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How to Optimize Title Tags for SEO

What is a Title Tag?

A title tag is a meta HTML element that defines the title of a web page. It summarizes the contents of the page.

Title tags go in the <head> of a page and look like this:

<title>The Title of Your Page</title>

Why are Title Tags Important?

Title tags are very important for all aspects of SEO, usability and conversions. Let us jump right to the reasons why you must pay attention to your title tag content:

Web Browsers Show Your Site's Title Tag:

Any modern web browser, such as Google Chrome, Mozilla Firefox, Internet Explorer, Safari or Opera has at least one thing in common "” title tags are displayed on the tabs, as shown below:

Title tag in a Google Chrome browser tab

Search Engine Results Show Your Title Tag:

A brand search for your website using your brand name returns search snippets of your website, as shown below. The first, blue line in a search snippet is the title tag of a page.

Title tag displayed in Google search results

Filenames of Saved Web Pages Include Title Tags:

When you try to save a web page, the default name of the file appears in the form of its title tag, as shown below:

The title tag as the filename when saving a web page

Web Pages Shared on Social Networks show Title Tags:

When you share a web page on your social network, by default the title tag of the page is displayed in the title of the shared content, as shown in the example below:

Title tag used as a default title when website is shared on social networks

These are some of the significant places where your title tag is shown by default to your online audience. Some of these displays can be controlled and some cannot. Thus it is important for you to display the best words to precisely describe your website in the title tag.

Although there is technically no character limit for the title tag, best practice is to put the most relevant part in the first 60 to 70 characters. This way the most important content is visible in search results. The rest is invisible but represented with an ellipsis ("¦), as shown in the sample screenshot below:

A long title tag continued with an ellipsis in search results

Note that the character limit is a rough approximation since the real limit is how many pixels your title takes up in the search snippet.

Tips for Title Tag Optimization:

Title tag optimization not only enhances your website's SEO but also its usability and conversions. In a search result, the very first thing to meet the eye is the blue line (the title tag). Since your title tag is one option among many in search results, you need to put a high priority on your title tag content so that it woos your audience to click through to your website.

The following are some tips to optimize your website's title tag:

1. Brand Your Title Tag:

The title tag of your website's homepage must have your brand name at the beginning of it. On inner pages, however, you can use your brand name at the end with the most relevant and important information at the beginning.

Brand name at the end of a title tag on a sample inner-page search result

2. Enter Keywords Toward the Beginning:

It is a good practice to enter your keywords at the beginning of title tags, with the exception of the title tag for your home page where instead you enter your brand name. The reasons for this are:

  • Search engines may more readily return title tags that contain keywords at the beginning. This is not always the case but it certainly helps.
  • Keywords placed at the beginning grab people's attention easily. In order to attract web traffic it is essential to place the keywords prominently in the beginning of the title tag.
  • If your title tag grabs attention, the click-through rates of your site's search snippets should increase. Click-through rates are a search engine ranking factor, thus this could help your website attain a higher place in the SERPs.

3. Use Key Phrases Wherever Possible:

If your niche is competitive, try using long-tail keywords that are specific to what your target users might type in search engines rather than more competitive keywords. Your site's title tags are more likely to rank high in the SERPs for key phrases, rather than keywords. This also ensures that your site is shown to a target audience in the SERPs, thus hopefully increasing your click-through rate and possibly improving your site's position in the SERPs. For instance, if your primary keyword is Condos for Sale, you could add a location to make it more specific for your local customers. For instance, Condos for Sale in Chicago or Chicago Condos for Sale. You could get even more specific with longer key phrases, such as Foreclosed Condos Sale Chicago or Condos for Sale in Chicago Suburbs or Condos for Sale in Chicago Northwest). Target visitors using these key phrases are more likely to convert than those entering your site with a generic search, such as *Condos for Sale.

4. Use Synonyms:

Use synonyms for your keywords that have lower competition rates. Search engines can easily identify associations and return them in search results, depending on other SEO factors. For instance, in a search for the keyword Signs of Diabetes, the following screenshot shows the first two search results on page one of Google search. The first search snippet has the keyword diabetes symptoms, which Google has identified as associated with the search phrase Signs of Diabetes. The second title uses the phrase Diabetes Warning Signs.

