Cleansing Misinformation, One Blog Post at a Time!

Recently a well known SEO blogger mentioned that they didn't understand why real professional SEOs advocate variation between page titles and on-page headings. This blog post is a free SEO consult for that person :)

Hopefully it clears the public SEO space of some misinformation.

Are You Missing Keywords?

People search for literally billions of unique search queries each month. You either target those searchers, or you miss them. Think about how many people query Google every day, and then look at this graphic:

Keyword tools are driven off of a sample of keyword data, and are thus top heavy. In some cases a keyword tool will only show you 5 or 10 related keywords for a core keyword that has driven traffic to a page via hundreds of unique search keywords.

What is Duplication?

Each piece of duplication in your on-page SEO strategy is ***at best*** wasted opportunity. Worse yet, if you are aggressive with aligning your on page heading, your page title, and your internal + external link anchor text the page becomes more likely to get filtered out of the search results (which is quite common in some aggressive spaces).

Even if you build a site (and a particular page) that are authoritative enough to capture a #1 keyword ranking, if your on-page SEO is strong you still get far more traffic from longtail keywords.

How to Include Variation in Your SEO Strategy

So how can you balance your on-page SEO strategy to capture more of the highly valuable search traffic? You can...

  • use singular vs plural
  • use synonyms
  • use various keyword modifiers
  • change word order

The bottom line is using more relevant keyword variations = more traffic.

Apples to Apples

Thinking about this site...we have competitors who have similar site age, way more inbound links, ~10x the number of employees, 5 times as many pages of content indexed by Google, more comments on each page, and yet we still get more search traffic.

Meanwhile I have made over 15,000 forum posts + build out a bunch of other websites (ie: doing a lot of work other than SEO for this site) our relative out-performance on much more limited resources comes from using a smarter and more comprehensive SEO strategy.

We don't get as much Twitter traffic, but then we don't target the hype and misinformation game as well as others do. ;) (Everyone has their own niche target market!)

Bonus Tip

Some people understand SEO on a mechanical level. Others understand it on a holistic level. This is one of those tips that separates the men from the boys. ;)

Some content management systems force the page title and the heading to be the same by default. But both Drupal (Page title) and Wordpress (SEO title tag) have plugins that allow you to make the on-page heading different from the page title. This allows you to optimize for different things. You can...

  • create a headline for RSS readers that is designed around piquing curiosity and/or targeting emotional reactions to pull in clicks
  • create a keyword laden page title that is designed to pull in latent search traffic

Not only does variation allow you to target those 2 different audiences (and pull in more search traffic), but readers often link to content using the official title in the anchor text. So if you make the page title and on-page heading different that can help you get more keyword variation in your inbound link anchor text as well.

Published: September 2, 2009 by Aaron Wall in seo tips


September 2, 2009 - 6:11am

and just because your heading doesn't read exactly as your title does, that doesn't mean you can't relay the same message, i.e., to relieve any possible "off-putting experience".

September 2, 2009 - 6:45am

Thank you for correcting all the false information.

People spit things out like facts, it is nice to have someone willing to stand up and say "wait a minute guys".

For a landing page that is more concerned about direct conversions then it is a balance of whether repeating the Title in the H1 increases conversions enough to make up for the loss conversions from the more tail terms.

Although it turned into a tougher game when the more specific tail terms convert extremely well.

September 2, 2009 - 6:51am

Ha... well said Aaron....

More variations equal more traffic...

Heres the quote from the "professional seo cop"

"no particular benefit to having unique titles vs. H1s"

What a joke... no benefit in having unique titles and h1's.. doesn't he know that more variations and unique words will equal more possible variations of keywords that you'll rank for.... and it will help you avoid being "over optimized" and spammy looking...

guess he doesn't know that...

I've been in search for atleast 4-5 years, fulltime for little over a year and some of the shit I read that these "seo experts/wannabe rockstars" blog about still amazes me how little they truly do know... and how way advanced I may truly be ;)

Now comes the reason why I even visit this persons website once a may be the other authors or just boredom cuz im getting my shit done the smart way ;)..

