SEO and the order of Titles, Headings, etc

Hi Folks,

I’d like some input from SEO experts re the below customer opinion. We developed this website using the Mason template and mostly kept the same setup of the headings, however during development we may have changed the leading Heading to be H2 (for whatever reason). The footer H1s were always there on the template footer. Just wondering if there’s a degree of truth in what’s being said below? i.e. would a site suffer massive SEO consequences if its order of H1,H2s, etc were not correctly placed?

We have recently completed a SEO Audit on our website and it was brought to our attention, the correct work on the h1 and h2 tags was not set up correctly which is now affecting our SEO massively.

H1 tags weren’t being used directly after the title tag and for every page on the website and the three H1 headings on the footer were being used as H1 tags.
From an SEO perspective that the ideal scenario is to have one H1 tag on a page to aid crawlers however this is my experience from a marketer perspective and I am unsure of your process into the details of front-end design, but we have been told this was part of our original web design.

I can say from an accessibility standpoint, not using proper semantic HTML is detrimental—it is the most basic and foundational step to making an accessible site. The HTML tag structure should always be in order and there should only ever be one H1 per page reserved for the page title.

Hey! thanks for your reply. I appreciate from an accessibility point of view, the order should be semantic. From an SEO perspective however, I’m reading that Google’s John Mueller doesn’t believe search algorithms are hugely affected. So therefore it surely would not have a massive negative effect to SEO what way they were ordered? According to Mueller, keywords in heading tags is no longer a search engine ranking factor. It used to be in the early 2000s, more than 15 years ago.

As of about a year ago, Google confirmed that this isn’t actually the case and it’s totally fine to use more than one on a page as long as it’s not obnoxious. If you have a homepage for example that discusses a number of topics that link to other pages, it’s perfectly acceptable to use H1’s to title each of these since they are all important, top-level headings.

The organization of your heading tags has more to do with accessibility from what I gather but it’s definitely a piece (albeit just one of many) in SEO that should be considered. Google is getting very good at analyzing websites and making sense out of your content regardless of how it’s structured in most cases, and ultimately it’s goal is to serve up high quality, relevant links. They’ll even go as far as to modify how metadata is displayed on your site to better reflect the query:

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I’m speaking from an accessibility standpoint only. It goes against WCAG conformance to use more than one H1 per page.

My apologies, I was just basing this on the question relating to SEO specifically and didn’t notice that you prefaced your reply with a focus on accessibility.

That said, I took a peek at the WCAG and I’m not seeing any mention of a requirement to use a single H1 in and of the three Success Criterion sections that speak to heading usage (1.3.1, 2.4.6, and 2.4.10):

The only mention specifically tied to WCAG I could find regarding multiple H1’s is from a teleconference back in 2012 where it was confirmed that it does not violate any of the success criteria:

awk: So long as the heading structures provided match the content, there is no prohibition against an HTML page having multiple H1 heading elements or not following a strict heirarchy of headings, nor any similar prohibition for similar semantic structures in technologies other than HTML.

Loretta: WCAG does not require strict hierarchy in headings. It recommends it but does not require it. Using two <h1> headings would not violate any of the success criteria, so WCAG conformance would not prohibit it. Success Criterion 1.3.1 requires that if headings are used, they be marked up as headings. It does not require that headings be used at all, or that they be used in any particular way.

A more recent discussion on the topic of multiple H1’s from the Paciello Group reinforces the same logic that, while it may be considered unusual, it doesn’t represent a WCAG failure:

More than one <h1>

The converse is also true: a top-heavy heading hierarchy is unusual but not incorrect. Users typically expect only a single <h1> , which is used to represent the main heading or title on the page. As long as the visual presentation of multiple <h1> s doesn’t imply a hierarchy (such as the first <h1> being styled visually to be larger or bolder than the second <h1> ), then having more than one <h1> —while potentially confusing— does not represent a WCAG failure.

The main issue I see discussed in the links above is logical hierarchy, however if the content of the page supports it—even if it may not be common practice—you can use more than a single H1 on a page and be WCAG compliant.

Disclaimer: I’m by no means an expert when it comes to accessibility (all of my research regarding the topic was done this morning) so feel free to point me in the direction of something that states otherwise.

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Awesome that this prompted you to do some accessibility research. The Paciello article certainly points out that having more than one H1 or not having one at all will not be cause for WCAG conformance failure—so I stand corrected—it’s been ingrained in me, as it has been and is still considered best practice to use one H1 per page the majority of folks in the accessibility field and to use one for the first H of a page. There is a bigger picture that needs to be assessed when reviewing pages for accessibility—we need to think about users with assistive technologies navigate the web. I would flag the CSC home page for not having a leading H1 and only having H1s in the footer (Mics Links, Follow Us, Contact Us).

So for SEO, does it matter? No longer to google. But for accessibility, it’s more nuanced.

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@mikeyevin I bet you could answer my forum questions really well—I def don’t have a full handle on webflow yet!

Well thank you for prompting my research! It was super beneficial on my end and I was actually surprised to find out that not using an H1 wasn’t an issue either—I assumed each page needed at least one top level heading.

I think when it comes to accessibility you can never account for too many situations, and I’ve even heard of others recommending using screen readers and/or browsing without the use of the mouse to ensure it’s easy for folks all sorts of use cases.

In terms of Webflow questions, I definitely have a bit of experience with the platform and I’m fairly active here in the community—so hopefully I can be of help sometime! I still do a fair amount of “manual” code writing but given the fact that the other part of my job is graphic design I definitely prefer building visually with the Designer :webflow_heart:

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