Google identifying synonyms in search results

Make a special note of the snippets' descriptions. In the old days, Google would highlight only synonyms of words used in the query. However, for this informational intent query, they've highlighted the words that answer the searcher's question. This is an example of Google's shift to focusing on semantic search and answering questions.

5. Pipes:

You can use pipes (|) to separate terms in your titles to make them look clean in search results. It is easier for users to quickly scan your title tag for relevant information when the words in your title tag are separated into two or three different sections by a pipe symbol. This improves usability.

6. Use Numbers:

Listicles get a bad rap, but people actually love them. They are scannable and therefore easier to read and digest (for both humans and search crawlers). And they're more clickable in SERPs.

Using numbers in title tags make them more clickable

For example, a title like 10 Tips for Title Tag Optimization, encourages users to click through as they know exactly what to expect, as opposed to Tips for Title Tag Optimization which is more vague. Place the number at the start (avoid a title such as Title Tag Optimization "“ 10 Useful Tips) since people read from left to right (in most languages) and the most important information should be featured first.

7. Use Unique Page Titles:

This point cannot be emphasized enough; having unique page titles is necessary for every web page on a site. If your website consists of over 1000 pages, you can programmatically generate titles, just ensure that they are not identical. Always manually write title tag content for your home page and other popular pages on your website, just as you would do for your meta descriptions.

8. Include your Unique Selling Point in the Title:

It is difficult to include a lot of information within the 70 characters of a title tag that is visible to the search user. You must try, however, to specify what is unique to your business as compared to your competitor's businesses to attract your audience to click your search snippet rather than your competitor's.

For instance, the search results from page one of a Google search are shown for the search term iPhone 5 Deals.

Search results with unique selling points in the title

The three title tags are:

  • iPhone 5s | Pay Monthly iPhones | Tesco Mobile
  • Compare Apple iPhone 5s 16GB grey Mobile Phone Deals
  • Compare the Best iPhone 5s Deals | MoneySuperMarket

From among these title tags, which tempts you to click the link? The person using this key phrase iPhone 5 Deals is looking to compare deals or to find the best price.

In the first result, the title is rather generic, not giving exact details of what will be found on the page. The other two results have more precise descriptions of what can be found on the page. Even though the generic page titles rank higher, the CTR will probably be higher for the page titles below them. And that traffic will likely be more qualified than the first page, resulting in a better conversion rate.

9. Use No More than Two Keywords:

This tip concerns the readability of the page title and the relevance of the title to the content on the page, rather than the actual number of keywords. It is ideal to use one or two keywords in your page title for usability and SEO. Some title tags contain many keywords, causing them to look stuffed (or overoptimized), which is a negative ranking signal for search engines. Moreover, a stuffed page title makes it harder for users to gain a correct picture of the page content, so they may skip it and move to the next result.

Keyword stuffing has been criticized so much that even innocently inserting more than two keywords could cause your site to be seen as one of low quality. Below is a screenshot of one such keyword-stuffed page title, found deep in Google's search results for the keyword men's watches.

Search snippet with a keyword stuffed title tag

If someone weren't looking for an example of a stuffed title tag they'll probably never come close to seeing that page.

10. Relevant Page Titles:

There is no point in creating awesome page titles if they are not relevant to the web page content. Users expect to see an extended version of the title tag on the web page. Thus it is essential to keep your page titles very specific and relevant to the content for that particular page.

A good practice is to consider the user's intent when searching for a page and then specifying the answer the user will find on the page.

This will ensure that users don't return to the SERP and select a different result (known as pogosticking), which Google does take into account when ranking results.

Practices to Avoid in Title Tags

While you keep these tips in mind to produce SEO-friendly and user-friendly title tags, you must also beware of practices that might restrict your title tags from ranking high in the SERPs. These include:

  • Using too many commas "” this gives search engine crawlers the impression that your title tag is stuffed with keywords.
  • Avoid stop words when possible. They waste space within the character limit and are ignored by search engines and many people.
  • Check your spelling. This sounds obvious but is an easy way to make a page (or a whole site!) appear low quality and untrustworthy to Google and your audience.

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