Can You Beat an H1 with multiple H2s?

It’s pretty obvious that an H1 tag is a stronger ranking signal than an H2 right? This was proven in one of our previous experiments, where we combined on page elements into 4 groups representing the importance of keyword presence. H1 tags, Meta title, body content and URL were confirmed to be the top weighting on page elements for keyword placement.

But what if your client decides not to use an H1 for design reasons? Is it possible to trade one ranking factor for another, or, in this case, outrank one H1 with several H2s? In other words, how many H2 sub headers do you need to surpass the “strength” of an H1? We ran several tests to find the answer and we can’t wait to share it with you!

We set up the test like this..


The goal was to find out whether it’s possible to trade multiple H2s for an H1. And, if so, to determine the sweet spot, or optimal number of H2s.

We set up five test pages and ran the experiment three times. For the test setup, we created two lines of lorem ipsum text, both containing the target keyword, - we would use those lines in H1, H2 and paragraph text. The page ranked #3 received two H2s with lorem ipsum text optimized for keywords. The pages ranked 1, 2, 4, and 5 each received an H1 and one extra line of paragraph text, all with the test keyword. Every new round of tests, we added one H2 with the target keyword to the page that originally ranked #3, adding the same line as a paragraph to the pages that originally ranked 1, 2, 4, 5. 


Hypothesis: A page with two optimized H2s will outrank a page with one optimized H1.

Immediately after keywords were removed from H1s and added to the H2s, the page dropped to the bottom. At this point, the main idea was to continue adding keyword optimized H2s until the page would rise to the top. 

Since we didn’t want to mess up keyword density or word count, instead of adding another H1, an extra line of paragraph text was added - this way, both keyword density and word count would remain the same.

Initial SERP, showing the page with two H2s:

WordPress dashboard of page with two H2s:

WordPress dashboard of pages with an H1:

May 31st

SERP shows that the page with two H2s dropped to rank #5:

                                                                                           June 1st

Added an optimized H2 to the test page:

Also added the same line as regular paragraph 

text to the rest of the pages:

                                                                                           June 6th

SERP result shows the test page remained at rank #5.

Another H2 was added to the test page:

The same line was added as regular text to

the other pages:

                                                                                           June 15th

The test page remained at the #5 rank.

...

After no movement, an additional line was added in 

the same pattern as before - 6 H2s:

H1 with 5 lines as regular text:

                                                                                           June 27th

Still no movement of the test page.

Here is what we discovered

As we continued adding H2s to the page, the test page would never rise. It actually ended up sticking to the number 5 spot through the end of the testing period. We got to the point where we reached 6 H2s with the test keyword on the page and it simply would not move up. 

At this point, there were so many H2s with the keyword as a strong ranking signal, that we ended up over-optimizing the page even before we could overtake the H1. After running this test three times, the results stayed the same - it was impossible to beat the H1 with H2s no matter how many were added to the page.

Final Takeaway

The goal of this experiment was to prove whether the economy of ranking signals works in real life and whether Google approves the trade-off in the first place. Based on the consistent results of three tests, we came to the conclusion that however many keyword optimized H2s added to the page, it’s not possible to outrank a page with the keyword in the H1. In a worst-case scenario, you can even end up over-optimizing your page. You can’t equal the value of a stronger signal with a certain number of a lesser signal.

This experiment showed that a page can be both under and over-optimized. Fortunately, with PageOptimizer Pro you know exactly which keyword signals to use and where exactly to put them.

Plans start at $10 only*

One Reply to “Can You Beat an H1 with multiple H2s?”

  1. What means “But what if your client decides not to use (a)n H1 for design reasons?” – just use CSS to redefine the h1 size according to the layout and the whole case is solved. Did you try using LSI words in H2s? Another idea is using topic vectorization for H tags in multiple dimensions contextualy relevant to the niche.

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