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Removing Random Headers from Homepage

     
12:26 am on Mar 30, 2019 (gmt 0)

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The homepage of my client's site ranks for a number of important keywords, none of which are in the H1s.

The H1s (yes there are multiple H1s) don't contain keywords, in fact.

I want to remove these and create a new H1 with a primary keyword. But I don't want to screw up my existing rankings by changing the content too much.

Do you guys think removing these filler H1s could effect my rankings?

Thanks!
1:41 am on Mar 30, 2019 (gmt 0)

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Yes, it could - any change can.

There is only one way to find out whether - and, if so, how - it will affect them

However, I would personally decide what to do based on the semantic structure of the page, not the possible effect on ranking, and the first place I would look is at the multiple H1s: having more than one H1 is less of a no-go area in html 5, but that doesn't make it best practice.

I'm not even sure what "filler H1s" means, but it doesn't sound like good semantic use.

In general, H1 should address "what this page is about", and if there are subsections these are best dealt with by using H2 to Hn as appropriate. If a keyword is central to the page topic then it belongs in H1. However, simp[y using H1 as a keyword-magnet for search engines is old-school SEO, and hasn't been particularly effective for that purpose for a long time now. It is particlularly ineffective - as likely as not counter-productive - if the keyword isn't strongly associated with the page topic.

The chances are that ranking well for a particular keyword is as likely to result from backlink anchor-text as from whatever H1 contains, but if anchor-text often contains the keyword then it probably corresponds faily well with the page topic anyway.
2:10 am on Mar 30, 2019 (gmt 0)

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<h1> is not required. Start there. :)

However, if the h tags were originally used for page layout and font styling, then change them!

As Wilburforce indicates, h tags for used for semantics, not layout.

At this moment I would keep my first statement in mind before adding a "keyword" h tag. Your page is already ranking for something other than h tags ... If you try to force something different then it is quite possible unintended results will follow.
4:43 am on Mar 30, 2019 (gmt 0)

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Another observation on <hx>

I have a number of successful sites that do NOT have <hx> tags of any kind. From personal experience I an fairly convinced that <hx> has been de-weighted by the se's over the years ... partly due to early abuse for "juice" and stupid font layouts.

That said, I do use <hx> the rest of the sites I own or manage because they are semantically useful for presenting content that can benefit from an "outline" or "section" structure.
2:35 pm on Mar 30, 2019 (gmt 0)

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Most likely it will not make a difference but you never know.

In the past year a client site had the same h1 title for all of their pages (it was the name of the site). We changed and used the H1 as the main title of the page and made sure all the sub sections of the page used the appropriate h tag and saw no changes in the serps.

Forget trying to manipulate Google using the h tags. Your best bet is to use them as tangor suggested. H tags are not required on a page. You can also have more than 1 h1 tag if it makes sense in the content to do so, just make sure all the sub heading tags are correct.
6:19 pm on Apr 3, 2019 (gmt 0)

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All great advice that leads to my next question.

My belief in this case is that homepage should be optimized for a broad query under which the sections of my sight fall. Plus the brand name.

But my employer's homepage's title tag is optimized for two specific terms that are quite different. Plus the brand name.

The thing is, while the homepage isn't ranking for those queries in its title tag, it does technically rank for them in the local 3 pack.

If I change the title tag to some broader, say, "Find a Lawyer and Free Legal Information - Brand Name" do you think we'll lose those 3 pack rankings? I've researched this and can't find a clear answer.

I'm trying to weigh the short term consequences of changing the title tag from specific to broad with the long term benefits of having a home page that ranks for the parent topic.

Thanks!
7:09 am on Apr 4, 2019 (gmt 0)

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@TomSnow

The question "what will happen to my ranking if I change x?" has never had a 100% correct answer. We can only look at what is probable, and employ best practice - as we understand it from our own trial-and-error and from the wider community - to achieve what we hope will be optimum results.

Your specific question overlooks other effects that might be in play. First, on-page factors are not the only variable: backlink anchor-text, in particluar, will affect what terms your page ranks for, as will backlinks more widely. If your index page has many more backlinks than other pages - whatever the anchor-text - Google may return it by default in queries that address site-wide rather than page-specific subjects. Changing the contents of the Title tag or the number and content of H1s may have a weaker effect than this (and in practice, quite possibly, no effect at all).

Second, if your index page contains outward links to term-specific pages, Google may also return it by default, particularly if there is more than one secondary page to which those terms and links apply. This effect will become stronger the more those terms are site-wide rather than page-specific.

In general - but I can't say what effect this might have on the ranking of any of your exisitng pages - it is good practice for Title and H1 to reflect what the page is about, and in the case of your index page that will also reflect what the site is about.

Your dilemma is that any change could damage your ranking in the short and/or longer term (although it could also improve it), but leaving things the same will result in erosion over the longer term anyway: if there is one thing Googlke does like it is freshness. If I were in your position, I think I would make that as clear as I could to my employer, and go ahead with good-practice changes.
10:53 am on Apr 4, 2019 (gmt 0)

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Very good post Wilburforce. I would also add that the page title and H1 tag should be similar but not exactly the same.

Also changing the page title may give the page a slight bump initially because Google likes freshness but then settle back down in a few weeks. In our niche at least this is an annoying practice as a lot of competitors like to add the current month and year to the title to indicate freshness even though the main content of the page has not changed.