Thoughts on Leaving a Keyword out of an H1, H2, and the Meta Description

Rennie
Thoughts on leaving a keyword out of an H1 for readability? But making sure it's in H2, copy, and meta for the page. Extra info: There's a content strategy pillar/cluster model being built for the client, using the same keywords.
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[filtered from 19 Answers]

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Roger
Doesn't matter if you use H1 or H2. They're treated the same.
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Rennie » Roger
Hmmm I've never heard that one before. Do you have anything to read on that?
Roger » Rennie
It's just a way to tell Google what a block of content is about. No special bonus/emphasis is given for H1 over an H2.
There USED to be a bonus and it USED to be necessary but that was in the early 2000s. For some reason this particular habit persists even though we are in the age of AI and Natural Language Processing that made that kind of ranking process obsolete.
I was doing Search Engine Optimization (SEO) and ranking sites in the early 2000s when H1 mattered. It doesn't matter anymore. It's just a way to indicate what a block of content is about.
Most people who say H1 matters today were still in elementary school or high school when it actually did matter and are just repeating what they heard from someone else who was in high school when it actually mattered.
I was an adult doing SEO when H1 actually mattered. I know the difference as I experienced those old algorithms first hand.
I get it that it's a hierarchy thing and I would continue using it that way.
So if it's inconvenient or whatever to use an H1 then just use an H2.
https://www.searchenginejournal.com/google-heading-tags-important/377592/
Google: Heading Tags are a Strong Signal
Roger » Rennie
More reading, where Mueller says you can use as many H1 tags on a page as you want because it doesn't matter.
I'm really surprised that more people don't know this. Google's using Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Natural Language Processing (NLP) and they're way beyond counting H1 tags as more important than an H2 tag.
https://www.searchenginejournal.com/google-h1-headings-SEO/328459/
Google Says H1 Headings Are Useful but Not Critical
Roger » Rennie
But getting back to the original question, it doesn't matter if you put the keyword in the h1 at the top of the page. Do some searches in Google and you'll see that that kind of thing doesn't matter because Google is stemming and replacing keywords and ranking for the concept of the keyword phrase, not the exact match. This is 2021, not 2001 (and again, I was doing Search Engine Optimization (SEO) in 2001 and I know from experience what that algorithm looked like).
Do a search for: how to make a baked chicken in the oven
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 in their titles or H1.
So to finish up, what's important is to accurately describe what the topic of the article is.
So if it's an article about how to bake a chicken in the oven, adding an H1 at the top that says, "This Hack Gives Me More Time to Play Video Games" is not going to be helpful, LOL. The title still has to be on the topic that the page is about.
Check out the Search Engine Result Pages (SERPs), like the competitive recipe SERPs and you'll see what I mean is true and in the SERPs.
Rennie » Roger
I appreciate your detailed and respectful response. It's rare on this page haha. I'm going to look into that further, thank you. Very interesting.
Alves
I agree with Roger. We've all read pages where you can tell keywords were stuffed into headings at the expense of readability. At least test your gut feeling that the user-friendly way is better than the awkward version.
Rennie » Alves
Thanks Mark, this is what I'm thinking.
Jeff
Thanks, Roger, I was going to say I was seeing a lot of out of date thinking here, not just on H1, but on really outdated concepts like "focus keywords" and such. That's just not the way Google works.
Mišo
I am aware of Mueller's statements. However, if you get into the habit of continuous testing, you come to the conclusion that it is not entirely true.
For yourself and all your clients, keep an eye on all articles published, and their primary keyword performances. Then note what happens if you change this or that. In a few years of doing it, SERP logic becomes pretty clear.
H1 and the Meta title are damn too important.
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Roger » Mišo
Nobody is saying that heading tags and titles are not important. H1 however has the same importance as H2.
Also, exact match keywords in title and heading are not important anymore, either. I did SEO in the beginning of the 2000s when it WAS important. But now it's not. I gave an example above showing how exact match keywords aren't ranking for a phrase. Just go to Google and do some searches and see with your own eyes what's ranking and you will see the majority of sites ranking do not have exact match in title. It's not an opinion it's a fact. It's like the sky is blue, it's a fact.
Mišo » Roger
I am aware of what you are saying. I did SEO in early 2000s as well. 🙂 However, H2 is often appearing below the fold, and H1 above. This plays more a role than the actual heading tag.
It is also true that pages without the primary keyword are appearing in queries containing it.
However, again: I am doing enormous number of tests. This includes split testing for Conversion Rate Optimization (CRO), and Search Engine Result Page (SERP) tests for Search Engine Optimization (SEO). meaning, if I see a page that I want to push higher for a keyword that shows significant conversion rates for a particular audience, too often merely adding that keyword to an H1 moves the needle.
So yes, you are right: the page CAN rank without this. But IF it doesn't rank, H1 can make the difference.
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Mark
If you put a keyword in your title tag then you put it in your H1. You then have an opportunity to target relevant keywords in your H2 tags. I like to pick up the plural keyword in my H1 and the singular in my H2.
Take this example:
Title: A blog about apples
H1: Everything you need to know about apples
H2: what is an apple?
Hell, if you don't do that Google will probably work out that the page is about apples but by doing that you are telling it exactly what the page is about and what words are important to you.
You can continue the structure by utilizing keywords in bold and links out to authority sites in the paragraphs of content.

