In a previous article, we looked into the evidence for H1 tags being used as a Google ranking factor.
Let’s look at the remaining heading tags, which range from H2 to H6.
Will incorporating these tags help your content rank higher in Google search results?
And, will including specific keywords in H2 to H6 tagged headings help you rank for those terms?
Let’s take a closer look.
H2-H6 Tags As A Ranking Factor
According to popular belief, the keywords used in H2-H6 subheadings are more heavily weighted in Google’s algorithm than words in plain text, and tags are thus a ranking factor in and of themselves.
The Proof That HTML Heading Tags Are a Ranking Factor
Subheadings did appear to be ranking factors once upon a time, between 2005 and 2010. Including your target keywords in higher-level subheadings (typically your primary keyword in your H1 and secondary keywords in H2s and H3) helped you rank for those keywords.
Back then, the text as a whole, as well as what you did with it, was given more weight.
Using a specific keyword density and placing keywords in specific places was considered best practice for sites such as Suite101, About.com, and WikiHow. These sites were a Google nightmare because many of the criteria it used to assess webpage quality favored them.
With a solid technical foundation and the perceived authority that massive amounts of content (and obtaining links to that content) provided, on-page SEO tactics like optimizing your subheadings were a recipe for high rankings that only required the addition of water.
By August 2020, Google’s John Mueller has explicitly stated that headings are a ranking factor:
“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.”
He went on to say:
“And when it comes to text on a page, a heading is a really strong signal telling us this part of the page is about this topic.
…whether you put that into an H1 tag or an H2 tag or H5 or whatever, that doesn’t matter so much.”
The Evidence Against Using H2-H6 Tags as a Ranking Factor
If all you took away from the above interview excerpts was Mueller’s belief that heading tags are a strong signal, you’d probably think they’re far more valuable than they are.
We know that pages can rank even if they don’t have any heading tags.
We’ve all heard that stuffing a specific keyword into a heading tag won’t get you to the top of Google’s rankings.
According to Mueller, heading tags:
- Help Google understand the content better.
- Please provide Google with some additional information.
- Are a good indication of what a specific section of the page is about.
Google has made significant progress toward developing a more nuanced understanding of each webpage by incorporating more (and more complex) factors into the algorithm.
The algorithm is constantly being tested and updated in order to better “understand” relevance, entity relationships, and searchers’ perceptions of a positive, high-quality experience.
And, as newer, more accurate methods of comprehending these complex issues were incorporated into the algorithm, those older signals inevitably became diluted.
Why? Because, like so many previous ranking signals – for example, text formatting, keyword density, and.gov links – subheadings are far too easy to manipulate.
Any information you can explicitly “tell” Google about can be used to manipulate the algorithm.
H2-H6 Tags As A Ranking Factor: Our Opinion
HTML heading tags are required:
- The structural element that helps readers and search engines navigate the content on each page.
- Assistive technology – Heading tags make it easier for browsers, plug-ins, and assistive technologies to navigate a page.
- A tool for navigating. They can contribute to a better user experience by emphasizing important information.
Despite being a proven ranking factor, including specific keywords in heading tags will not propel you to the top of Google’s SERPs. To see any significant ranking impact, you’ll need to use your time machine to travel back to the first decade of this century.
This one, like the H1, was mistreated and abused. All of the keyword stuffing, overuse, and sites attempting to hide heading tag HTML with CSS were detected by Google.
Do you intend to make the most of these page elements? Concentrate on the benefits of heading tags for user experience and their utility in providing structure to your content.
Learn more from SEO and read Are .gov Links Considered a Google Ranking Factor?