TITLE Tag SEO

title-tag-seo

An internal analysis by Google, found that over 90% of their web properties could have improved their SEO simply by optimizing the TITLE tag format and length.

Here are just few pointers on why titles are important:

  • Titles are one the most noticeable visual elements on the results page, so they can determine whether or not users will click on your listing or not.
  • The title tag is (still) one of the most important on-page SEO factors.
  • When others link to your pages, they tend to use the page title as anchor text.

Ok, I know, technically <TITLE> is not really a tag (it’s an “element”), but since everybody calls it a tag, I will use the same.

SEO tips for titles are listed later within the article, but first I want to debunk a popular myth about TITLE tag.

Myth: webmasters (and even SEO professionals) believe that the content wrapped inside the TITLE tag is the only spot that Google uses to display the blue part of the search result snippet:

title-snippet-serp

The blue part of a search result snippet is usually generated from the TITLE tag

Fact: To display those blue titles Google uses relevancy rather than blindly displaying the content within <title> and </title>. For example, if the title of your page is missing, or is improper or malformatted,  Google will use other signals to display a relevant title.

This is why one of the most frequent questions of Google Webmaster Help forum is:

Why is Google changing/rewriting/not indexing my TITLE tag properly?

As mentioned before, Google’s mission is relevancy as much as they can. To accomplish that, Google use various sources and signals, which can be onpage signals (relevant parts from body content and headings, for example) or external sources (DMOZ or Yahoo! directory) to match user query with relevant search results.

There are cases when search engines need to modify the displayed titles, such as missing:

- malformed tag

- too short or too long titles

- URL is blocked by robots.txt but has lots of backlinks and they still decide to show it to users.

Watch the video below from Matt Cutts to hear it from the horse’s mouth, if you don’t believe me.

It is not that Google doesn’t index your titles correctly, it’s just that relevancy comes before whatever you put within the TITLE tag.

TITLE tag tips

When writing TITLE tags there are 3 masters to serve: SEO(rankings), CTR (clicks) and ROI(revenue). Order them any way you want, all of them are important and should play a role when crafting the perfect title. Most of the tips listed here are for SEO (rankings) and not CTR or ROI oriented.

Below is a list of recommendations that one should take into consideration when writing with SEO in mind.

Non HTML documents

The title for non HTML documents (such as .pdf or .doc files) is taken from the anchor texts pointing to the document, or from the document’s properties.

SERP CTR

It is known that  AdWords titles have the largest impact on the CTR of your ads. In a similar way, the blue titles listed in SERPs influence click-throughs on results, the most. SERP CTR (along with SERP bounce rate) is (just) one of the social metrics used by Google to rank websites; therefore better CTR could mean better rankings. Create enticing titles that attract clicks and focus on persuading users rather than search engines.

Hx matching

One method to reinforce the relevance of a document is by matching heading(s) on the page with the TITLE tag. If you can do an exact match between H1 and the title of the page, it will add more weight to the document outline. Since the exact match between the two is not always possible you should aim at least at having the keyword from the TITLE tag repeated within other headings (H2 or H3).

Remember, the words in the title of the page should reflect the content of that page and should be present within the content, otherwise search engines may not display your original title in the search results pages.

Keyword significance consolidation

This is a great tip that will help you increase your site keywords’ significance, which in return will create more “authority” around the targeted keyword:

1) on the home page, place the most top-level generalized keyword for your website at the very beginning of the TITLE tag

2) repeat that keyword on ALL other internal pages at the end of the title tag (after the brand name, if it’s the case, even if the title is going to be longer than 65 chars).Ideally, the reinforced keyword should come after the 65 char limit

3) make sure that keyword shows at least twice per hundred words copy on each page of the website

4) consolidate anchor texts from internal pages to point to the home page using the keyword used the beginning of the title tag on home page

On our own website, see how nicely the most significant keywords are floating around optimization, marketing and search:

site wide keyword significance

The number of occurrences dictates the keyword significance

Geo-targeting

If you’re targeting a specific region/city/province, it’s advisable to mention it in the TITLE tag in order to show up for a local search query such as “Vancouver SEO“. This approach is great when you’re a start up and can compete on low to medium difficulty keywords only. Once you grow and support your rankings with external backlinks, you can revise the targeted keywords and geo-targeting options.

