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H1 Headings: Over 50% of SEOs Doing it Wrong?

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H1 Headings: Over 50% of SEOs Doing it Wrong?

Recent discussions on social media indicates there is considerable disagreement in how to use Heading (H1, H2) elements. Despite guidance from Google about the use of headings the SEO industry still can’t agree about how to use headings.

An informal poll on Twitter with nearly 2,000 votes shows over half of SEOs don’t know what Google’s recommendation on headings are.

Does Google Recommend Using One H1 Heading for SEO?

Cyrus Shepard (@CyrusShepard) conducted a poll asking what Google’s guidance on multiple H1 headings were.

Surprisingly, nearly sixty percent of the respondents indicated that Google recommends just one H1 heading to a web page.

Official Google Recommendation on Number of H1 Headings

Does Google recommend using one H1 heading? The answer is no.

Google’s John Mueller said in an office hours hangout that publishers are free to use as many H1 headings as they want.

John Mueller said:

“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.”

Google has even published a video on this specific topic to dispel the idea that Google recommends only one H1.

In the video John Mueller says:

“Our systems don’t have a problem when it comes to multiple H1 headings on a page. That’s a fairly common pattern on the web.”

SEOs Can’t Agree on Proper Use of Headings

Anecdotal evidence from online discussions in Facebook SEO groups also show that there is wide disagreement on the proper use of headings. Some in the SEO industry cling to ideas that date back to the early 2000’s. Others state that John Mueller’s statements aren’t entirely true.

The topic of heading tags is so basic yet despite numerous clarifications from Google the topic remains extremely polarizing.

Heading Tag SEO is a Contentious Topic Online

Bar Fight Meme of SEOs fighting about H1 heading tags

SEOs Say H1 Tag More Important than H2, H3, etc.

Some in the SEO industry will admit that Mueller said it’s okay to use more than one H1. But they will also insist that an H1 element is more important than an H2.

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That used to be true back in the very early 2000’s. It’s not true anymore.

Early Google Used Clues to Understand Web Pages

In the early 2000’s Google used headings as a clue to what a web page was about.

Google also regarded content at the top of the web page as more important because it gave another clue as to what a web page is about, since that’s where writers often state what the web page is about.

Words that were written in bold, italics and written in bigger fonts (using the old HTML 4 Font tag) were also regarded as clues as to what the web page was about, way back in the early 2000’s.

Some of these ranking factors were a part of the original Google PageRank research paper published in 1998 and in later research papers and revealed by Googlers in statements.

The point is that headings and other elements were used as clues as to what a web page is about. Google arguably began moving away from looking for clues to what a web page was about in 2012.

That’s the date that Google announced a new direction toward understanding what things are by using a Knowledge Graph.

The knowledge graph gave Google a deeper understanding of what things are so that it could move away from looking for clues in sequences of words (strings of data).

Google announced this in an article titled, Introducing the Knowledge Graph: Things, Not Strings.

Google’s announcement said:

“This is a critical first step towards building the next generation of search, which taps into the collective intelligence of the web and understands the world a bit more like people do.”

After the Google Hummingbird update announcement in September 2013 Google began a transition toward a more natural language style of understanding content and search queries.

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In a September blog post Google announced that you could now do comparisons between objects by speaking to the Google Search App and other interesting things that relied more on knowledge of what things are and less on clues about what they are.

That was eight years ago and natural language processing has progressed so far that Google doesn’t rely on clues to guess what a page is about.

In 2021 Google can understand what the topic is about and relate it to a search query.

That’s wildly more sophisticated than matching search query keywords to keywords on a web page.

And that is why Google’s Mueller has been telling the SEO community that it doesn’t matter how many H1’s you use. The only purpose that a heading has is to communicate what a  section of content is about. That’s it.

The old 2001 way of giving Google a clue with keywords, that’s a thing of the past. Google doesn’t do exact match keywords in the search results anymore because natural language and AI technologies allow Google to understand what a page is about, especially if it’s well structured with the proper use of heading elements.

No Magic Ranking Power to an H1 Tag

John Mueller’s statement expressly says that a site will rank fine without an H1 or with five H1s. That means there is no extra importance given to an H1.

Mueller also stated in another Office-hours Hangout that a page will rank fine if you use an H2 or an H1, that they could be used interchangeably.

In response to this question:

“A page without an H1 title will it still rank for keywords which is in the H2 title”

John Mueller answered:

“Of course.

