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How Much More Effective Are Headings Than Formatted Text?

Search engines are now smart enough to realize what are headings or titles, even if we don't explicitly tell them. Learn more about it here.

Headings & Formatted Text

Howdy and greetings fellow SEJers. Today’s Ask an SEO question comes from Andrew in Wantagh – and the answer is not “it depends.”

Andrew asks:

“How much more effective are headings than formatted text?”

The first thing we’re going to Wantagh do is to define what we mean by “headings” and “formatted text.”

For purposes of this post:

  • Headings will refer to H tags.
  • Formatted text will simply mean text that’s wrapped by a span or a div with some sort of CSS style applied to it, or text in a font tag if you’re an old school developer writing code that doesn’t validate.

There’s a lot of misinformation about H1 tags in the SEO community these days, so this is a great question.

I think a lot of misinformation stems from the fact that Google seems to be evolving faster than SEO professionals update their checklists or ranking factor lists.

There used to be a time in SEO where things like using a <b> tag vs. a <strong> tag actually mattered. The same was true for H tags.

There may have been a time where having multiple H1 tags was a bad thing that confused search engines, but that time has passed.

Search engines are now smart enough to realize what are headings or titles, even if we don’t explicitly tell them.

We don’t need to specifically have an H1 tag, or only one H1 tag to help SEO.

It’s been tested recently despite Google telling us as much. Here’s a video John Mueller did about it in October 2019 as well.

Many of us just haven’t updated our tools and lists and docs to change this, so it keeps getting repeated.

The web has changed, and we haven’t really kept up with the SEO advice as well as we should have.

I’m guilty of this myself, my Serverheaders tool even alerts you if you’re missing an H1 or have multiple. I should probably take that feature out.

With the introduction of HTML5, it’s even possible (and recommended) to have multiple H1 tags in some circumstances.

So Should I Stop Using H1 Tags?


In fact, I just used two of them above. Because why not?

The truth though, is that while H tags may not carry more weight than formatted text for SEO, they do matter for accessibility reasons.

I won’t go into that discussion here, but proper headings and nesting do matter for web accessibility – which is something we should all Wantagh make sure we pay attention to.

Editor’s noteAsk an SEO is a weekly SEO advice column written by some of the industry’s top SEO experts, who have been hand-picked by Search Engine Journal. Got a question about SEOFill out our form. You might see your answer in the next #AskanSEO post!

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VIP CONTRIBUTOR Ryan Jones VP, SEO at Razorfish

Ryan is the SEO lead at Razorfish where he works from early in the morning until late in the evening. ...

How Much More Effective Are Headings Than Formatted Text?

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