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  • The Ultimate Guide to Title Tags in SEO

    The Ultimate Guide to Title Tags in SEO

    Search engine optimization (SEO) requires attention to hundreds of different ranking factors and technical requirements.

    It’s your job as a search marketer to not only create lots of high-quality content and build backlinks to your site, but also polish and perfect the technical aspects of your site – including your backend code.

    But don’t worry. That sounds more technically complicated than it actually is. While some on page optimization techniques require some extensive programming experience, many can be completed using even the simplest tools available to you in your website editor of choice.

    Title tags are a perfect example of this.

    Title tags are so valuable for your SEO strategy they could almost be considered a technical requirement – and by the time you’re done reading this guide, you’ll be ready to write and publish some of your own.

    What Are Title Tags?

    What Are Title Tags?

    We’ll start with the basics.

    What are title tags, exactly? Title tags are a type of meta tag – a form of information about a particular webpage that’s found in the HTML code of the document. Information contained in HTML but not presented on the webpage itself is known as “metadata,” and can be seen and evaluated by bots like Google’s web crawlers.

    Google sends out bots to evaluate title tags, among other meta elements, to determine the purpose of the page, the type of content that will be found on it, and how it should rank in search engine results pages (SERPs).

    Title tags themselves function as a descriptive title for the page. They’re supposed to concisely capture the purpose and intentions of the page they represent.

    Additionally, title tags represent the text you see highlighted in blue in most SERPs. When conducting a search, you’ll essentially be reviewing an extensive list of title tags (along with meta descriptions underneath those titles).

    Why Do Title Tags Matter for SEO?

    Why are title tags important?

    • Keyword optimization. For starters, title tags are an opportunity for you to optimize your site (and individual pages) for specific keywords. Title tags are treated as important indications of the content of a given page, so the keywords they include are incredibly valuable. Placing one or two important keywords near the front of your title can increase the likelihood of that page ranking for phrases related to those keyword terms.
    • Description and content relevance. Title tags also convey a description of the type of content you’ll find on a given page. Thanks to semantic search capabilities, Google is exceptionally good at evaluating the topic, purpose, and context of a given page. Your description in this field will help it understand.
    • Headlines and click through rate (CTR) optimization. Remember, title tags are often the first thing a potential visitor will see when encountering your page in SERPs. The descriptiveness and wording of your title will therefore influence whether they choose to click through and see your page. If you’re compelling, creative, and persuasive, your title tag can increase the likelihood of someone visiting your site. Additionally, if your page has a high CTR (and other good user behavior metrics), you’ll stand to see a boost in your SERP rankings.

    How to Use Title Tags

    Generally speaking, every page of your site should have a title tag. Most modern website builders will include a title tag by default, even if it means simply using a swath of text from the body of the page. Still, it’s in your best interest to write a custom title tag for each page of your site – or at least use a template to generate a unique title tag for each of your pages.

    Overall, you’re hoping to write title tags that accurately describe your webpage, feed keywords to Google’s search crawlers, and persuade web users to visit your site simultaneously.

    That may seem like a tall order, but it’s easier to manage than you might think.

    What Makes a Perfect Title Tag?

    What Makes a Perfect Title Tag?

    Like with most other aspects of SEO, title tags require a careful balance between optimizing for users and optimizing for search engines. From a technical standpoint, you’ll want to choose words and structures that appeal to search engine algorithms; that way, you’ll be more likely to rank for the pages that you want.

    However, you’ll also need to optimize for individual search users. You want them to find your title tags descriptive and valuable; otherwise, they won’t click your link no matter how highly it ranks.

    These are some of the most important qualities a title tag can have:

    • Descriptive content. First and most importantly, your title tag needs to accurately describe the content that’s on the page. You may be tempted to stuff your title with keywords to increase the likelihood of ranking, but this is going to be bad from both an algorithmic and consumer perspective. Instead, be as straightforward and clear as you can – and set proper expectations for what people can find on the page.
    • Appropriate length. The old standard for a title tag was 70 characters. These days, a title tag of roughly 50-60 characters is ideal. If you have more than 60 characters, you’ll run the risk of having your title cut off in SERPs. If your title is less than 50 characters, you might be missing out on some opportunities. That said, it’s not a huge deal if you’re slightly out of these parameters; you’re not going to be blacklisted by Google just because you had 1 character too many in your title tag. Just make sure to preview your title tag so you know how it looks in SERPs.
    • Keyword optimization (without stuffing). Keywords are still important in SEO. But they’re not nearly as important as they used to be, thanks to Google’s breakthroughs in the realm of semantic search and machine learning. These days, the meaning and context of your words are just as important as the actual words you choose. However, it’s still important to include a target keyword or phrase (or two) in your title tag; this will increase the chances that this page will rank for that term.
    • Originality. It’s important that you don’t have duplicate title tags, or title tags that compete with each other in some critical way. If you have too many pages of your site that offer similar title tags, it could trigger a red flag with Google; it also might be bad for your user experience. On top of that, if you have multiple pages competing for the same keywords, you could end up with a keyword cannibalization issue, limiting your full potential.
    • Natural language. Next, make sure your title uses natural language. It needs to be written in a way that’s easy for a native speaker to understand – and in a way that’s comprehensible to all your users. If all you do is stuff a handful of unrelated keywords into your title, it’s going to seem spammy – and possibly harm your rankings as a result.
    • Numbers. We simply can’t help it. As human beings, we’re naturally attracted to numbers. That’s why “top 10” and similar number-based article headlines are so darn effective. Slipping an impactful number into your title tag can help distinguish it from other listings in your competitive SERP – and ultimately attract more clicks. It probably won’t do anything for your rankings, however.