…Will it still? I don’t know if it will still but it can. It can absolutely.”

Mueller went on to say that headings on a page (not just H1 but headings) help tell Google what that section of content is about.

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Mueller stated:

“So headings on a page help us to better understand the content on the page.

Headings on the page are not the only ranking factor that we have.

We look at the content on its own as well.

But sometimes having a clear heading on a page gives us a little bit more information on what that section is about.”

Heading tags continue to be a strong signal of what a section of content is. Read: Google: Heading Tags are a Strong Signal

Headings Used to Help for Ranking Keywords

Back around 2001 to 2005 there used to be a keyword ranking bonus with heading tags. It was necessary to use keywords in the headings. That was in the early 2000s.

Yet for some reason this particular habit of regarding H1 as extra important continues even though we are in the age of AI and Natural Language Processing.

Do some searches in Google and you’ll see that that kind of thing doesn’t matter anymore. You’ll see that the top ranked sites are ranked because they are relevant for the topic, not because they have an exact match keyword phrase in their heading tags.

So to finish up, what’s important is to accurately describe what the topic of the article is with your headings and to use headings to provide a description of what a section of content is about.

This will help Google to better understand the content because in 2021 Google doesn’t rank exact match keywords the way it used to in 2001 (I know because I was doing SEO in 2001).

Today Google is ranking content, not keywords. It pays to think of the entire page in terms of “What is this about?” and each section as to how it relates to that overall topic.

Searchenginejournal.com

SEO

Are Local Citations (NAP) A Google Ranking Factor?

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Are Local Citations (NAP) A Google Ranking Factor?


In local SEO, a citation is a mention of key business information – your name, address, and phone number (NAP) – anywhere else on the web.

Local citations might appear in directories, on social networking or review sites, in apps, and on all kinds of other websites.

Clearly, these are an important part of a searcher’s experience; NAP info is how a local consumer will find their way to your store or give you a call.

But do citations help you rank higher in Google Search results?

The Claim: Local Citations As A Ranking Factor

Some citations allow only for the location’s name, address, and phone number.

However, you may be able to add a website link, business description, photos, and more, depending on the directory or platform.

The idea here is that each of these optimizations will help you rank higher in local search results:

  • Having your NAP info appear on more external sites.
  • Ensuring the accuracy of your citations.
  • Optimizing each one by adding as much supporting detail as the fields on that site allow.

WhiteSpark’s industry survey on local ranking factors provides a good framework that illustrates the variety of considerations in play when we talk about local citation signals. Citations are evaluated based on:

  • Consistency.
  • Quality/authority.
  • Quantity.
  • Enhancement/completeness.

The Evidence For Citations As A Ranking Factor

Citations have long been widely accepted by SEO professionals as a key local ranking factor.

“Consistency of citations” came in at #5 in Moz’s 2020 industry survey of what SEO pros believe are local ranking factors. (They were ranked fifth in the 2018 survey, as well, for both Local Pack/Finder and Localized Organic search results.)

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However, what it is about citations that matter most has been the subject of debate over the years.

When BrightLocal surveyed the industry in 2016, 90% of respondents said citation accuracy was “very important” to “critical” for local search rankings. What’s more, 86% said the quality of those citations was more important than quantity.

In this video, Google confirms that local results are based primarily on relevance, distance, and prominence.

And while you cannot control all of these factors, they say:

“First, make sure all of your business information is complete. It’s important to have accurate information including your phone number, address, and business category.”

Google also recommends that in order to ensure the accuracy of your GMB listing and “help you stand out”, you should:

  • Double-check that hours of operation are accurate.
  • Use special hours for holidays.
  • Add photos of your location, services, or merchandise.
  • Verify your location to tell Google you are the correct owner of the business.

In their “Improve your local ranking on Google” help resource, the advice is clear:

“Local results favor the most relevant results for each search. Businesses with complete and accurate information are easier to match with the right searches.”

The Evidence Against Local Citations As A Ranking Factor

You could argue that citations are too difficult to maintain and therefore not a reliable signal.

And you would be right.

It’s incredibly difficult to ensure that all citations across the local search ecosystem are kept up to date.

With so many aggregators, user suggestions, manual errors, and other elements wreaking havoc with citation information, how can Google trust that the information they’re finding about any one business location is accurate?

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This is precisely why local listings management is so important, and providing Google a single source of truth through your GMB profile is key.

