The Difference between Title Tags and H1 Tags

One of the valuable features of the Monsido SEO and webmaster tool is that it shows you places in your website where you are missing Title Tags or H1 Tags (heading tags). We’ve found that a lot of our users mistakenly think that these are the same thing. While there are a lot of similarities between a Title Tag and a H1 Tag there are some important differences and, if you don’t use them properly, it could hurt your rankings.

What's the Difference?

In HTML terms, a Title Tag is expressed as "title" and the H1 Tag is expressed as "h1". Both serve as titles to describe what your webpage is about.

Because both the Title Tag and the H1 Tag share the same broader purpose, it is easy to understand why people confuse them. It is further confused by the fact that a lot of content management systems are set up to automatically match your Title Tags and H1 Tags (and URL too). But keep in mind that content management systems are set up with the novice user in mind, and not for people who need to pay attention to the finer details of SEO so they can rank in competitive niches.
The main difference between Title Tags and H1 Tags is where they appear:

  • Title Tags: These are what show up in search engines. It is the hyperlink that searchers will click on.   It also shows up in the title bar at the top of the web browser, and is the default title used when someone bookmarks the page. Title Tags DO NOT appear on the actual webpage!
  • H1 Tags: This is what users will see on your webpage. It is in large text and acts as a title for the page.   H1 Tags usually DO NOT appear in search engines!

SEO Benefits

Including relevant Title and H1 Tags with keywords is incredibly important for SEO because it helps Google understand what your website is about. It also helps Google understand what is most important on that page.

Where a lot of people go wrong is omitting Title Tags on their pages, or using generic tags which don’t actually describe what the specific webpage is about. For example, you might see pages like this:
Bad title tag
This company offers IP Protection services. But they didn’t bother to specify that in any Title Tag, so it will be hard for the Google bots to understand. When I checked their webpage source code, I found that the H1 Tag was set as:

H1 Tag: "For where your business needs to be"

How is Google supposed to figure out what the website is about without any relevant information in the Title or Header of the page?

User Experience Benefits

When we talk about website optimization, we usually talk about “what Google likes.” But bear in mind that all of Google’s search engine algorithms were created with user experience in mind. If you focus on providing a good user experience, then you can bet your site will be optimized.

In the example above, it isn’t just the Google bots which would be confused by the page. Imagine if you came across that listing in a search result. The Title Tag gives you absolutely NO clue as to what the webpage is about. Searchers don’t like wasting time, so they probably aren’t going to click on it. Even if they do take the risk and click on it, there is absolutely nothing on the page itself to reassure users that they’ve arrived at the right spot. Rather than spending a lot of time clicking about the webpage to determine what it is about, they are probably just going to go back to the search results and choose another page which clearly expresses that it meets their needs.
We can sum up the role of Title Tag and H1 Tag for user experience in this way:

  • Title Tag: ensures searchers that they have found a relevant page which will meet their needs
  • H1 Tag: Introduces page content and reassures them that it will meet their needs.

Examples of Title Tags and H1 Tags

This company did a great job with their webpage tags. The Title Tag immediately tells users what they can find on the page. Assuming that the searcher is looking for ferries and minicruises, then they are going to click on the link. Once they get to the page, the H1 Tag not only tells them what to expect on the page, but increases consumer confidence.

If your H1 Tags are so well written that they convince the user to stay on the page, then your Session Duration increases and your Bounce Rate decreases – two important user experience metrics which impact search engine rankings. In this sense, H1 Tags have a big impact on SEO.

Should They Be Different?

There is a lot of debate as to whether you need to write unique info for your Title Tag and H1 Tag. However, the general consensus amongst experts (including Rand Fishkin of Moz) is that it isn’t dangerous to have your Title Tag be the same as your H1 Tag.

Remember that a lot of content management systems by default set the title of the page as the Title Tag and H1 Tag. If the Tags are very relevant, then this probably isn’t going to be a bad thing and may even help create a continuity throughout the user experience.

However, in certain situations, it might be very helpful to use different Title Tags and H1 Tags. Don’t do it just for the sake of getting in more keywords or because you think it will help SEO! Always write tags to reassure the user that they have found the right content!

Here are some examples of web pages which have different Title Tags and H1 Tags. Think about how it affects user experience and what it conveys to the search engines.

Example 1: Amazon Books

title tag example
H1 Tag is: "Best Sellers in Books"

Example 2: Apple iTunes

title tag example
H1 Tag: "iTunes."

Example 3: Home Depot

title tag example
H1 Tag: "Garden & Landscaping Tools"
Why do you think these companies chose to set their Title Tags and H1 Tags this way? How does it impact clicks in the SERPs and user experience? That's something to think about the next time you set your own Title and H1 Tags!

External resources

Webmaster Guidelines - Google's Official Guidelines for Webmasters.

What is a title tag - read here 

What is a head tag - read here