Ecommerce sites should build unique pages for each retail store in their chain. The address (at least city and state/province, should be placed in the TITLE tag and the pages should support and reinforce the address with addresses and geo tagged images (link to image tag).

Holiday Specific Titles

You will love this technique, but you’ll hate me for making you work harder.

User behaviour is changing around holidays (boxing day, mother’s day, Halloween, etc) and so is the way they search. If you’re an online retailer (or if you know that your audience might be searching for specific events related keywords) you should be able to change your titles easily to accommodate that behaviour change. Around Christmas, it’s much more enticing for users to see and click on “Christmas Gifts for Him. All Items on Sale & FREE Shipping” than “Gifts for Him. All Items on Sale & FREE Shipping“.

christmas titles in serps

The titles are changed to match user behavior during Christmas

For more information on this please read the article holiday-specific titles.

Char count

The char count is very misunderstood. First, Google doesn’t index only 65 chars (or close), but rather as many as 250 chars (I’ve read about 1000 chars being entirely indexed). Secondly, it displays 65-75 chars, cropping the complete words if the title length (in pixels widths) run over a certain  limit. Knowing this it opens doors to new opportunities, such as thinking your titles in blocks rather than a one piece. It may worth testing a bit:

1) First block, the first 65 characters, where you would craft your perfect title (keywords, branding and call to action). This will be the title seen by people on search engines.

2) Second block, second-tier keywords, plurals, synonyms or other strategies. On pages other than the home page you can repeat the top most important keyword for your website, at the very end of the title.

Branded titles

If some SEO experts are advising you to remove the brand name from your titles, they could be wrong. You should know better than them the goal of your organic traffic campaign and should act accordingly:

- if you have a well established brand (i.e. Amazon) you may want to have the brand at the beginning of the title;

- if you are trying to build a brand and your efforts are sustained by SEO, brand name will be the first word

- If your brand has some recognition you can still place and your campaign goal is to drive unbranded traffic, the brand name can be placed at the end of the tag.

- If you’re company name is not well known, or if you don’t care about branding, don’t put your brand name in the title at all

amazon branded title tags

Big brands like Amazon are branding their page titles right at the beginning of the tag

Keyword prominence

The main targeted keyword should be at the beginning of the TITLE tag. Period!

Keyword proximity

If you target keywords with more than two words, they better be one next to each other, i.e. if you target “marketing services” you should not have anything in between the two words.

Modifiers

Modifiers are those words that can be placed before or after your targeted keyword, to address a specific segment of the market. Keywords can be generally categorized into 3 main categories informational/educational, transactional/purchase intent and navigational/geo-location.

Depending on the pages you write titles for, you can add a transactional modifier (buy, sale, discount, cheap) for product pages, directional/geo (Vancouver, BC or Seattle, WA) on store locations page or educational/informational (learn, discover, read, find) for your white papers or case studies/success stories.

Keywords order

In many cases you will find that there’s a different search volume for the same 2-word combinations. For example “Vancouver SEO” has a different search volume compared with “SEO Vancouver“. Obviously, you should focus on the keyword with highest demand. You can compensate the other keyword with internal anchor support and/or by including it within your description, headings and main body content.

vancouver seo has different search volume than seo vancouver

The two keywords have different search volumes

Singular, plural or both?

Google doesn’t recommend repeating the same word more than twice in a TITLE tag. But is the plural considered a repetition of the singular? Given the way search engines interpret content (by bringing the word to their root form) I would tend to say, yes, it is a repetition. But you will be fine if you use the keyword no more than twice, once in singular and once in plural. This strategy may have some impact on ecommerce stores, where people may search for “dell laptops” or “dell laptop”. Another option is to write your perfect title in blocks, within the first 65-70 displayed chars and repeat the keywords in a plural/singular variation at the end.

Stop words

Words such as and, or, the, in or for are called stop words. Search engines will most of the time filter them out when computing page relevance. After all, no one cares how many times you’ve use the word “I” or “WE” on a page. You should aim to use as few of them as possible, since you SERPs title space is limited. As a good practice you should remove them from URLs too. In case you’re interested here’s txt file with more stop words.