Rennie » Mark
Thanks for that! That's pretty standard, but I appreciate your response. My question is around leaving a keyword out of an h1 for readability and User Experience (UX). Keywords often working easily in blog content, but often clunky (in H1) on a well branded navigation page.
Mark » Rennie
I know it was SEO 101 but its hard to know what level everybody is at on here.
For me being able to incorporate keywords in all aspects of content from Headings to paragraphs whilst making the sentences sound human is what makes a good copywriter.
I mainly work with finance companies and I've never come across any product or subject that the team hasn't been able to get the keywords into the copy.
Rennie » Mark
Cool. I consider myself a good copywriter, hence the question haha

Friar
I am amazed at how much importance so many people are putting in a single keyword in a single location. It's one signal Google is going to use. If everything is good, the keyword is used in other strategic places, one keyword in an H1 is not going to make or break the SERPs for that page unless your competitors are exactly as relevant this is the tie breaker.
Especially considering that Google doesn't really care if you use H1s or DIVs styled to look like a heading.
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Brian » Friar
I know it's crazy, isn't it?
<snark>And books don't really need Titles either because of all those other words that are already in the book that explain what the book is about. </snark>
Why leave out a key piece that does so much for so little effort?
Friar » Brian
Not really an accurate comparison though is it? You can make a DIV look exactly like a title, so it's not like you left the title off the book altogether. Books also use complex titles. For example, can you tell what world wide best seller "The E Myth" is about? No? I would guess most people can't. Lucky for them, they have an "H2" so the cover also says "Why Most Small Businesses Don't Work and What to Do About It." Pretty sure Google reads the entire page, so it's not like they're going to understand a page because of a single keyword in an H1.
Why leave out a key piece that does so much for so little effort? Well first of all, what makes you think one detail "does so much" that you can't rank without it? You don't even have to have an H1 on a page to rank. Plus, the OP told you why – the title doesn't read right with that particular keyword in it.
Brian
It's possible to swim upstream against the current, too, but why do it?
There are plenty of ways to include a primary keyword in an H1 without concerns that "it doesn't read right."
As far as the "just use a DIV" approach, do a split test.
Take 10 of your top-ranking pages and remove the primary keyword from your H1. Then get back to us in a week or two and let us know if there is any difference.
Rennie » Brian
Sometimes there isn't a way, hence my question.
Brian
Hey Rachel, yes it's possible to optimize for your primary and related keywords without having it in your H1.
My only point above is just that it's an easier lift if you can include it. There are lots of other objects on the page (and within your site and with your offsite properties) you can leverage to rank for the keywords you care about on any given web page.
Rennie » Brian
Cool, I'm thinking site and brand wide, rather than just this one page.
Friar
Once again, you are basing this on the importance of H1s from years ago, like back when wrapping a logo in an H1 was popular. You do not even have to have H1 tags at all. See my reply to Stewart below in the comments.
Brian » Friar
Once again, I am not.
No one said you can't rank for your primary keyword without it being in an H1.
The point is that including it in your H1 just makes it that much easier.
Friar » Brian
See my other reply. A keyword in an H1 is such a tiny rank signal that its basically not relevant. There are other far more important things to consider. For the search that was suggested, only one site even had a keyword in an H1. The one item isn't going to make a significant difference especially is there is a strong content and link strategy backing the keyword.
Brian » Friar
No worries. Be you boo.
Leverage your domain name, URL, Title tag, and H1 (and supporting relevant H tags) and add decent, relevant page content and you are in good shape.
Focus on just the first four and you are off to a solid start.
Choose not to leverage those first four and you are just creating add'l work for yourself.
We always look to fully leverage them, H1 included.
Cheers.
Rennie » Friar
This was my line of thinking (the first section of your reply). Plus it's a nav page, that while I understand is important, needs to focus more on UX and readability. There's a content strategy backing up the keyword happening on the blog.

