High level SEO strategy is important. So are the details.
The title tag is just one of many on-page elements we focus on when optimizing pages and content.
Optimizing it alone won’t likely lead to many ranking changes. However, using it in context with other on-page elements can build important context and subject-matter relevance for a page, sections, and sites overall.
Beyond just the SEO impact and focus we put on title tags, we also need to think of the impact they have on the clickthrough rate and compelling our target audience to come to our site.
When the search engines use our title tag as the blue link in the search in the search results page, the contents of that tag can make or break the decision for a searcher on clicking through to our site.
In this chapter, you’ll learn eight best practices for incorporating a solid, optimized title tag plan into your SEO strategy.
What Is A Title Tag?
The title tag is an HTML tag that exists in the head section of each webpage. It provides an initial cue or context as to the topical subject matter of the page it is on.
The title tag features prominently on search engine results pages (SERPs) as it is typically used as the clickable link and also appears in the browser window.
Other than in these two places, the title tag isn’t as visible as other on-page web content (e.g., body copy, image content, and other aspects). For that reason, the title tag can sometimes be overlooked.
On its own, the title tag has little impact on organic rankings. No single ranking factor is magical or powerful – especially if your content is low-quality or you’ve neglected technical SEO.
Here are eight important aspects to consider when optimizing your title tags for search.
1. The Page’s Context Within The Site
Before you can write an optimized title tag, you need to know where the page fits into the overall hierarchy of the website.
A home page title tag is going to be much different than a blog post or product page.
For websites with a lot of pages, it can be challenging to come up with tags that are different from page to page. That’s why mapping out your site and knowing where each page fits given the context of your subject matter is important.
Each page deeper you get into the site, the more specific you can and should be.
You can repeat words and phrases but should be more detailed each step down into the site you go. Have a plan so that title tags aren’t duplicated on any pages (more on that below).
Here’s an ecommerce example of title tags at different levels of the site that have appropriate context:
- Home Page: Groomsmen gifts and unique men’s gifts by The Man Registry.
- Product Category Page: BBQ sets and utensil gifts for groomsmen by The Man Registry.
- Product Page: 5-Piece Customized BBQ utensil set by The Man Registry.
2. Searcher Intent Keyword Use
We can all relate to times we really want to find an answer to something specific, yet the top ranking sites are answering a different question. The same goes for great content that gets unnoticed.
Knowing what your audience is searching for and how they are searching is critical for title tag optimization.
If you don’t know what words and phrases people are using when they are searching, then you’re at risk of guessing wrong.
Don’t skip keyword research or ignore it when you are optimizing title tags.
You don’t have to worry about every literal version of a keyword or phrase in the current context-based era of SEO, but you also can’t ignore the searcher and their intent. Find balance, use terms consistently, and write in a way that reads naturally to your audience.
Your goal for an optimized title tag is to match the wording that you use with what is being searched for as long as the perceived intent is the focus of the content of the page.
3. Topical Relevance Within The Page
The next step in understanding where the page fits in the hierarchy of the website overall is to evaluate the content on the page.
The title tag is most impactful for search engines and users when it introduces the topic of the page and the same important keywords are used in body copy, image alt attribute, the meta description, URL, and other aspects of the page.
Don’t waste your opportunity to leverage this element, among the other on-page items, by trying to write it to include words, terms, or phrases that aren’t included in the content on the page.
Google can and will ignore tags that aren’t helpful or meaningfully tied to the subject matter of the rest of the page.
You should use words in the title tag that are also used in other parts of the page to tie the topic together.
4. Unique Tags
Duplicate title tags are not helpful to searchers or search engines.
If you have duplicate tags, you’ll see them in Google Search Console or Bing Webmaster Tools reports. Often, you’ll find that the search engines have chosen to ignore your title tag and use other content it found on your page for the blue link text in the SERP.
This is especially true for widespread issues of missing or duplicate title tags.
When multiple pages have the same tag, those tags are useless to the search engine if they are very generic or just list the name of the company or organization. Examples include when the entire site has the exact same title tag that is simply the domain name or company name.
For years, whether due to widespread duplication, improperly formatted tags, missing tags, or just tags with content that Google doesn’t find helpful or useful, Google has substituted page content for the blue link content in the search results page.
In some cases this is okay; in others, it leads to less desirable content in terms of context for the page and also for optimizing for clicks from searchers.
