On-Page SEO Factors – Title Tags

Most people familiar with search engine optimization know that Title tags are important page elements for rankings. All of the search engines consider them in their ranking calculation. Although Title tags might not be as important as they once were, it is still crucial that your Web site utilize them effectively.

What is a Title tag?

Within the Head section of a page the Title is contained between the open and close tags of the <title> element. The Title tag content, unlike other parts of the Head section, is viewable without having to open the source HTML of the page. In most browsers, the page Title will appear in your browser window, as shown in the screenshot of this page below.

Title tag screenshot

If you view the source of the page, then you will see the following:

<title>How-To Optimize Title Tags: Search Engine Optimization Tips - SEO Cipher</title>

On your pages you should see an open and close Title tag with words in between them. Of course, your page's Title tag content will be different than our example, but the formatting should be the same.

How do I update Title tags?

If your pages are not dynamically generated from a database, then you will probably be able to update your pages' Title tags by updating the HTML files via FTP. On the other hand, if your site has dynamic pages then you will have to figure out another way to update Title tags. Your webmaster (assuming you have one) should be able to update Titles without any issues. If you don't have one, then you might have to talk to whoever built your site originally to see if a CMS could be made available to you. This will likely involve an additional investment on your part.

Length and Keyword Usage Guidelines

Once you have figured out how to update the Title tags on your site, you will then have to determine what specific keywords you want to focus on within them. It is extremely important that every page utilizes the highest priority keyword phrase in its Title. However, you should strive to maximize the value of every Title tag by using additional keywords relevant to the page.

In general, Title tags should be no more than 12 words in length. Some SEOs will suggest using each individual word only once in a Title tag, but we recommend a more flexible maximum of two usages for any word. With that said, you should avoid repeating keywords unless you are trying to target a slightly different keyword phrase. In other words, do not repeat keywords just for the sake of repeating them. You should only repeat words if you are trying to optimize the page for multiple phrases that share some words but there is no way to string them together as one phrase.

An important point to make regarding Title tags is that Google does not have a maximum number of words that it will read in a Title – they have a maximum number of characters. That maximum number of characters is 70. Any words that end beyond that 70 character limit will not be counted as Title tag content for ranking purposes by Google. Please note that we said ends beyond the character limit. A six-letter word that begins at character 68, for example, will get cut off because it ends beyond 70 characters.

The 70 character limit is a great guideline for direct SEO benefit, but you should also remember that words that are used after that limit could also have an indirect positive benefit on search engine rankings. A lot of sites out there scrape other pages and use Title tag content as the anchor text. If any particular scraper site had some link importance (PageRank when talking about Google), then the additional words you use in the Title could help. With all that said, we still recommend the 12 word maximum overall.

Example:
You own a site that sells golf clubs. You have a landing page for Taylor Made golf clubs. You want to optimize the page for "golf clubs", "Taylor Made golf clubs".

Good Title tag:
<title>Taylor Made Golf Clubs: Taylor Made Drivers and Irons</title>

Bad Title tag:
<title>Golf Clubs: Taylor Made Golf Clubs</title>

What makes the second example bad? Well, first off it repeats the phrase "golf clubs" for no reason. There is zero additional benefit SEO wise from using the phrase at the beginning of the Title when it is part of the longer phrase "Taylor Made golf clubs". The second issue is that it does not utilize "Taylor Made drivers" or "irons" which also have search activity. Our good example is a more efficient Title that utilizes more keyword phrases and thus has more ranking potential.

Key Takeaways – Title Tag Best Practices

To sum up, here are some key things to remember when optimizing a Title tag:

  • Keep the Title 12 words or less.
  • High-priority phrases should be utilized within the first 70 characters of the Title tag.
  • The maximum usage for any particular word is two.
  • Use as many high-priority keyword phrases as you can given the recommended usage limits.
  • Utilize keyword phrases in the exact way they are searched. Please note that word order is important and you should use stop words if they are commonly included in the query.
  • You should use words from additional phrases if you cannot use them exactly due to the two usage maximum. The use of "Irons" in our good Title tag above is a perfect example of this strategy. We would have preferred to use "Taylor Made irons" but could not use Taylor Made an additional time.
  • Make sure that keywords targeted in your page Title accurately reflect the topic of the page.
  • Do not utilize keywords or phrases more than once in page Titles without a specific reason for doing so.

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