Title Tag Optimization: A Complete How-to Guide
A high level SEO strategy is important. So are the details.
The title tag is just one of many elements on a page that we focus on when optimizing pages and content.
Improving them alone probably won’t lead to many ranking changes. However, using it in context with other elements on a page can create important context and appropriateness for the page, sections, and sites in general.
In addition to the SEO impact and emphasis we place on title tags, we also need to consider their impact on CTR and compelling our target audience to come to our site.
When search engines use our title tag as the blue link in a search on a search results page, the contents of this tag can make or break a searcher when they click through to our site.
In this chapter, you will learn eight best practices for incorporating a robust and optimized title tag plan into your SEO strategy.
What is a title tag?
A title tag is an HTML tag found in the header section of every webpage. It provides a hint or initial context to what topic the page is on.
The title tag appears prominently on search engine results pages (SERPs) where it is usually used as a clickable link and also appears in a browser window.
Other than these two places, the title tag is not as visible as other web content on the page (eg body copy, image content, and other aspects). For this reason, the title tag can sometimes be overlooked.
On its own, the title tag has little effect on organic rankings. There is no single magic or powerful ranking factor – especially if your content is of low quality or you’ve neglected technical SEO.
Here are eight important aspects to consider when optimizing your title tags for search.
1. The context of the page within the site
Before you can write an optimized title tag, you must know where the page fits into the overall website hierarchy.
The homepage title tag will be much different than a blog post or product page.
For websites with a lot of pages, it can be difficult to create different tags from page to page. That’s why planning your site and knowing where each page will go in light of the context of your topic is important.
Each page you enter the site deeper, the more specific you can and should be.
You can repeat words and phrases but you should be more detailed at each step to the site you go to. Plan so that title tags aren’t repeated on any pages (more on that below).
Here is an ecommerce example of title tags at different levels of the site that have appropriate context:
- Homepage: Groomsmen gifts and unique men’s gifts from The Man Registry.
- Product category page: BBQ Sets and Utensil Gifts for Groomsmen from The Man Registry.
- Product page: 5-Piece Custom Barbecue Tool Set by The Man Registry.
2. Use the intent of the researcher
We can all relate to the times we really want to find the answer to something specific, yet the top rated sites answer a different question. The same goes for great content that goes unnoticed.
Knowing what your audience is searching for and how they are searching is crucial to optimizing your title tag.
If you don’t know the words and phrases people use while searching, you run the risk of guessing wrong.
Don’t skip or ignore keyword research when you’re optimizing your title tags.
You don’t have to worry about every literal copy of a keyword or phrase in the current context-based era of SEO, but you also can’t ignore the searcher and its target. Find balance, use jargon consistently, and write in a way that reads naturally to your audience.
Your goal with an improved title tag is to match the wording you use to what is being searched for as long as the perceived intent is central to the page’s content.
3. Relevancy within the page
The next step in understanding where a page fits in the overall website hierarchy is to evaluate the content on the page.
The title tag is more impactful to search engines and users when it presents the topic of the page and the same important keywords are used in the canonical copy, image alt attribute, meta description, URL, and other aspects of the page.
Don’t waste your opportunity to take advantage of this element, among others on the page, 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 are not useful or meaningfully related to the topic 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 useful to searchers or search engines.
If you have duplicate tags, you will see these tags in Google Search Console or Bing Webmaster Tools reports. Often, you will find that search engines have chosen to ignore your title tag and use other content they found on your page for the blue link text in the SERP.
This is especially true of common issues with missing or duplicate title tags.
When multiple pages contain the same tag, those tags are useless to a search engine if they are too general or only list the name of a company or organization. Examples include when the entire site has the exact same title tag which is simply the domain name or company name.
For years, whether due to widespread repetition, incorrectly formatted tags, missing tags, or simply tags with content that Google doesn’t find useful or useful, Google has replaced the content of the page with the content of the blue link on the search results page.
In some cases that is fine; In other cases, it leads to less desirable content in terms of page context and also to improve clicks from searchers.
