When you pick up a newspaper, it’s usually very easy to figure out what the news item or article will be about from the text in the titles. They are usually short, succinct and convey a clear message. They’ll also typically be abbreviated in a way that doesn’t necessarily change the meaning. Lots of words can be left out of newspaper titles and the words that remain are typically (but not always) nouns and verbs, like ‘man eating lion’ (noun-verb-noun). Hopefully the ambiguous meaning in this example can be resolved by the addition of a single extra word, as in ‘man eating lion captured’ (adjective phrase – noun, verb) which clarifies that ‘man-eating’ is in fact an adjective. The key with page title elements is that they must also be understood easily, after a quick glance, just like newspaper headlines. Test your titles by getting your colleagues to read them and then ask them what they think they mean.
Where the title appears:
The page title element is not the heading on your page, although some web developers may set them up to be the same. If used independently of front-end titles, it’s a coded element that appears in your website source code, but is legible to search engines and will appear in search engine results as the title of the link they provide to your website. In Google, this element appears as the blue (un-visited) / purple (visited) large text in the search listing.
Most websites that operate via a content management system allow you to manually set a title element, and generally you can write anything you like here, however there are some best practice guidelines that you might follow. There’s no hard and fast rule about what you must or must not put in the page title, but you are limited in space to the 512 pixel limit in Google – and this may differ from one search engine to the next. It equates roughly to 55 letters, but upper case or wide letters like ‘w’ and ‘m’ take up more space
Page titles also appear at the top of the viewer’s browser window or tab when the tab is active (usually next to the favicon image). Depending on the browser in use and the number of tabs open, it may not be possible to read the whole title there anyway.
Whenever a link to your page is shared, the title element is one of the main pieces of information that appear in the place it is shared to. So this is one of the biggest reasons to get your page title right.
The title element appears in your website code like this:
The title element appears in Google search like this:
Title Content Guidelines:
It’s ideal if your page title accurately describes what your page is about. Usually the words used in the title fall into word categories like nouns, verbs and adjectives. Less often used are prepositions and adverbs. Usually functional words like ‘and’ or ‘if’ or ‘that’ are skipped altogether, but the correct formula is not an exact science. The main objective will be for you to express what your page contains within the space allowed. Ideally, your page content will be optimised for one (or two) keywords, so your page title should also reflect this and use the same keyword(s) that the page is optimised for. You shouldn’t re-use a title anywhere in your website. Every one should be unique, as every page should be about some other aspect of your business, another product or service, or an entirely different topic, depending on the theme of your website.
Also keep in mind that this title element is what will be fed through to social media platforms and many other places where your page or article is shared, so it should be able to operate in isolation to gain clicks to the page. In this respect, nailing the ‘perfect’ page title element should be your goal.
You main keyword should be somewhere near the front of the title element, but you can experiment with this to see what format of page title gives best performance for your micro-conversion, which in this case is a click to your page. Generally though, keyword fronting usually proves to be best.
Your titles should also be appealing in nature. You can use many different strategies to gain attention, like humour, drama or other features that appeal to human emotion, but how appropriate these are will vary from one genre to the next.
To get ideas on what format and content is best, perform some Google searches and look at the blue title texts for each listing you find. Think about which ones grab your attention best and consider what that is about the that does that. You could also look through some newspaper headlines to get a feel of what kind of words work best to grab your attention, and how to convey a clear message with few words.
Some examples of formatting you could use:
Keyword 1 | Keyword 2 | Brand
Brand | Keyword Phrase – Why You Need This
Keyword Phrase – Why This Thing is Really Cool
Keyword Phrase – & How We Can Help You With This
Brand Names in Titles:
You may decide that your brand name should be in every title element that you write for your site. I often do that, but it may not be ideal for your site.
If you’d like help deciding one way or the other on including your brand in your page title elements, you may wish to hire our SEO services for a 30 minute consultation.
An example of a brand-name headed title element:
Main Purpose of Page Titles:
It’s power in SEO is arguably small if anything at all, although opinions differ dramatically here. In my view, it will operate mainly as a conversion tool. The main purpose of the page title is to help convince the search engine user that the link to your web page is what they were looking for. The title itself is not what gains the rank in the search engine, but it does play a small part. There are many SEO services operators that insist that the page title element is a strong element for SEO, but I believe that view is held because they are counting click-through-conversion as an SEO factor, which I tend to group with CRO (conversion rate optimisation), not SEO. If you agree that CRO is part of SEO, then consider the title as a very important factor.
Another reason why some SEO folk believe the title element is a major SEO factor is because before 2013, Google was less capable of determining the theme of a page and assigning rank based on the meaning of that page’s content, so the title element acted as a signal to search engines that said ‘my page is about…’. In October 2013 Google began using a new semantic search engine called Hummingbird which is engineered to extract meaning from content and deliver that content to people who searched for that meaning – so the weight of actual keyword matches diminished as meaning matches increased. There are many other search engines other than Google, so plenty of those are less sophisticated than Hummingbird. Keep that in mind when optimising and decide whether you need to account for both aspects in your SEO work.
If you don’t set a page title element for your page (remember, this is different to writing a heading on the page), then search engines will decide themselves what to do. They don’t leave the element blank. Usually the result is that your domain name appears as the title, or a combination of domain name and some text from the page. Whichever it is, this is not positive for your site and may lead to your search engine listing or shared link being overlooked. You may not get much traffic to the page.