May 1, 2018 | Sarah Danks

O! What’s in a <title>?

In the last web workout, I talked about meta descriptions. Today I’m going to discuss another aspect of “meta data:” your website’s title tags.

Namely, what they are, how they’re used and how you can take a few minutes to optimize them for your website. Oh, and then I’ll even throw in some “never, ever do THIS” examples, too…

…but, first things first.

Title tag definition

A while back, I was on the panel at a blogger conference here in Minneapolis, and at one point the other panelists and myself got to talking about title tags. We all assumed the conference attendees knew what we were talking about so we didn’t elaborate on what title tags are…

…much to the chagrin of many of the audience members!

So, to start, a title tag is like the name of a book chapter. When you open a web page, the title tag shows up at the top of your web browser. It’s also the clickable link in the search engine results page (SERP):

winter riding boots serp
Okay. But what’s a title tag FOR? Well, it succinctly tells visitors (whether human or of the search engine spider variety) what each page is about. Simple, right?

Well, crafting the best title tag for each web page can be a bit more time-consuming than it takes to explain what it does. Mainly because it’s often the first impression of each page; not to mention it factors quite heavily into search engines’ ranking algorithms.

So it’s important to make sure each title tag is well-written. No pressure!

Of course, Google can have its say in how your title tags are presented, and at times will even supply its “own” title tag in place of your custom-written tag, but in spite of all that, it’s a best practice to craft your own titles.

How to write a good title tag

Enough blabber, tell us how to create a good one!” the masses cry. Okay, here we go.

If you’re a code nerd (and/or your site isn’t built on a CMS), your title tag looks like this:

and is located in the <head> section of the code.

If your website is built on a user-friendly platform, there should be a spot to change your title tags in a WYSIWYG view. If not (like in WordPress), SEO plug-ins abound and with one simple installation you’ve got easily-changeable title tags at your fingertips (PS: we love Yoast!):

yoast title tag

For each page on your site, you simply scroll down to your SEO plug-in, type in some words and presto! Custom title tag. Okay, so maybe there’s a bit more to it than that. What you want to do is ascertain the main theme of each web page. Got it?

Okay, now, even though Google recently lengthened the <title> display in the SERPs, you’ve still “only” got about 70 characters to work with, so like Jack said to Rose, “Make it count.”

I.e., as descriptively and briefly as you can, type in a sort of “phrase summary” of the page. Ready? GO.

What’d you come up with?

Hopefully something that describes the page without being

  1. too verbose,
  2. too vague,
  3. too spammy, or
  4. all of the above.

And, just so you know, if you have to ask, “Is this spammy?,” it probably is. Start over.

Generally speaking, you want to use the most important words that describe your page towards the front of the title tag. If you have a page that contains a couple of different topics, you can separate them with a pipe, comma, etc. As an example, most home pages have at least a couple of different overview topics:

Of course, that should really only happen on main/overview pages, such as your site’s home page. Internal pages should be laid out in the architecture such that the most related content exists within sections, and specific content has its own page. Of course, this is getting into website architecture and is a separate topic altogether!

If you’ve got a couple of ways to say something about a page, go ahead in the title tag — as long as it’s not spammy! — and make sure not to overdo it. Gone (hopefully) are the days of writing all variations of your main keyword and jamming them into the <title> tag.

There’s really no way for me to say “write this exact thing for every title tag every time and it’ll be amazing” because all sites are different. All websites — or even web pages within them — have different goals.

The best thing I can tell you to focus on when writing your title tags is to be succinct yet descriptive. Then, after some time has passed, check out your analytics to be sure your pages are being clicked on. You can always tweak or entirely change your title tags, but be sure you know WHY you’re changing them and know what works for your website.

Of course, since I’ve told you some things you can do, I have to mention those things that you shouldn’t do, too…

Things you MUST NEVER do with a title tag:

I’m not sure these need to be said, but I’m throwing them out there anyway. Please, for the love of all things Internet, don’t do these things to your title tags. EVER!

  1. Don’t send me back in time and include “Home,” “Welcome,” or “Our Website” in your title tag. Seriously.
  2. Your domain name is already listed in the SERP, so there’s no — I repeat, NO — need to include it in your title tag. Resist the urge.
  3. You love your business. We know you do. But there’s a more descriptive way to say what you do than just list the business name in the title tag. Don’t be shy — tell us about yourself!
  4. Piggybacking on that idea, please don’t put your company name on every single page’s title tag. We get it. It’s you. Just tell us what’s on the page already.
  5. Don’t spam. For real, if your title tags look like this, go ahead and facepalm yourself, then re-write them immediately, if not sooner:
    lings cars title tag
  6. We realize 70-ish characters isn’t a lot of space to outline what’s on a page, but please keep it short, sweet and to the point. Don’t write a full-on sentence that rambles on and on and on or your tags will end up getting cut off and no one will know what……………….
  7. Piggybacking on THAT idea, you can actually have a title tag that’s too short. Some people will disagree, but think of this: Riding Boots. Perfect! But wait — men’s or women’s? Lace-up or pull-on? Winter or summer? ACTUAL riding boots or the ones people who don’t even ride horses want to wear to work? See? Too short of a title tag = bad.
  8. Each web page needs its own unique title tag. Don’t use the same one for every page!
  9. You can certainly capitalize each word in your title tag, but don’t capitalize EVERY SINGLE LETTER BECAUSE IT LOOKS LIKE YOU’RE YELLING AT ME!
  10. And, last but certainly not least, don’t overuse your pipes, or commas, or (insert word/phrase separator here). I.e., you can have a great title tag and then You Break | It All Up | With | Too | Many | Pipes. Don’t do this.

Writing Title Tags Shouldn’t be a Daunting Task…

…but if it is, we’re here to save the day.

Since the <title> is arguably the most important SEO on-page factor, it’s imperative to take the time to write really good ones. If it’s just too overwhelming, no worries. It’s just one of the many aspects of search engine optimization we focus on — and have been doing for a long time.

So there you have it: a quick and dirty post about title tags. Take some time this week to check yours out and see what could use some improvement!



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