Monitoring for citation errors is essential so you can correct them before the wrong information is picked up by aggregators and more widely distributed.

Citation inconsistencies can happen for countless reasons:

  • Businesses move to new locations.
  • Brands open and close stores.
  • Staff and owners create listings without documenting them, and they grow outdated as the business evolves.
  • Consumers create duplicate listings by making spelling mistakes when trying to leave a review.
  • Google searchers suggest listing edits with the best of intentions but the wrong information.
  • And more. A lot more.

Google recognizes that all of these issues can impact citation accuracy, which is why it relies on such a wide array of sources to determine whether the information is trustworthy.

Local Citations As A Ranking Factor: Our Verdict

Bottom line: It is all but confirmed officially by Google that Google uses local citations as a ranking signal in Local Pack/Finder and localized organic search results.

Google’s aim is to provide the best, most trustworthy answers to every searcher.

Citations are an important signal as to whether key business information is correct and that location is the best answer for a local searcher’s relevant query.

If you’re just getting started, check out John McAlpin’s Citations & Local SEO: The Ultimate Beginner’s Guide.

Ready to get more advanced? Make sure your citations are accurate and complete on as many relevant sources as possible. WhiteSpark’s free Top Local Citation Sources by Country finder enables you to pull a list of the top directories, networks, websites, etc. in 15 countries.

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And if you really want to step up your local strategy, you’ll want to download Local SEO: The Definitive Guide to Improve Your Local Search Rankings.


Featured Image: Paolo Bobita/Search Engine Journal





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Is It A Ranking Factor?

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Is It A Ranking Factor?


Quickly gaining a lot of links from other sites sounds like it should be a positive thing for any website.

But could it actually hurt, rather than help, your rankings?

Or does link velocity not matter at all to Google? Is it, in fact, just some made-up SEO term?

Read on as we investigate the origins of link velocity and whether it’s something you need to be genuinely concerned about in SEO.

The Claim: Link Velocity As A Ranking Factor

Link velocity refers to a theory that the speed at which a website gains links has the potential to impact rankings, either positively or negatively.

Link Velocity = Good

Years ago, having a high link velocity in a short period of time was viewed by some as a good thing in the SEO industry, one that could positively influence your Google rankings.

Link velocity was mentioned in articles and during conference sessions – because in those days link building was more about quantity than quality.

Want to get a webpage to rank quickly? Build a whole bunch of links to it fast.

But the idea of quantity over quality changed after Google launched the Penguin algorithm.

Link Velocity = Bad

The belief here is that gaining links too fast can cause a website to get penalized or demoted in search results.

It is based on the idea that Google will interpret a quick increase in inbound links as a sign that the website is trying to manipulate its search rankings.

Understandably, the idea of link velocity can be concerning for everyone who is averse to getting inadvertently penalized for acquiring links.

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The growth of a website’s link profile is largely out of its control.

If a site publishes a great piece of content, for example, many other sites may reference it within a short time frame, resulting in a number of links gained all at once.

Were link velocity to work as SEO experts claim, the website in the above example could receive a penalty because it gained an influx of inbound links through no fault of its own.

The Evidence: Link Velocity As A Ranking Factor

The origins of link velocity in the SEO community can be dated back to the discovery of a Google patent that was filed in 2003.

The patent, Information Retrieval Based on Historical Data, includes ideas about how a search engine should treat a website based on the growth of its link profile.

In particular, the idea of link velocity can be traced back to this passage:

“While a spiky rate of growth in the number of backlinks may be a factor used by search engine 125 to score documents, it may also signal an attempt to spam search engine 125. Accordingly, in this situation, search engine 125 may actually lower the score of a document(s) to reduce the effect of spamming.”

Search Engine Journal’s Roger Montti has picked apart SEO experts’ interpretation of this patent, noting how they ignore parts of the patent which disprove their own theory.

For instance, the patent goes on to define what a “spiky rate of growth” is and how it can be the defining characteristic of unnatural link building.

The patent isn’t about penalizing websites that see a rapid increase in inbound links.

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It’s about demoting websites that exhibit a pattern of unusual spikes in inbound links over extended periods.

According to Montti:

“What that patent is really talking about is the smooth natural rate of growth versus a spiky and unnatural rate of growth.

A spiky rate of growth can manifest over the course of months. That’s a big difference from the link velocity idea that proposes that a large amount of links acquired in a short period will result in a penalty.”