PS The tail is always bigger than the head....

September 2, 2009 - 7:51am

Starting out in anything we start out seeking to learn the basics, and a lot of the basics in SEO (for those who like holding a book in their hands, writing in the margins and highlighting the pages) come from books as well as web sites. I'm a firm believer in starting with the basics, and returning there often.

Precisely matching up the document name, the page title and the page heading is an extremely aggressive SEO strategy that can backfire, especially since in highly competitive niches the chance of manual scrutiny by Google is more likely.

Variably mixing keyword phrasing and matching related keyword synonyms on a page (and on other topically related pages of the site) creates modules of related content that reinforce and amplify each other. I'm always amazed at how much can be achieved with the proper amount of time and resources invested in SEO.

Thanks for another great post going back to the basics.

September 2, 2009 - 9:49am

How can there be misinformation when nobody truly knows search engine algos. You can say meta keywords no longer work, but can you be 100% sure? Is that a reason not to use them?

@JamesDNash - "the professional seo cop's" information is based on correlations with the data they receive from crawling the web. Their data shows no correlation between keywords in the H1 and rankings.

I suppose it all comes down to testing. If someone finds a trick that really works, they aint gonna share it anyway!

September 2, 2009 - 10:19am

How can there be misinformation when nobody truly knows search engine algos.

You can run tests and track the results. When I use a broader variation of keywords I typically see higher net traffic and higher profits. You are welcome to test this as well. :D

@JamesDNash - "the professional seo cop's" information is based on correlations with the data they receive from crawling the web. Their data shows no correlation between keywords in the H1 and rankings.

Here is the problem though: they were testing crawling vs rankings on individual keywords. You can find a lot of "no correlation" results that are inaccurate by isolating it down to 1 keyword at a time and/or viewing everything as a whole. Each search result has a different make up (or composition).

For example, lots of spam sites or low quality sites could do x. And lots of high quality sites could do y. But each technique (x or y) will be composed on varying percents of websites. And x might (as a whole) generally be seen as a signal of relevancy, even if low quality sites are slightly more likely to do it.

I suppose it all comes down to testing. If someone finds a trick that really works, they aint gonna share it anyway!

I have given away tips worth millions of dollars for free on this blog. And many additional tips I have shared in our community forums.

March 11, 2010 - 4:58am

Im confussed guys. I work as an inhouse SEO and research our competitors everyday. The one thing iv always known is that to much keyword duplication can be bordering KW stuffing. But my top competitors that have been at the top for years have tons of keyword duplication. In some cases 100's of the same KW's. Please chime in on this..

March 11, 2010 - 5:06am

If it is working it is working. ;)

Some market segments are more competitive and spammy than others. But some of the stuff that is working might be working *in spite of* using a particular technique rather than because they are using a particular technique.

Sometimes even correlation analysis will lead to fault results because it looks at a limited number of factors and/or because certain types of site are more likely to do x and most of the sites that do x are not great sites, but some of the better sites doing x benefit from it.

For example, most spammier & automated sites will typically use the same H1 and page title (in part because most automated sites have very little data to build on). And some of these spammier sites might be more likely to be ranked lower (due to a lack of original content and lack of quality links). And some good sites might also do duplication like that. And the end result might be that on average the net impact on the exact keyword being searched is flat, but some do better and some do worse. And there is also the impact on other related keywords as its hard to evaluate just any given keyword in isolation.

March 11, 2010 - 5:12am

So how do you compete if you know it is wrong. The possibility of hurting yourself is a scary thought.

March 12, 2010 - 12:14pm

If you want personalized information on how to build your business through search there is a near endless supply at

September 2, 2009 - 10:07am

since moz is crawling the web and their data doesn't come up with any correlations between h1's and rankings.. well, all that tells me is that alot of people don't use h1's properly because they take the cops advice..

September 2, 2009 - 10:18am

I don't think tons of weight are placed onto heading tags. But I do think that they make it far easier to tip over the line toward getting filtered if they are too well aligned with the page title and the backlink anchor text.

September 2, 2009 - 5:08pm

Just like bolding a keyword, italics, "" a word on your page... this doesn't add a whole ton of benefit to ranking but every little bit counts...

