Search engine optimization for small and very small businesses.

Rethinking Title Tags for SEO

The Title Tag is perhaps the single most powerful place for your keywords to appear for SEO purposes. It’s weighed heavily by all search engines in their ranking algorithms, and it also appears as the headline of your listing in the search engines.

The Old Rule of Thumb

Note how much larger the headlines are than before. Those headlines are the title tags for the pages listed.

The old rule of thumb was that your title tag should be limited to about 70 characters. Some people misconstrued that as a “limit” but it’s really only a guideline. Its origin lies in the number of characters that are visible in SERPs (Search Engine Results Pages), which is approximately 70 characters. That varies from one search engine to another, and as a result of variable pitch fonts it can be significantly more or fewer characters depending on the prevalence of narrow or wide letters in your title.

Beyond the Visibility Issue

SEOs have tested and proven that search engines register and index the words the get truncated from a long title tag, so the 70-character “limit” didn’t really apply to the search engine rankings for your page. It does, however, limit what people see in he SERPs. The words in the search phrase are typically made bold in the SERP listings, so listings with more words that match  a search query stand out from the rest and are more likely to be clicked. We don’t want great rankings for rankings sake; we want them for the sake of the traffic they bring. So having your most popular keywords in the first 70 characters of your title tag means you’re more likely to stand out as a match to the query and get clicked.

Google logo

Google Throws In a Monkey Wrench

Google has been testing a change in the appearance of its SERPs, which involves an increase in the font size of the headlines (title tags) it displays. That change is being rolled out to more and more users and we expect soon will affect everyone. Peter Meyers at Moz wrote about that recently, and has screen shots to illustrate the impact.

What this means is that it’s now more important than ever to have your critical keywords at the beginnings of your title tags. If you can limit your title tags to about 55 characters (down from 70) you can expect 95% of then not to get cut off.

Want to Test Your Title Tags?

Well, you can. There’s a title preview tool at Moz. Just enter your title tag and your keyword phrase and it’ll show you what will appear in Google and what will get cut off.

Are you significantly affected by this? Let us know in the Comments below.

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