The evidence doesn’t add up to what experts claim about link velocity.

Link Velocity As A Ranking Factor: Our Verdict

There is no evidence to suggest that Google uses a signal known as link velocity that can negatively impact rankings.

Link velocity is not a term Google officially recognizes.

When asked about it, Google search representatives say a website’s links are assessed on their own merits, not by how many are gained in which length of time.

Here’s an example of such a response from Google’s John Mueller:

“It’s not so much a matter of how many links you get in which time period. It’s really just… if these are links that are unnatural or from our point of view problematic then they would be problematic. It’s like it doesn’t really matter how many or in which time.”

Google’s Gary Illyes put it more bluntly in a Reddit AMA, calling link velocity a made-up term.

Whether links are gained fast or slow, what really matters is the quality of the individual links and the manner in which they were acquired (naturally or unnaturally).

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Featured Image: Paolo Bobita/Search Engine Journal





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Google’s Help Documents Aren’t Always Up To Date

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Google's Help Documents Aren't Always Up To Date


Google admits its help documents aren’t always up to date and says it’s worthwhile doing your own research on recommended best practices.

This topic is discussed during the latest episode of Google’s SEO & Devs web series on YouTube, which is all about whether official help documents can be trusted.

Martin Splitt of Google’s Developer Relations team, and Michael King, founder and managing director of iPullRank, get together to talk about how Google’s documentation can lead developers to not trust SEO professionals.

SEOs provide recommendations to developers based on the information in Google’s official documents.

Google aims to keep those documents accurate and trustworthy, but the information sometimes lags behind what’s actually working in SEO, and what’s no longer relevant.

A specific example they addressed is a situation that came up in 2019, when Google revealed it stopped supporting rel=”next” and rel=”prev” years before telling the search community.

That meant SEOs were telling developers to use pieces of code that were no longer relevant to Google Search.

Rather than making an official announcement about it, Google simply removed the documentation related to rel=”next” and rel=”prev”.

It wasn’t until Google’s Search Advocate John Mueller received a question about it on Twitter that anyone from the company told the search community about this change.

Some SEO professionals and developers may have come to that conclusion on their own after noticing Google understood pagination just fine without the use of rel=”next” and rel=”prev”.

That’s one example where doing your own research could help you learn how Google Search works, rather than relying solely on official documentation.

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Splitt shares background information about this situation, and the difficult choices Google had to make when it came to communicating the changes to the search community.

Why Aren’t Google’s Help Documents Always Up To Date?

Google Search changes quickly, so Splitt cautions against looking at the company’s documentation as the single source of truth.

Regarding the rel=”next” and rel=”prev” situation, Splitt says:

“The docs are not always in phase. We’re doing our best to work with the teams and help them to keep their documentation updated, but it does every now and then happen in this case like a bunch of engineers in search quality figured out — ‘hey, hold on, we actually don’t really need the rel-next and rel-prev links anymore to figure out that there’s like a pagination going on. We can figure that out from other things on the page by themselves.’”

When it was discovered the code was no longer needed, Google’s engineers removed support for it.

Splitt explains the decision making process behind communicating this change to SEOs and developers.

“… What do you do? Do you either update the docs to just quietly remove that part because it no longer is relevant?

Or do you go like ‘Hey, by the way, this is no longer necessary. And truthfully speaking it hasn’t been necessary in the last six months.’

Knowing very well that people are reading the documentation, making recommendations based on it to other people, and then these people then invest work and time and money into making that happen.”

Splitt goes on to say the choice was either to remove the documentation and come clean about rel=”next” and rel=”prev” being obsolete, or keep the documents up knowing the code wasn’t necessary anymore.

“And the alternative would be to let it live there in the documentation, even though it’s wrong it doesn’t hurt.

So we went with the full frontal way of going like — ‘Okay, here’s the thing. This has been removed a while ago and we’re sorry about that, but now our docs are updated.’

And I think none of the choices are easy or necessarily perfectly good, but it’s just what happens. So I think we’re trying to keep the docs updated as much as possible.”

So there’s the story behind rel=”next” and rel=”prev” and why Google handled the situation the way it did.

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The key takeaway from this story is to always be testing and doing your own research.

Figuring out what works on your own may be more reliable than Google’s help documents.

If you believe something isn’t necessary, even though Google recommends it, your instincts may be correct.

See the full video below:


Featured Image: Screenshot from YouTube.com/GoogleSearchCentral





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