page. If a searcher performs a search, clicks on a site, and doesn’t immediately return to the search results page, then that is a strong indicator to the search engine that the user was happy with the results. On the contrary if the searcher clicks on a site and quickly returns to the search results page, then the site that was visited may be demoted in rankings because it did not deliver content that was satisfying to the user.
With proper use of the H1 and of course the first few sentences of the page, a site can keep a visitor satisfied and therefore signal to Google that they’re providing content that searchers want to find. Many SEOs think the H1 is just an opportunity to insert a few keywords, but its influence on user engagement is a much bigger deal and signal than they realize.
Google’s introduction of Hummingbird reinforced the influence an H1 can have on rankings. Hummingbird has helped Google better understand a searcher’s intent and because of that SEOs have started to change the way they format H1s. In some instances it has become ideal to format an H1 as a question. This makes sense because Google oftentimes tries to deliver search results that answer a question. It is important for SEOs to then create content that answers the question proposed in the H1.
When creating content in 2014 do your best to figure out why a searcher would need to find the information provided on any given page of your site. Are they looking for a service? Do they need a how-to video on replacing a battery in a car? Or are they looking for medical information?
If you take the time to create a clever H1, it can significantly help both Google and searchers determine whether the content you create is useful and fulfills their need.