The Most Important 60 Characters of Your Content: The Title Tag
What’s a Title Tag?
Every page on a website needs a title tag or page title (both terms refer to the same thing. Here’s a quick explanation,) It’s not the visible title or headline on the page. Instead, it’s in the code of the page. But the page title is visible in three important places:
The headline of your listing in search engines
This is often the very first thing a visitor sees about your website. It’s one of the most important factors in encouraging a user to click on your page.
The tab of your browser
This is most helpful for people who have many tabs open in their browser, making it easier for them to get back to your page. Having keywords for the page near the front is helpful here because your page title’s likely to be truncated.
Social media platforms
This is an example of a blog page that’s been shared on Facebook. Notice how prominent the title tag is here.
Writing a good title tag
Your page title tags are very important to your SEO, but they also contribute, positively or negatively, to the user experience of searchers. They should be crafted with care. Here are some rules of thumb to keep in mind.
Avoid truncation if you can. Search engines allocate a finite amount of space to listing headlines. If your page title tag is too long, it will get truncated, possibly hiding important words. I suggest keeping your page titles under 60 characters. The real limit is in pixels, not characters, because some letters (M, W) are wider than others (i, l, t) but the 60 character limit is a good, easy rule of thumb.
Every page deserves — no, needs — its own unique title tag. Too often I encounter websites that have dozens of pages showing the same page title; often it’s just the company name. When this happens, it not only doesn’t help the page to rank highly in search engines, but also doesn’t compel the searcher to click on it.
Some micro businesses who don’t pay a professional web designer find themselves left with the default page title from the theme that they use. You can spot these sites because page title of their home page is “Home” or some pages on their website have a title tag that reads “New Page”. Let me just ask: how likely are you to click on a page that shows up in the search engines with the headline that simply says “New Page”?
To achieve high rankings in Google or elsewhere, your pages must have a clear focus. A services page that lists everything you do or products page that lists everything you sell isn’t really “all about” anything. And the page title of “Services” or “Products” is equally unfocused. It’s unlikely to rank highly in search engines and if it does show up for search it’s unlikely to encourage the searcher to click on it. Every product or service needs its own page with content that’s completely focused on that product or service. Similarly, each page is title tag needs to clearly reflect the focus of the page.
A good page title with keywords for the page near the front can grab the searcher’s attention immediately and assure them that clicking on your listing will provide information highly relevant to what they’re looking for. If you feel compelled to include your company name in page titles, it needs to go at the end — with the exception of your Home page where your name is also an important keyword. or the About Us page which is all about you. I typically discourage including your company name in title tags for internal pages because it dilutes the power of the keywords you’ve carefully included in the title tag.
If you have a well-known brand, see the exception to this rule next.
Your brand or company name
If you have a well-known brand name that’s respected nationally, or even locally, it may be well to ignore the prohibition recommended above. A strong brand name can increase your conversion rates — the likelihood of someone clicking on your listing when it shows up in search results. I would still recommend using it at the end of the page title except for your Home page and perhaps your About page.
I’ve written before about the dangers of keyword stuffing. Since the beginning of search engines, business owners have felt a need to throw as many keyword phrases as they can at search engines so the page will rank for almost any way people search for it. That tactic may have actually worked 20 years ago, but once Google came on the scene it quickly became wise to that trick. Instead of helping, keyword stuffing actually hurts your ranking chances. And if such a page does attract visitors, the user experience of keyword-stuffed copy quickly drives them away.
Similarly, a keyword-stuffed page title is unlikely to attract clicks. What is the value to a searcher of the listing with a headline that says “Best Car Repair, Auto Repair, Car Repair Shop, Local Car Repairs”? Title tags like this are bad for searchers and are very likely to hurt your rankings. Search engines understand variations of keywords and common synonyms (car, auto) and would consider a title like this to provide a poor user experience, making it counterproductive.
Spend a little more time on your title tags
When creating a new web page or blog post, it’s tempting to write your page title and then create your content. Once you finish the content, you’re eager to publish it and get it out there. That’s when you should stop and take a breath. Revisit the title tag and make sure it still clearly identifies what your page is about. Think about it with the above rules of thumb in mind before you finalize and publish your content. A little extra thought and care can make a big difference in how many people choose to read your material.
Want to dig a little deeper? Online marketing agency Distilled has an in-depth article on how to make your title tags the best they can be.
Update September 1, 2020 — Moz has an excellent new blog post that’s very germane to this discussion: Title Tags SEO: When to Include Your Brand and/or Boilerplate
Update September 2021 — SEO Owl has a nifty little tool to see if Google is truncating — or even completely rewriting — your title tags before they appear in search results. Check out the Google Title Rewrite Checker.