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Title Tags Revisited

September 30, 2009
What Is a Title Tag?

The title tag has been – and probably will always be – one of the most important factors in achieving high search engine rankings.

In fact, fixing just the title tags of your pages can often generate quick and appreciable differences to your rankings. And because the words in the title tag are what appear in the clickable link on the search engine results page (SERP), changing them may result in more clickthroughs.

Search Engines and Title Tags

Title tags are definitely one of the "big three" as far as the algorithmic weight given to them by search engines; they are equally as important as your visible text copy and the links pointing to your pages – perhaps even more so. Yet, even though this has been common knowledge among SEO professionals for at least 10 years, it is often overlooked by webmasters and others attempting to optimize their websites for targeted search engine traffic.

Do Company Names Belong in the Title Tag?

The answer is a resounding YES! I've found that it's fine to place your company name in the title, and (gasp!) even to place it at the beginning of the tag! In fact, if your company is already a well-known brand, I'd say it's essential. Even if you're not a well-known brand yet, chances are you'd like to be, right? The title tag gives you a great opportunity to further this cause.

This doesn't mean that you should put *just* your company name in the title tag. Even the best-known brands will benefit from a few good descriptive phrases added, because they will enhance your brand as well as your search engine traffic. The people who already know your company and seek it out by name will be able to find you in the engines, and so will those who have never heard of you but seek the products or services you sell.

Title Tags Should Contain Specific Keyword Phrases

For example, if your company is "Johnson and Smith Inc.," a tax accounting firm in Texas, you would want your company's site to appear in the search engine results for searches on phrases such as "Texas tax accountants" and "CPAs in Texas." (Be sure to do your keyword research to find the best phrases!) If you prefer to work with people only in the Dallas area, you'd need to be even more specific by adding geographical modifiers to your title tags, such as "Dallas tax accountants."

Using our Dallas accountant example, you might create a title tag like this one:

Johnson and Smith Tax Accountants in Dallas

or you might try:

Johnson and Smith - Dallas CPAs

However, there's more than enough space in the title tag to include both of these important keyword phrases. I find that using 10 to 12 words in my title tags works great.

One way to include two keyphrases would be like this:

Johnson and Smith - Dallas Tax Accountants - CPAs in Dallas, TX

I've always liked the method of separating phrases with a hyphen; however, in today's competitive marketplace, how your listing appears in the SERPs is a crucial aspect of your SEO campaign. After all, if you have high search engine rankings but your targeted buyers aren't clicking through, it won't do you much good.

The idea is to write compelling titles as opposed to simply factual ones, when you can. But it also depends on the page, the type of business, the targeted keyword phrases, and many other factors. There's nothing wrong with the title tag in my above example. If you were looking for a tax accountant in Dallas and saw that listing at Google, you'd probably click it. (Note: Don't worry if some of your visible title tag info gets cut off when the search engines display your page's info; they are still indexing all the words contained within it.)

Still, you could make it a readable sentence like this:

Johnson and Smith are Tax Accountants and CPAs in Dallas, TX

I'm not as thrilled with that one. I had to remove the exact phrase "Dallas Tax Accountants" because it wouldn't read as well if it said:

Johnson and Smith are Dallas Tax Accountants and CPAs in Dallas, TX

It sounds redundant that way, as if it were written only for the search engines.

In the end, it’s really a personal preference.

Don't make yourself crazy trying to create the perfect title tag, because there's just no such thing. Most likely, either of my examples would work fine. The best thing to do is to test different ones and see which bring the most traffic to your website. You might very well find that the second version doesn't rank as well, but gets clicked on more, effectively making up the difference.

Use Your Visible Text Copy as Your Guide

I prefer to create my title tags *after* the copy on the page has been written and optimized. I need to see how the copywriter integrated the keyword phrases into the content to know where to begin. If you've done a good job with your writing (or better yet, hired a professional SEO copywriter), you should find all the information you need right there on your page. Simply choose the most relevant keyword phrases that the copy was based on, and write a compelling title tag accordingly. If you can't seem to get a handle on the most important phrases for any given page, you probably need to rewrite the page content.

I recommend that you *don't* use an exact sentence pulled from your copy as your title tag. And don't use the exact wording that's in your top headline. It's much better to have a unique sentence or a compelling string of words in your title tag.

You'll want to watch out for certain website content management systems (CMS) and blog software that automatically generate the title tag from information you provided elsewhere. Some, in fact, default to the same exact title tag on every page, which is the best way to kill your search engine leads! The good news is that most of today's CMS's and blog software have workarounds so that you can customize your title tags fairly easily. If yours doesn't, or your developer claims they can't do this, then you'll want to find a new developer or CMS as soon as possible!

Jill Whalen is the CEO of High Rankings, a Boston SEO Services company.

If you learned from this article, be sure to sign up for the High Rankings Advisor SEO Newsletter so you can be the first to receive similar articles in the future!
Post Comment

 Bard said:
Great article! With the demise of meta keywords and decline of meta description over the last few years the title is the only thing really left in the head (besides good clean coding) that makes a real difference to SEs. I ALWAYS include company/organization name (I have some gov't clients) along with some choice search terms and a page name to ensure that it will always be unique from other pages on the site.
 Dave Anderson said:
I agree the store name in the title is essential. When selling products I make sure the words 'buy' and 'for sale' are in the title. This helps searchers find sites that are actually selling and not just discussing.
 GK said:
Isnt it better to have a "less-is-more" approach to title tags?
 Jill Whalen said:
@GK definitely not in my opinion. More is more. :)
 Mark Oliver said:
I've heard there is a limit on the number of characters, or words, you can effectively use in a Title. The 'more is more' philosophy would indicate that's not true?

Is there a weight that applies greater value to the first set of words than the last? In which case, if the locality were important, you would want to push Dallas toward the start.
 Lance said:
I was going to tweet this but the url was too long lol.
 Jill Whalen said:
@Mark don't believe everything (or anything) you read or hear. Do your own tests and see for yourself what works best.

@Lance that's what is for!
 Clinton said:

I followed the link in your email to this page. It's always worth bringing up the title because most webmasters, myself included, aren't brilliant at optimising titles.

However, to correct a very common misconception, the title is not a tag as used in the context above, it's an element. Of course, it smells just as sweet whatever it's called :)
 Ryan Miller said:

You made the statement: ". The best thing to do is to test different ones and see which bring the most traffic to your website. "

How do you recommend performing an objective test? Since the actual rank of the listing will vary over time (and in part at times due to title changes) and influence click throughs, and considering that we do not have reliable impression data from the search engines ('most traffic' is most valuable when we know CTR)...and (now I realize more problems are coming to mind) since determining exactly when the revised titles are picked up and displayed in a SE index would influence the analysis.

I'm curious to know how you or others are testing titles. Are you mocking up Google results pages and asking people where they are likely to click?

 Jill said:
@Ryan, while it's not completely scientific, I mostly test title tags by making sure that's the only thing you change on a page and then checking your analytics over some period of time to see if that page brought in more traffic for its targeted keyword phrases.

You want to spot check rankings to make sure you don't kill them completely of course. While you can't use rankings as your complete measure of success since they're so personalized these days, obviously if you go from page 6 to page 1, you've probably done something right. (And vice-versa.)
 Ryan Miller said:

Thanks for the feedback. We've done some similar testing, but boy does personalized search make drawing meaning from the analysis tough.

I think I might test some mocked-up Google results sets just for fun to see how TITLE, and then TITLE and rank impacts click throughs.