By Ann Smarty
Using link TITLE attributes has become more popular since the rise of such widely used scripts as WordPress, which by default duplicates the post title link in its TITLE attribute. Still, despite being the common behavior, this method of using TITLE attribute is both incorrect and annoying.
The title is not meant to be a duplication of the anchor text (related post: Image Alt Text Vs. Image Title). It’s supposed to provide additional / advisory information (expand on the meaning of the link). The anchor text is supposed to “name” the link, while the title text provides information about where the link will send the user. (especially with “click here” and “more” anchor text). Look:
<a href=”/ann-smarty/” title=”Author’s biography”>Ann Smarty</a>
<a href=”/ann-smarty/” title=”More posts by Ann Smarty”>Ann Smarty</a>
Let’s first learn why we need to use TITLE attribute at all:
Link TITLE attribute for SEO: title attribute carries no weight on search engines (per my experience and based on other SEO’s opinion).
A couple of years ago, Googlers confirmed they did not use TITLE attribute in the algorithm because it was used too seldom. This has changed since then but I still failed to find any evidence that link TITLE attribute somehow influenced the rankings (you can run a simple test: include any non-existent word – that doesn’t exist in Google index – as a link title, wait for the link to be indexed, and in some time check if either the linking or linked page got ranked for that word). Anyway, if your experience is different from mine, please share.
Link TITLE attribute for usability: in most browsers it will pop up when you hover over the link.
Thus there is no need to duplicate the anchor text in a title tag. If the title tag can’t provide more information, then don’t use it:
Do not add link titles to all links: if it is obvious from the link anchor and its surrounding context where the link will lead, then a link title will reduce usability by being one more thing users have to look at.
Exception: title attribute can copy the link text when not the full link text might be displayed (due to design limitations for example):
Link TITLE attribute for accessibility:
…visual browsers frequently display the title as a “tool tip” (a short message that appears when the pointing device pauses over an object). Audio user agents may speak the title information in a similar context. For example, setting the attribute on a link allows user agents (visual and non-visual) to tell users about the nature of the linked resource.
One should bear in mind that very often screen readers won’t read the title attribute, so if you put anything too vital in there, many users won’t hear it:
If the supplementary information provided through the title attribute is something the user should know before following the link, such as a warning, then it should be provided in the link text rather than in the title attribute.
For example, for acronyms you should both include a title attribute and provide a plain text expansion the first time it is used on the page.
Conclusions on TITLE attribute usage:
- use it for your users, not search engines (this approach always pays back);
- don’t duplicate it with link text (this hurts usability: for example some blind users will hear the same text twice);
- don’t put too much weight on the title attributes as not all screen readers may render it (make sure either surrounding text or anchor text explains the link at least the first time you use it).