Recently, a respected industry columnist who had just interviewed John Mueller of Google and concluded that the title tag is severely over-rated as a ranking factor. Mueller's point was that a good page can rank without a title tag, but a perfect title tag will not have an impact if the content on the page is lacking.
The title tag, your content's intro, is likely not as important as some SEO's believe it to be. Rest assured that title tag SEO remains an essential elements of on-page optimization and becoming an SEO expert. Doing a good job with your tag is essential to ranking and getting traffic.
There was a time that Google would just truncate a long and unwieldy tag. Now, if you do a poor job of creating the title tag or make it too long, you may experience machine learning and artificial intelligence first hand: Google may swap in your URL or other text from the page on its SERPs.
What is the SEO title tag?
As you remember, the title tag appears in the header section of a page’s source code and is set off by html tags as in the following example: <title>Content Performance Marketing and SEO Blog | BrightEdge</title> While this tag is not visible on your HTML page, it appears in the first line of the organic search listing as shown below:
Four simple rules for writing a title tag
The search engines rely on the html title tag to understand the content that appears on the page, and it’s important for humans too as we’ll see below. So, that leads us to the first of four rules for creating a dynamite title tag:
- Perform keyword research
- Keep the title 55 characters or less
- Think of the title tag as an advertising headline
- Make every title tag unique.
- Perform keyword research. Populate your tag with a keyword or keywords that accurately summarize the content on the accompanying page. In the tag above there are actually two relevant keywords – “Content Performance Marketing” and “SEO.” The keywords should appear to the left of the title tag if at all possible with the company name to the right if there is room. By the way, that vertical element to the left of the company name is called a “pipe” and is commonly used today to set off your company name. Don’t know which keywords to pick? Use the BrightEdge Data Cube to find dozens, hundreds or even thousands of keywords relevant to your topic. You’ll see search volume for each keyword, and quickly get a sense of how much competition there is around each. Don’t try to stuff keywords into your title tag. Instead create a tag that is easy for the human viewer to read.
- Keep the title tag to 55 characters or less. As you can see in the example above, there is a limited amount of space on the search engine results page to display your tag. If you have a lot of “M’s” and not many “I’s” in your tag, that could run out of space, but usually you’ll be fine if you keep your html tag to about 55 characters. We have been seeing good results on pages with tags shorter than 30.
- Think of the title tag as an advertising headline. Remember you’re writing the tag not just for the search engine, but for the human viewer as well. You want a title tag with stopping power - what keyword or short phrase could you put there to get the reader’s eye to stop? Then write a meta description that gives the reader a reason to click through to your content. Something like – “See our great selection of…” or, a common ending for meta descriptions among ecommerce sites today, “Free Shipping.” Look at the Recommendations module in the BrightEdge platform to see what your page’s Top Ten competitors are doing for the title tag and meta description. Maybe you can borrow a good idea from one of them or come up with something better than any of them. Remember - a click is an instantaneous reaction; you want to give people a reason to click almost instinctively to check out your content.
- Make every title tag unique. Too often websites show the same html title tag for more than one page. The BrightEdge Recommendations Engine considers this a Severe error because duplicate tags keep the search engines from properly indexing and consistently serving up your organic listing when a search is launched. The best case scenario if you have duplicate tags is that the search engines may cannibalize your traffic by sending some to one URL with the duplicate title tag while sending other searchers to your other page(s) with the same title tag. As a publisher, you need to take control and direct traffic on one topic to the one URL that best serves your strategy. Today duplicate tags are frequently seen with smaller sites, perhaps because designers and smaller publishers are still learning how to do SEO management (learn what is SEO here). But this mistake can happen to larger sites as well. Check the Recommendation Summary Report in the BrightEdge Recommendations module every week and immediately fix any duplicate title tags that the BrightEdge Recommendations Engine identifies.
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Five quick steps to SEO title tag success
- Before you write any actual content for the page, write the title tag and the meta description. It’s fine to use the same primary keyword in both. Again, the title tag as the stopper and the meta description is the teaser that is going to get the reader to click through to your content.
- Create content for your page that is well-written, high quality, and hopefully different in approach than anything else that’s on the web today. You have to create unique content and execute well to get good organic rank, and, most importantly, click-throughs to your content.
- After the page content is finalized, revisit your tag and meta description to ensure that there is still a match between the two and the content on your page. Remember, if the html title tag and meta description don’t accurately describe the content on the page, your chances of ranking are slim to none. If there isn’t a match with your finished content, re-write both tags.
- After the page is published, check the SERP to make sure that your organic listing is displaying properly. Amazingly, many publishers forget this step. If your organic listing is not being displayed as you want, change your tags immediately. And check the Recommendation Summary Report every week for anything you missed!
- After a few weeks have passed, check your page’s traffic with BrightEdge Page Reporting and click through rate on Google Search Console. If you’re not happy with the result, adjust the title tag and meta description. It will just take a few minutes of your time to research, write and publish. Go back to the Recommendations section in the BrightEdge platform and check out what your competition is doing if you need more ideas.
Too often we forget that we need to constantly optimize our own tags and content. As Avinash Kaushik, the evangelist of Google Analytics, says, the great thing about the web is that it allows you to fail fast and at low cost. Spend a few more minutes optimizing your tags to make sure you get the highest possible return on the money and time you have invested in creating great content.
Follow these four simple rules and five quick steps for your title tag SEO, and your traffic numbers will rock. And keep optimizing. In light of recent changes to how Google displays its SERPs, having descriptive keyword-optimized title tags for your content will be more important than ever. Find out why in our research report below.