Separators

The most used separator is the pipe sign “|” but others are acceptable too, such as hyphens and commas. Do not use underscores or use any of the following special characters in title text: ‘ ” < > { } [ ] ( ).

Some websites are using catchy titles that use a lot of non alphabet symbols, such as ~~~!FREE iPODS!~~~ to grab attention and possibly higher CTRs. Keep in mind that use of special symbols may get you better CTR but also might rise spam penalties.

Char savers

If you need to squeeze more text you can replace word like “and” with & symbol, “or” with / or “copyrights” with ©. Remember to implement special chars using HTML entities (& with &amp; © with &copy; and so on).

Other space savers are abbreviations (i.e. instead of search engine optimization you could use SEO) or shorter synonyms for the word, or variations of your chosen key terms, tee-shirt and T-shirt.

The decision on which version should be used, has to be based on the search volume for those keywords and even be based on the content targeted on the page. For example, if your content targets mid stage customers, using the jargon “onsite SEO” in the title might be ok, since they might already be familiar with it, but it may not be used by early stage prospects.

Call to action (CTA)

Your page titles act like headlines within SERPs and a compelling call to action can actually generate more clicks for the page listed #2 than a poor title listed #1. One of the most important element tested in advertising, and conversion rate optimization, are headlines.

Usually, CTA are strong verbs, strong unique selling propositions (USP) or promotional words. Sometimes store/inventory-wide promotions can affect CTR also. An example of a promotional title can look like “All Digital Cameras 60% OFF ……”. There’s an interesting thread on this subject here.

Exact match

If a three/four-word phrase such as “internet marketing services” drives qualified traffic, it’s best to have that exact phrase as opposed to having those words appear out of order, such as “Internet services: marketing and web hosting“.

Capitalization

One or two words can be in uppercase, but an entire title written with caps lock on will raise spam flags, so don’t do it. Keep this in mind when you add document properties for non HTML documents. Capitalizing each first letter of the word is acceptable.

Competitive differentiators

If you know that your target market is sensitive to a particular feature or benefits which is part of your unique selling proposition(lowest price guarantee) or competitive edge(i.e. the only retailer for a product) you can use it to attract more clicks on your listings and differentiate from others (which can generate better conversion rates)

Apart from the entire list of tips, here are some basic, boring things about titles (you already know this stuff, right?):

- Each page should have a TITLE tag (muhahahah)

- TITLE tag should not be empty

- Each page should have only one TITLE tag

- The TITLE tag belongs inside the HEAD section of a web page

- The content of the TITLE tag should be different from the contents of the META description tag

- The TITLE tag of each page should be unique and distinct from the TITLE tags of other pages in a site.

Pitstop Media offers ROI focused SEO services. If you need a SEO company to help you rank #1 please contact us for a free, no obligation quote. We’ve helped companies rank first on Google in short periods of time, for highly competitive terms.

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About 

Traian is Founder and Director of Search Marketing at Pitstop Media Inc. He has more than 11 years experience in helping small and medium businesses generate and convert organic traffic from search engines. Connect with Traian on Google+

 

13 Responses to “TITLE Tag SEO”

  1. pligg.com said:

    Aug 16, 11 at 9:48 pm

    TITLE Tag SEO – The Definitive HTML Reference Guide for Search Engine Optimization…

    Advanced techniques used to improve TITLE’s tag relevance – One of the most complete resources for TITLE tag SEO….

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  2. Don Graham said:

    Nov 20, 11 at 6:07 pm

    I just rated TITLE Tag SEO a 10. You have given direct answers to questions that I have been searching for years to find.
    Thanks,
    Don

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  3. Tavicinity said:

    Apr 19, 12 at 7:53 am

    Great article on Title tag SEO. Very relevant and succint. It certainly plugged some holes in my knowledge, many thanks.
    Josephine

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  4. Chris said:

    May 04, 12 at 3:29 am

    All you need to know about title tags and more. Excellent, informative article – really helped me tune up our title tags.

    Best regards

    Chris

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    Dec 04, 12 at 6:38 am

    Very good and informative article. I learn many new things after complete reading this article. Title Tag is very important if you are doing Search engine optimization because it is the first thing which a visitor see about your page.

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