The ideal scenario is to have solid, optimized title tags for users and search engines rather than leaving it to chance.
You can use the data provided in Google Search Console and Bing Webmaster Tools to find where you have issues as well as run your own tests through any number of on-page auditors and crawling tools like my favorite, Screaming Frog.
If you have duplicate tags within your site, add writing custom tags to your SEO action plan.
5. Use Dynamic Options When Possible
If you have a large website or one that features a large amount of dynamic data – like an ecommerce website – finding ways to semantically code your tags is essential.
Most content management systems and website platforms will automatically generate the title tag. If you want to override or customize the default title tag at scale, work with your developer or within your website platform settings to find ways to add more detail and customize at different levels.
The more you can scale and not have to manually manage hundreds or thousands of tags, the better.
An example of a dynamic structure could include some standard text in all product page tags but with the specific name of the product populated from the database.
For example, it could be “[product_name] groomsmen gifts from The Man Registry.” The bracketed “product_name” would be a variable that would populate that part of the title with the actual product name in the database.
In this case, you wouldn’t have to manually write all product title tags and can ensure they are unique. For cases where you have the same products with variations or attributes such as different colors, you can also look at ways to add more variables from the database.
A quick word of caution: Despite the convenience and scaling you can do using dynamic tags, you can also do a lot of damage quickly. Be sure to audit your tags initially and at regular intervals to make sure database and coding implementations are still rendering the tags you intend.
6. Call To Action In SERP
Remember that the title tag will be shown as the text in the blue link on the SERPs.
This is prominent real estate and the message featured here greatly impacts the searcher’s decision on whether to click through to your site or move on to the next search result.
Your focus must be on answering the question, need, or desire of the searcher. Give the searcher a reason to click on the link that aligns with your content, goals, and what they’re seeking.
Having a clear vision of what your page is about and what the desired outcome is for both you and your visitor is critical.
If you’re trying to accomplish too many business goals on a single page, it can be hard to focus clearly enough on what the call to action (CTA) should be. If you find this to be the case, consider breaking your content out into more topics and pages.
Much like the art of writing a solid PPC text ad headline, the title tag must match the intent of the searcher to earn their click.
When writing your title tag, keep in mind that the tag is truncated by Google at around 70 characters. The user won’t see any word past that character count.
However, Google has said that they do index more characters than that. Regardless of how long you want to make your title tag for Google’s indexing and interpretation of it, keep your goals for attracting clicks through from searchers in mind, as well.
Consider how the title truncates and what will appear on the SERPs.
Get your important words and phrases in there. Be concise, be direct, and prioritize important words to appear as early in your title tags as possible.
For example, you might have the average sounding home page title tag of: “Groomsmen gifts and unique men’s gifts by The Man Registry.”
You could test out more actionable language like “Shop the best groomsmen & unique men’s gifts at The Man Registry.”
7. Don’t Try Too Hard
Avoid repetitive and spammy-looking titles.
Resist the temptation to overdo it with your title tag.
The search engines are focused on context – not literal keyword use, frequency, and density.
Pick words that are clearly relevant to the topic of the page and searcher intent.
You can use longer form areas of the page to elaborate and build on that context.
An example of a dangerous title tag would be: “Groomsmen gifts, Groomsman Gifts, Gifts for Men, Unique Gifts.”
Overplaying and repeating words not appears spammy to Google but to searchers, as well.
8. Keep The Title Tag’s Impact In Perspective
Don’t overemphasize the importance or impact of the title tag alone.
While you might see a small bump from optimizing all the title tags on your site, you can’t expect that the title tag alone is your key to SEO success.
Holistic search optimization is much more important.
In many cases, title tag optimization is just the start or an entry point. Until you are at the top of the SERPs, it probably doesn’t make sense to hyperfocus on small adjustments and obsess over minor changes in the language used to see how they impact rankings one position at a time.
SEO includes a wide range of elements ranging from technical to on-page to links and more. While no single element will make or break a strategy, you can’t ignore title tags within the overall mix.
Following these eight best practices will help you optimize and scale your efforts and contribute to getting hierarchy and context right for your website.
Always keep the searcher and your audience in mind. Find the right balance between incorporating important keywords with also matching the intent for the topic.
Include the title tag in your optimization plan, understand how it helps with getting click-throughs, and strive to best optimize it for your content and needs.
Featured Image: Paulo Bobita/Search Engine Journal