Search Engine Optimization (SEO) is a big and complex topic. There is a lot of confusion around on-page SEO and best practices. This mainly due to the ugly history of HTML (Hyper Text Markup Language, the underlying language of how web pages are written and displayed).
This article will clear up one of the most common confusions of all: the difference between a page URL, Title and H1 (Heading 1).
These are all different yet related and extremely important parts of SEO.
The term URL stands for Uniform Resource Locator and is the unique address of a resource (file, web page, image, anything) on the web. To put it simply, it is made up a hostname (commonly called a domain name) and a resource name.
If we are talking about web pages and blog posts, then this resource name is the page URL, also known as slug. Basically, the part after the first forward slash after your domain name.
So the URL for this page is https://citizenaffiliate.com/url-title-and-h1-tags-in-wordpress-seo/
There are lots of best practices for URLs and I talked about them in a lot of detail in this post about URLs and SEO.
But basically, try to make sure the URL for your page is:
It is ideal if your URLs change rarely if ever. I would also therefore recommend that you don’t put terms that could change or become out of date, such as years into your URLs. You don’t want to keep updating your guide to best SEO practices of 2017 I mean 2018 I mean 2019.
You can much more easily change the title and H1 tags (we’ll get to this shortly). Changing the URL of a page will cause the old entry to become broken and de-indexed. You’ll lose search ranking position (for a few weeks) and you’ll need to set up 301s (redirects) to make sure people going to old URLs get sent to the new one.
You can set the URL of a page in WordPress by changing the Permalink setting at the top of the page.
WordPress creates a default one based on your Permalink settings (make sure to change it from Plain to Post Name as the very first thing you do when you set up your WordPress site!). But you can later change it to whatever you want.
The next element to consider is the page’s Title. This is a formal HTML entity defined the W3C (World Wide Web Consortium) specification for HTML5 (the latest and probably last version) and earlier versions. Each page needs exactly one title tag (never more than one), within the <head></head> block, to be considered valid HTML.
The page title is what it says – the title of the page! It is an extremely important element and is used for several purposes.
It is displayed in the browser tab for that particular page (all browsers use the Title tag for this)
It is displayed as the name of the page in the search results when your page comes up in a search
It is used by search engine crawlers as a key piece of information about the content and meaning of your page.
The title should obviously tell people what your page is about. By default, WordPress and SEO plugins like Yoast will add a separator and the name of your website after your page title. That’s fine and I wouldn’t mess with that much.
Keep in mind however that most people consider around 60 characters to be an ideal length for a page title. Yoast has a nifty feature where it will display your page’s full title as it would appear in a Search Engine Results Page (SERP), including the separator and website name. And it shows a colour code for how good your title length is (too short is bad, too long is bad).
Meta Title is the weird bastard child of this bunch. There is a lot of confusion and nonsense out there around this thing.
Basically, meta tags are bits of information in your HTML that tell programs like Google crawlers things about your page, but are never shown to the user. So people looking at your site would never see what the Meta Title of your page is.
By default, the Meta Title of your page will be the same as the title. Keep in mind that it is fully optional (the W3C specification doesn’t require a page to have a meta title to be valid HTML), and that nobody will ever see it.
So who does see it and what do they do with it? Well web crawlers and robots do, though I don’t really know what they do with it, since every page on the web has a real visible Title tag, which is the actual title.
I haven’t found out a way in WordPress to change the Meta title without changing the Title of a page, though I’m sure there is one. And I don’t really know why you would want to.
Theoretically, Yoast lets you change the Meta Title by editing the title in the Snippet Editor. But this is really just changing the actual Title (go test it if you don’t believe me), and then Yoast automatically sets the Meta Title to be whatever the Title is.
It can probably be done by mucking around with the wp_title function in your WordPress PHP files, but I really wouldn’t do that unless you know what you’re doing.
Nearly all web pages also have an H1 tag, which is an abbreviation of Heading 1. This is not required to be valid HTML markup, though they are almost universally used.
Headings describe the content sections of a page. The intention is that a Heading 1 is the highest level heading, Heading 2s are sub-sections of Heading 1, Heading 3s are sub-sections of Heading 2s, and so on.
Unlike the page Title, Headings are actually shown on the page (the Title only appears on the browser tab). By default, WordPress will create one and only one H1 and set it to be the page title. However, not that this is the “pure” page title that you set at the top of the WordPress editor, not the full title with a separator and website name.
Headings, including Heading 1, are not only important to readers of your page, but they are also used by search engines to infer what your page is about.
They place (marginally) more importance on words in headings than in paragraphs. This is why it is important to put keywords in your Heading 1 and Heading 2s (though don’t stuff them).
There are also less importance on heading levels as the numbers go up, so I don’t think you need to bother with Heading 4s (unless you feel you need for human readers, to break up a really long article).
Heading 1s aren’t shown in SERPs, so you can make them as long as you like.
For this reason, the H1 of a page is often longer than the title (which is often longer than the URL). You can make the H1 different to the Title by changing the post name (at the top of the WordPress editor) to be whatever you want for your H1, then going down to the snippet editor in Yoast and manually changing the SEO title part to be what you want for your Title tag.
Thus an example of a URL, Title and H1 would be something like:
I hope you found this article helpful and hope it cleared up some of the confusion around URLs, Titles and Headings for WordPress SEO! Do you still have any questions? Or have you discovered any other tips on this topic? Leave them in the comments below!