Can You Beat an H2 with multiple H3s?


Andrew Steven
April 24, 2019


In one of our previous experiments, we tested whether it was possible to trade one keyword optimized H1 for multiple H2s also optimized with a test keyword. We came to the conclusion that no matter how many optimized H2s you add to the page, you cannot outrank a page that has a single optimized H1.

Despite those results, we were not ready to give up on the idea of a possible trade off economy of on-page signals. So, we decided to alter the experiment by looking at 2 lesser signals - H2s and H3s. Are they be valued the same by Google or will an optimized H2 always beat an optimized H3?

In other words, can we beat an optimized H2 with multiple optimized H3s and thus prove that the economy of ranking signals works for lesser signals. Or is it time to close the book on the topic of trade-offs? Read on to find out the answer!

We set up the test like this..

Hypothesis: The page with two optimized H3s will outrank the pages with only one optimized H2

The test was set up in the same way as the H1 vs H2s test: five pages were created and indexed in the normal fashion. Two lines were created in lorem ipsum, both containing the target keyword - these lines would be used for H2, H3, and paragraph text. 

On the experiment (variable) page (page #3), both lines were added as H3s with lorem ipsum text optimized for keywords while all other pages (1, 2 ,4 ,5) had one H2 and a regular paragraph sentence, all with the test keyword.

May 31st, Initial SERP, showing the page with two H3s:

Similar to the previous experiment, immediately after  keywords were removed from H2s and added to the H3s, the variable page (previously ranked #3) dropped to the bottom. At this point, the goal was to continue adding keyword optimized H3s to the variable page until its ranking increased.

Page with two H3s:

Page with 1 H2 and paragraph text:

June 1st - SERP shows the variable page dropping to the bottom of the results:

Another H3 was added to variable page:

The same line was added to the other pages as a regular text line:

After no movement, another H3 was added to the variable page and the same line added as regular text to the rest of the pages.

June 27th - SERP still shows no movement of the variable page:

                                                                                           June 15th

Here is what we discovered

At the start of the experiment, the variable page containing two H3s dropped in rank below the rest of the pages that contained only one H2 and a regular paragraph line optimized for the keyword. In spite of additional H3s being added to the page, the variable page never moved.

This test was run three times, and the result stayed the same - it was impossible to beat one H2 with multiple H3s, just like it was impossible to beat the H1 with H2s no matter how many were added to the page.

Final Takeaway

Since the goal of the experiment was to determine once and for all whether the economy of ranking signals works in real life for lesser signals or not, the results of the tests helped to let the cat out of the bag. As with the H1 vs H2s test, we couldn’t add enough H3s to the page to overtake an H2. Moreover, by the end of the test, the pages were over optimized. 

Based on the results of this experiment, we can state with certainty that both H2 and H3 signals are treated as separate signals in the algorithm. As such, it’s useless to try to trade a number of H2s or H3s for something else, especially something that is higher the ladder in terms of a signal.

When it comes to optimization, as with H2s, we recommend optimizing your pages for the number of H3s as it appears that Google is rewarding it. Do not look to adding H3s to a page with the goal of gaining an edge on your competitors with this signal, especially if you are in a competitive niche.

First, look at your competitors and analyze the number of H2s and H3s they are averaging. This is probably the range that you want on your page in order to provide what Google is looking for. Luckily, PageOptimizer Pro does exactly that - by comparing competitor pages, PageOptimizer Pro can tell you with 100% certainty which keyword to put where.

About the author 

Andrew Steven

Andrew has been building and managing SEO teams since 2008 where he led the largest SEO firm in Australia. Since meeting Kyle and partnering to form High Voltage SEO Andrew has been Kyle Roof’s man behind the scenes and together with Maria Dubretic have since co-founded the SEO tool PageOptimizer Pro. Andrew wishes he could stop dreaming about digital marketing in his sleep and would love to hear from anyone who has a cure for this.

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