    Writing Title Tags for Many Similar Pages

    Let’s say you have a central website for a business with 20 different locations. Each of those locations has a dedicated page, and all those pages are very similar except for the city in which the business resides.

    Or let’s say you have 15 versions of a product, each with only minute differences. You’ll need a separate product page for each one, with only minor wording changes between them.

    How do you write title tags for these similar pages when one of the most important elements of an effective title tag is its originality? And can you find a way to save time in the process?

    Your best bet may be writing a “template” title tag that can work for all of your pages, then substitute small changes as necessary. For example, you might write something like, “[Location] Car Wash – Clean Your Car Fast! | [Brand name, etc.]” and replace [Location] with each city as appropriate. You can also make small tweaks to make the individual pages stand out more.

    If you have a large quantity of pages to work with (i.e., more than 10), consider using an algorithm to fill in the replacements on your behalf to save time.

    How to Evaluate Title Tags

    How do you know if all the pages of your website have title tags? How do you know if those title tags are what you intended? How can you know if your title tags are showing up in SERPs as written? How do you know if your title tags are working?

    You can’t answer these questions definitively unless you see the results for yourself.

    • Check the page in your CMS and in SERPs. There’s no need to overcomplicate things. Most modern CMSs give you a preview of how your SERP entry will look, based on your provided title tag. Generally, this is accurate, but you’ll still want to test it in a live environment. For that, you can run a quick search for the page in question and see what it looks like. If you’re not happy with it, you can make changes and try again.
    • Use an SEO extension. If your CMS doesn’t offer title tag preview functionality by default, you may be able to use an SEO extension for your CMS (or even for Chrome). There are dozens of free extensions worth using for SEO, so experiment and use the tool you think is best.
    • Use a third-party SEO tool. Some third-party SEO tools won’t just show you a preview of your title tag – they’ll actually score it for you. Using some combination of the criteria we listed above, the tool will attempt to quantify your efforts and give you a numerical score. It might even give you suggestions for how to improve your title tag if your score is inadequate. Just be aware that different tools will have different scoring mechanics, so one tool may take issue with your title tag while another one gives it a passing grade; these don’t necessarily reflect your true ranking potential.

    Advanced Title Tag Strategies

    Keyword Cannibalization

    At this point, you should have all the information you need to write basic title tags for every page of your site – and hopefully increase your streams of organic traffic while making users happier.

    But if you want to take things to the next level, you’ll want to capitalize on some of these advanced strategies:

    • Avoid keyword cannibalization. Keyword cannibalization occurs when you have multiple pages competing for the same keyword or phrase. It’s not directly harmful, but it can prevent you from maximizing your potential. Rank one is by far the most valuable position, and you can’t have two entries ranking first for the same keyword. Ensure that each important page’s title tag on your site is optimized for something different.
    • Experiment with different types of title tags. Don’t assume you have the “perfect formula” down. Experiment with a variety of different phrasings, keyword targets, and sentence structures. That way, you’ll have a wider range of data to review – and more information to base your future SEO efforts on.
    • Test, review, and adapt. Test all your title tags in a live environment. Which pages are ranking higher than others? Which titles are getting more clicks? The more you learn, the more you’ll be able to adapt – and the better results you’ll see.

    Title tags aren’t the most exciting topic in the field of SEO, but they’re downright essential if you want your pages to rank.

    If you’re interested in optimizing the title tags of your website, or if you need help putting together a formal SEO strategy, SEO.co is here to help. Contact us for a free consultation today!

    Chief Revenue Officer at SEO Company
    Industry veteran Timothy Carter is SEO.co’s Chief Revenue Officer. Tim leads all revenue for the company and oversees all customer-facing teams for SEO (search engine optimization) - including sales, marketing & customer success. He has spent more than 20 years in the world of SEO & Digital Marketing leading, building and scaling sales operations, helping companies increase revenue efficiency and drive growth from websites and sales teams. When he's not working, Tim enjoys playing a few rounds of disc golf, running, and spending time with his wife and family on the beach...preferably in Hawaii.

    Over the years he's written for publications like Forbes, Entrepreneur, Marketing Land, Search Engine Journal, ReadWrite and other highly respected online publications. Connect with Tim on Linkedin & Twitter.
    Timothy Carter