Search algorithms have gone from simplistic functions that counted the number of keywords to sophisticated formulas that are a mystery to everyday consumers. Because search engines like Google change their algorithms frequently, advice about the best SEO practices can quickly become outdated. Though they never explain the exact way the algorithm works, Google does give advice about common misconceptions about SEO. Recently, Google explained a little about the way the algorithm handles situations where a webpage has multiple H1 headlines tags.

The headlines on websites that break up individual sections do more than help the reader find specific information. Search engines assign additional value to the words in these headings since they were important to the writer. 

The numbering system also plays a role in the SEO usefulness of headlines. The H1 headline is meant to be the title of the page so there should only be one of those per page. However, some pages have multiple H1 headlines, which often happens when someone thinks the H1 tag only makes the text larger. What happens when Google’s algorithm sees multiple H1 tags on a page. The answer: Not much.

In a recent online discussion, Google’s Webmaster Trends Analyst John Mueller took questions from website owners about SEO issues. Someone asked what happens when there are multiple H1 tags on a page. The person noted that many pages on the web have H1 tags that are hidden on the page, and asked if that causes an issue with SEO.

It turns out that Google’s search algorithm is more than capable of dealing with this situation. Since this situation crops up often, Google uses multiple methods to determine the title and other information. 

In response to the question, Mueller replied. “Our systems don’t have a problem when it comes to multiple H1 headings on a page.” He went on to state,  “We use headings to better understand the context of different parts of a page. Having clear, semantically understandable headings is useful in understanding any given page; however, we have to work with the web as we find it and a lot of it isn’t semantically structured at all.” 

Conventional SEO wisdom says that multiple H1 tags can hurt SEO efforts, but that isn’t entirely true. This response from Google suggests that it’s not essential to remove multiple H1 tags from a page because the algorithm knows how to handle it. However, it’s worth noting that Mueller can only speak for what Google does. His response doesn’t necessarily apply to Bing, Yahoo, or any other search engine. Though one would think that most search engines would have similar systems in place to deal with a common issue in web design.

Website owners and SEO marketers should probably remove any uneccessary H1 tags when they come across them, but don’t waste too much effort on it. It’s always a good idea to use headline tags appropriately. Even if doesn’t affect Google, it may affect a site’s SEO on another search engine. 

For more advice from Google, read this article on social bookmarking myths about SEO