The ideal scenario is to have strong title tags that are optimized for users and search engines rather than leaving them up to chance.
You can use the data provided in Google Search Console and Bing Webmaster Tools to find your issues as well as run your tests with any number of on-page reviewers and crawlers like, my favorite, Screaming Frog.
If you have repeat tags within your site, add custom tags to your SEO action plan.
5. Use dynamic options when possible
If you have a large website or one that contains a large amount of dynamic data – such as an e-commerce website – finding ways to semantically mark up your tags is essential.
Most content management systems and website platforms generate the title tag automatically. If you want to override or customize the default title tag extensively, work with your developer or within your website’s platform settings to find ways to add more detail and customization 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 being populated from the database.
For example, it could be[product_name] Groomsmen Gifts from The Man Registry”. The ‘product_name’ in parentheses will be a variable that fills this part of the title with the name of the actual product in the database.
In this case, you will not have to manually type all product title tags and can be sure that they are unique. For cases where you have the same products with variants or attributes like different colors, you can also look for ways to add more variants from the database.
A quick word of warning: Despite the convenience and expansion you can do with dynamic tags, you can also do a lot of damage quickly. Be sure to check the tags initially and at regular intervals to ensure that the database and coding applications are still returning the tags that you want.
6. A call to action in the SERP
Remember that the title tag will be displayed as text in the blue link in SERPs.
This is prominent real estate and the message displayed here greatly influences a searcher’s decision whether to click on your site or go to the next search result.
Your focus should be on answering the researcher’s question, need, or desire. Give the searcher a reason to click on the link that aligns with your content, your goals, and what they’re after.
Having a clear vision of what your page is all about and the desired outcome for you and your visitor is crucial.
If you’re trying to achieve too many business goals on one page, it can be difficult to focus enough on what your call-to-action (CTA) should be. If you find this to be the case, consider splitting your content into more topics and pages.
Much like the art of writing a strong PPC text ad title, the title tag must match the searcher’s intent to earn a click.
When writing your title tag, keep in mind that Google trimmed the tag down by about 70 characters. The user will not see any word after this number of characters.
However, Google said it indexes more characters than that. No matter how long you want your title tag to be built for Google to index and interpret, keep your goals for clicks from searchers in mind as well.
Consider how the title is truncated and what will appear on SERPs.
Get your important words and phrases out there. Be brief, be direct, and prioritize important words to appear as early in your title tags as possible.
For example, your average homepage title tag might read: “Unique Groomsmen Gifts and Men’s Gifts from The Man Registry.”
You can test out more actionable language like, “Shop the best groomsmen and unique gifts for men at The Man Registry.”
7. Don’t try too hard
Avoid repetitive and spammy titles.
Resist the temptation to overdo it with your title tag.
Search engines focus on context – not literal keyword use, frequency and density.
Choose words that are clearly related to the topic of the page and the researcher’s goal.
You can use longer areas of the page to illustrate and build on this context.
An example of a serious title tag would be: “Groomsmen gifts, groomsmen gifts, gifts for men, unique gifts.”
Exaggerating word play and repetition not only seems undesirable to Google but to searchers as well.
8. Keep the title tag effect in perspective
Don’t overemphasize the importance or impact of the title tag alone.
While you may see a small bump from optimizing all the title tags on your site, you cannot expect that the title tag alone is the key to SEO success.
Overall search optimization is even more important.
In many cases, title tag optimization is just the beginning or entry point. Until you’re at the top of the SERPs, it probably doesn’t make sense to focus too much on small tweaks and obsess over subtle changes in the language used to see how they affect rankings one position at a time.
Search Engine Optimization (SEO) includes a wide range of elements ranging from technical to on-page 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 improve and extend your efforts and contribute to having the right hierarchy and context for your website.
Always keep the researcher and your audience in mind. Find the right balance between incorporating important keywords while also matching the intent of the topic.
Include the title tag in your optimization plan, understand how it helps get clicks, and strive to better optimize it for your content and needs.
Featured Image: Paolo Bobetta/Search Engine Magazine