A while ago we talked about the meta description tag and how to use it effectively to market your web pages. Today we’re going to discuss the description tag’s counterpart, the title tag. Title tags are one of the most important aspects of search engine optimization for your website. Let’s find out why and how to master creating them.
What is a Title Tag?
The simplest answer to this question is this: When you do a Google search, the listed results show the page title, followed by the URL, then the description. Sort of like this:
The title tag, by being first, bold, and clickable is… uh, kind of noticeable. Thus, kind of important. It’s what stands out most in Google search results and quickly grabs the searcher’s attention.
Many browsers also display the title tag in the tab at the top of the window. This can be handy when you’ve got more than one tab open.
Also, when you bookmark a page, the title tag is the default name of the page.
And, the title tag often shows up in social media channels when linked to a page.
Why is it Important?
As with many concerns in creating a successful web page, there are two reasons for the title tag’s importance:
- Google (and other search engines) pay attention. This is probably the best and most succinct method of telling search engines what your page is all about. There are other ways — including, of course, the actual content of the page — but this is your way of letting them know what you consider to be the focus of the page. We’ll talk more about how to do this in a bit.
- Humans (remember them?) pay attention. As I said, the titles stand out on the results page, therefore those are the items people notice first and foremost. And, as well all know, on the Web, attention spans are short, so there’s not a lot of time to grab them. Again, we’ll expand on this thought in a bit.
So, what is a “good” title tag?
Again, let’s look at this from two perspectives:
1. Search Engine Standpoint
Google and other search engines want to present their audience with the most useful results possible. The definition of “most useful” is, of course, subjective, but they clearly want the most relevant content at the top of the listings. The title tag is one way of determining what a page is actually about. However, search engines are long past the days of being fooled. So if a title tag is specifying that a page is about something other than what the actual content suggests it is, Google will not be impressed, and thus rank the page lower. You want congruency between the title and the actual content of the page. As author of the page, you should have a pretty good idea what the page’s subject is.
There are several tools out there that you can use to get a count of all the words in an article (not including common words such as “the” and “and”) to determine what the “keywords” are. Your title tag should, naturally, include at least a few of those keywords. I’m pretty sure that search engines put greater emphasis on the words at the beginning of the title tag, so try to get those keywords at or close to the front. And, don’t “keyword stuff” your titles. Use them as they read naturally — once, maybe twice, max — in the title tag.
Google also wants to see that each page of your website is unique. So use different title tags for each page. Even if the content of your site has an overall theme that you want to get picked up for by the search engines, make sure they can differentiate from one page to the next. The more specific, the better.
2. Human Standpoint
Once again, we must consider that we’re not just trying to impress search engines, but it’s actual people that we want visiting our pages. To this end, it’s imperative that the bold titles that show up in search results appeal to humans. As with all things marketing-related, there’s a fine line between grabbing attention and being over-the-top “salesy.” It’s up to you to find that balance.
Because search engines only have a certain amount of space dedicated for titles in their results pages, it’s recommended to limit your title tags to 50-60 characters. That’s usually around 10-12 words. Sometimes that seems like a lot and other times it feels like way too few for what you want to say. If you do have more than the “allowed” number of characters, don’t worry, you won’t be penalized. Those extra words or characters just may not show in the results listings (and likely won’t help your ranking). But it’s generally better for the title to be fully visible and not at all ambiguous.
Because you often have to be economical with the number of words — and, sometimes, even the number of characters — in your title tag, you might want to limit use of unimportant words like “the” and “and” and even use colons instead of hyphens with spaces on both sides. For example, instead of something like: “The Best Methods for Organic Gardening – How and Where to Begin” you might use “Organic Gardening Best Methods: How, Where to Begin”. That cuts down on words and characters and, though not grammatically perfect, is still very readable by humans.
Also, you’ll need to decide whether to “brand” your title tags with your organization’s name. Consider what search terms you expect and hope people will use to find your pages. If you think the goal is to find you or your organization, specifically, then by all means, include that in the title. I usually reserve doing so for the About Us/Me page. But if people are searching for broader information, for which there is a lot of competition, they probably won’t be interested in your name until they’ve read more about you (after clicking on your title). So, for that type of content, either append the name at the end of the title tag (if there’s room) or skip it entirely.
Putting it all together
So with all of these things in mind, how can you achieve optimal results? Well, practice and testing will eventually get you what you’re aiming for.
Let’s say you’ve got a page about green architecture. Here are a few ideas and examples that might work for your title tag:
- Start the title with “How to.” Many people are looking for solutions and not sure where to start. In our example, you might use something like: “How to Build Green: A Beginner’s Guide”
- Post a question. Put yourself in your audience’s position. Imagine you’re seeking information about the topic you’re covering. What question would you ask that your article answers? Some examples might be: “Where Do I Find a LEED-Certified Architect?” Or: “What is Sustainable Architecture?”
- Use numbers. We talked a while back about the effectiveness of using numbers in article titles (not necessarily title tags). The same principles apply with title tags. People like knowing they will get a certain number of points in an article. It makes it feel “digestible.” Here’s an example: “7 Tips for Going Green When Building a House”
- Try something intriguing. This method is tricky, in terms of not creeping into the “too salesy” side of things. Something like “The Greatest Green Architects Ever – Check Us Out!” would probably be over the top. However, a slightly more subtle, but still enticing, title like, “Using Green Building Techniques to Improve Your Bottom Line” just might work.
How do I enter (or update) my page’s title tag?
Technically, the title tag is a block of HTML code that you can enter into your website’s “head” section. For those that code, this is the area between the opening <head> and closing </head> tags. The contents go directly between <title> and </title> tags. For those of you who have an allergy to code, don’t worry about that. If you use a content management system (such as WordPress), you can pretty easily locate where to input the title, without getting your hands dirty. It’ll depend on how things were set up and which plugins were used, but the spot is usually not too difficult to find. Or, ask your web developer to place them for you.
Once you’ve got your title tags set for every page and post in your site, sit back and see how you do. If, after a while, you’re not getting the desired results — either in terms of search engine placement or number of visits to your site — try tweaking. Often moving or changing one word can make a big difference. So try different things to figure out what works best.
And, don’t forget, every time you create new content (you are posting on your blog regularly, aren’t you?), to write up a great title tag and description tag before you publish!