But your right... when you are too in line with your keywords you stand a chance of getting filtered

September 2, 2009 - 2:39pm

Here's a thought. I've worked on countless sites that don't even have any headings (H1, H2, etc) and yet still manage to rank No. 1 for both extremely competitive terms and long-tail variations.

Variation is always good (particularly in page copy and alt. image attributes) simply because it allows a page to capture a wider swath of search terms.

But the bottom line is that even if a page fails to incorporate headings, you're still in good shape as long as your copy (and/or images) have a nice mix of phrases.

P.S. I've talked to the heads of major, world-renowned agencies who have tried to explain to me how aggressive on-page duplication and keyword-density are the keys to the SEO castle. So rest assured that Rand is not alone (and isn't even the biggest culprit).

September 2, 2009 - 3:35pm

Thesis has alternate title capabilities built in (no plugins required) and the cleanest SEO markup on the planet.

Okay, that's the end of this spam comment on SEO Book (first in a series ;-)

September 2, 2009 - 11:53pm

A lot of our sites already have themes for the basic site existing and then I use Themespress to convert those designs into a Wordpress theme. But if we were starting from scratch we could use Thesis sometimes. :)

September 2, 2009 - 4:52pm

I agree that most big keywords are followed by a long tail with more traffic and higher conversions, but this isn't always the case. Just offering some edge case nuance that would detract from the main article.

I've analyzed some top positions for some big keywords and found the 1 - 3 primary terms outweigh the tail. Keywords with no geographic patterns, well understood meaning, and few variations in phrasing.

September 2, 2009 - 11:51pm

Yup...sometimes the longtail stuff (when it gets REALLY deep longtail) is harder to match up against relevant advertising. And sometimes the head keyword is most of the volume. But of all of our sites we run (dozens) there are only 2 sites where the core keyword accounts for anywhere near half or more of the traffic...whereas on most our sites the lead keyword sends in less than 5% of the search traffic.

September 12, 2009 - 8:21am

Wow Aaron! I'm impressed that's a great post. I really feel like I now understand how SEOs are competing for highly competitive (common) keywords. Your example of what you are doing VS that other guy is great. And you opened my eyes to some of the on-page duplication that I see happening on a lot of websites.

I have given away tips worth millions of dollars for free on this blog. And many additional tips I have shared in our community forums.

- Very true, thank you for all you have given! :)

September 13, 2009 - 2:30am

Glad you value the advice and realize the difference between wisdom vs basic (but often incorrect) advice offered elsewhere. :D

September 23, 2020 - 4:06pm

I'm amazed that this post is from 2009! It's mindblowing. I'm a begginer blogger and have been creating my first posts, currently on my 10th one, and been reading everything and everywhere on SEO tips, and most often, the majority of the tips are telling that we need to repeat the same keyword on every significant place (title, headers, slug, content, alt image). And then even the Yoast plugin counts how many times your keyword has been used and gives a warning that "your keyword has to be used 13 times on this post", making you believe that you need to stuff that same word over and over through all the text.
We are in 2020! And yet, in 2009 you were already telling this is not a good thing.. insane
Now I'm changing all the SEO on each page, as I've repeated the same words over and over too many times.

Thank you for this post!

January 29, 2021 - 8:11am

some old stuff may be less true over time, but having a diverse vocabulary on the page will help it rank better for a broader array of keywords.

one thing to note is long ago doing this was super duper valuable because search engines were literal text matching machines (or largely so) and then over time they got better at tracking end user clickstream data and seeing what keywords related pages ranked for, testing ranking pages for related terms, and seeing how users interact with them.

they made a couple changes called Hummingbird and then RankBrain and BERT which allowed them to better try to match things instead of text strings and then infer page topiic based on factoring in things like clickstream data and inferring search intent based on the search query to better match what they think you were searching for with pages they feel match that same intent.

In some ways some of the obscure longtail SEO opportunities have disappeared with some of the sites that rank well on higher-traffic related core terms also getting a higher rank out into the tail of conceptually related searches.

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