Google *loves* the H1 tag

(The short version, in case you don’t want to read more: have H1 tags in your pages, containing the keywords you’re interested in. It pays off)

Isn’t it frustrating when your page doesn’t even appear in Google for your target keywords? It can be even worse:

  • you may not be targeting competitive keywords at all, and there may be no competing products at all.
  • There can be several other pages, about your product, and linking to your page, actually appearing on the results!

This is what was happening to me with the main page of my product, ViEmu. ViEmu provides vi/vim emulation within visual studio, so pretty obviously the target keyphrases are “vi visual studio” and/or “vim visual studio”. The product and the page have been there, accessible through http://www.ngedit.com/viemu.html since late last July. There have been quite many mentions of it, which link to that page, from blogs, review sites, etc… The page has been indexed all along, and appearing on the top results page of Google for things like “visual studio vi emulation” or, quite obviously, “viemu”. But it didn’t even register on the much more interesting “vi visual studio” and “vim visual studio” search phrases. By this, I mean it was nowhere to be seen on the first 40 pages of results or so. What’s even funnier is that many of the mentions of my page did appear there, even on the first few pages.

I have an adwords campaign (read my report on adwords for details on the effectiveness, click fraud, etc), which helps out, but I’d really prefer to be on the main results. What’s more, I couldn’t easily understand why I wasn’t.

Trying to understand how Google sorts its results is a tricky task, as well as a moving target. But I had an advantage: a certain review from Tobias Gurock over at Gurock Software was scoring incredibly on search results - it was on the first or second page of the results for the interesting searches! So I decided to have a look at it and try to find out why Google liked it so much.

The first thing to check, obviously, was whether that page had a significantly higher PageRank, or many more incoming links. Actually, it seemed to be about the same as mine (PR5), so that probably wasn’t it. Even other reviews, with much lower PR, did at least appear after page 3 or 4 of the results.

So that left the actual content itself. After some review, discarding the title, presence of the keywords, etc… I got it down to two differences:

  • The name of the html file, in their case, contains the keywords (it’s “http://software.gurock.com/postings/vi-emulation-for-visual-studio/25/”)
  • …and their H1 tag is “Vi emulation for Visual Studio” (today it also includes a self-link, but I think it used to contain just the text before they moved to WordPress)

Changing the filename was out of question – with all the links out there, I wouldn’t want to lose that. A 301 http redirect may be a possibility, but I was weary of Google consequences (I could make it even worse, possibly losing the accumulated PR).

But the H1 tag… see, my original web site design did not include an H1 tag at all. Along the product’s logo, I had a graphical rendering of the name – not leaving room for a text H1 tag.

So, I decided to “upgrade” those pages to having an H1 tag. The contents of the tag: pretty obvious, “ViEmu: vi/vim emulation for Visual Studio”. The text rendering of this title looked fine, so on February the 11th, I uploaded the new ViEmu pages. And started waiting.

Google comes often to my site (daily?), so that was fast. About a week afterwards, Google’s cache started showing the new content. So now I knew it was already there. The search results, anyway, kept on the same.

But around the 21st (last Tuesday), I found out to my grateful surprise that my page started appearing on the first results page, around #5. During all of last week, it was a bit unstable – some searches would work fine, but searching a few hours later would show the old results with my page nowhere. This week, finally, about 90% of the searches already show the new results!

I attribute the instability to the results requiring propagation around Google’s servers, which is expectedly a slow process. I’m guessing (and hoping) it will disappear altogether in a few more days.

Lessons learned? Always include a header in your design (I guess an image with alt text may work as well, but I’m not trying). Name the html files with the relevant keywords, not just with your product name.

And be prepared to learn a lot!

6 Responses to “Google *loves* the H1 tag”

  1. Eric W. Bachtal Says:

    Interesting. Maybe this explains why my blog keeps getting first-page ranking for so many searches for which I *know* there are more popular (and, in a lot of cases, more relevant) entries available. My TypePad template utilizes a lot of H2s and H3s, not H1s, but the pages do tend to be named for the post title. Hmm.

  2. Chip Norkus Says:

    For what it’s worth, your site is #1 on MSN/Windows Live Search for vi visual studio (and vim). ;)

  3. J Says:

    (I already told Chip by e-mail but) it’s been #1 on MSN & Yahoo for a long time, so I haven’t worried. Also, because 10x as much search engine traffic comes from google over the other two.

    Another thing I’ve noticed: other pages in ngedit.com have also gained a much better positions. My article on Win32 input is on the first results page for “WM_CHAR”, and top of the second page for “WM_KEYDOWN”. You bet I get quite many people, which is not bad as I think the article on that is pretty informative.

    The fun thing is that that article was for one or two weeks on the top page for some time after I posted it, and then it just disappeared. Back then, I thought it was because Google would appreciate new content. May it have been only due to the h1 thing?

    This SEO thing is an amusing puzzle :)

  4. The growing pains of NGEDIT » Blog Archive » Rough strategy sketch Says:

    […] The growing pains of NGEDIT A blog on the development of the NGEDIT text editor « Google *loves* the H1 tag […]

  5. MyMicroISV » More Website Tips for Micro-ISVs Says:

    […] It was already discusses by Ben Mc that keywords in the H1 tag are important since it’s something that Google picks up as an important clue for the page relevancy. You should also note that all H1 to H6 headers are good places for such keywords, so if you have headers in your page, be sure to wrap them in the H tags, and don’t forget to put your keywords in the headers. […]

  6. pink Says:

    H1 on me site ist very importante. I use this tag on every page. Sometimes with links.
    Very usefull article.

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