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Friar
So Stewart had a great suggestion that might make some of you reconsider your reply.
I googled "local marketing experts" in a Chrome incognito window and here is what I found –
This is the #1 organic result http://localmarketingexperts.org/
– There isn't a single H1 on the page
– There is an H2 with an improperly formed ID on the page, no keywords in the H2 at all
– The keyword "local marketing experts" appears on the page 8 times, every time in a DIV
– They don't use Secure Sockets Layer (SSL)
– This is an exact match domain (EMD)
This is the #2 organic result https://www.mediagistic.com/about/local-experts
– There is a single H1 on the page
– The keyword "local marketing experts" appears twice on the page, once in the H1 and once in an H3
This is the #3 organic result https://www.americaslocalmarketingexperts.com/
– They don't have a single H1 on the page
– The keyword "local marketing experts" only appears in the TITLE tag, no where else on the page
– Keyword appears in the domain name
This is the #4 organic result https://localmarketinginstitute.com/
– The only H1 is wrapped around the logo
– The keyword "local marketing experts" only appears on the page once in a P tag
This is the #5 organic result https://localmarketinginc.com/why-lmi/our-team/
– There is a single H1 on the page with no keywords in it
– The keyword "local marketing experts" does not appear anywhere on the page
Based on this particular search, H1s with keywords don't seem to really matter at all. Of the top 5 pages, 2 don't use H1 at all, 1 only used an H1 around a logo, 1 used an H1 with no keywords at all, and 1 used and H1 with the selected keyword.
The best result was the worst site technically. It had numerous errors on the page including malformed tags, didn't use any H1s, didn't use SSL, spammed the keyword on the page, but it's an exact match domain (EMD).
So should you use the focus keyword in an H1? Sure if it makes sense. But I wouldn't worry about it if you don't.
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Abbas
That's a good answer.
Stewart » Friar
Winner nicely done ✅
Mark » Friar
A local + search term search will show results closest to your location which contain the search term anywhere in their website. Google fills these 10 by deciding which sites it thinks are relevant to what you are searching for based on your location to them. Therefore a company 5 miles from you might just have marketing and expert in the copy and they could still make the top 10 (depending on competition)
As you rightly point out, H1 is just 1 of many ranking factors. I imagine if you looked into it you would probably find that the number listing for your location has probably been around a lot and has the best backlink profile of all the sites in the top 10. Whilst 2 with the 1 H1 has less backlinks and hasn't been around as long. If you continued to look then you'd probably find sites below 2 that have more backlinks than it and age but that still rank below it.
Using a local search on what near you could be an uncompetitive search term is a bad example.
Friar » Mark
That's why I used an incognito search. None of the top results are even in the same state that I am in. The sites I listed are from the organic listing, not the map pack.
Mark » Friar
Not talking about the map pack. I have a completely different top 10 to you.
Friar » Mark
Did you use incognito and a Virtual Private Network (VPN)? I got the same results for the top 5 using these settings:
– incognito, no VPN, on Spectrum with an IP from NC
– incognito, no VPN, on Verizon with an IP from TN
– incognito, with VPN, with an IP from WA
My results are not location based at all. They are located in:
Athens, GA
Tampa, FL
Somewhere in California
#4 was private with no obvious clues
Atlanta, GA
Also worth mentioning that I didn't pick the keyword, Stewart did. I also interpreted the keyword as searching for an expert in local marketing, not an expert in marketing that is local to me. My search results would indicate that Google interpreted the intent the same as I did, since it didn't produce a single result in the same state as any of the IP addresses I used or my actual location.
Wilson » Friar
Extremely flawed, especially considering every ranking site that didn't have the H1 was a partial match domain with "local marketing" as part of the domain. Let's look at any ranking site without a partial match domain. Every single one of them has "local marketing experts" in the H1.
Friar » Wilson
How is that flawed? I didn't even pick the keyword. Seems like you are simply suggesting that exact match domain (EMD) and Partial Match Domain(PMD) are more important than keyword in an H1.
The fact that the domains with the keyword in the H1 are not the top results is the point, doesn't matter why they aren't there. Every reason you can come up with that explains that away is just another reason that keywords in the H1 are just not that important.
Wilson » Friar
For a low competition keywords, EMD and PMD are very powerful. Yes, I'm saying that they are more influential for this particular query than the H1. For a query where 10 out of the top 20 ranking domains are homepage rankings, this is true. Google clearly has a particular intent in mind here and it is surfacing many marketing agency homepages.
Maybe we should look at a competitive term that large companies and authority sites rank for? Let's take "artificial intelligence", for example. Every site ranking on Page 1 has it in the H1. Is that coincidence?
Wilson » Friar
Now, imagine you are helping a Fortune 500 company optimize their flagship guide to artificial intelligence and they don't put it in the H1. Are you going to tell them "it doesn't matter" or are you going to have them add the keyword or a close variation to the H1? I know my answer…
Friar » Wilson
My answer is going to depend on the context. In the case of the OP, it didn't sound right in the context of the copy around it. If a Fortune 500 company gives you a Call-To-Action (CTA) they want in the H1 and the rest of the supporting content does the job, that's fine with me because that single item is not so important that it's going to tank the Search Engine Result Pages (SERPs) for the page.
If you run an A/B test with a CTA in the H1 vs the main keyword in the H1 and the CTA results in more revenue but the keyword in marginally better SERPs, which one are you going to pick?
My job is to make the client more money. Part of that is recognizing that a single rank signal is not so important that I'm not going to test if it's the best option for creating revenue.
Friar » Wilson
You also mentioned what is probably the single most important factor – what your competitors are doing.
And guess what? This has been researched extensively. For a particular keyword, where keywords are important in an H1 is directly related to what the competitors are doing. Some keywords the top sites use headings are just styled DIV. Some keywords the top sites use important keywords in the H1.
So like everything else in Search Engine Optimization (SEO), the answer is it depends. There is no unilateral rule that keywords in an H1 are required to rank.
Rennie » Friar
Excellent testing, thank you
Wylde
great!

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