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The Complete Guide to Mastering Your Title Tags

When it comes to on-page optimization, the title tag of any given web page is the single most important piece of optimizable real estate there is. Think of it as beach front property off the Florida Keys. Unlike other areas of a website, the optimizable space in the title tag is extremely limited but has great search visibility, which means it can really pack a punch! In fact, aside from a site’s total architecture, I can’t think of any single area of a site that holds as much sway over search engine rankings as the title tag of your pages.

The title tag represents the most powerful collection of characters on the entire web page. Assuming your site architecture is in order, if you could only make one change to a page to help it rank, I’d make that change to an unoptimized title tag to be fully search and user-optimized. All that to say, optimizing it right is extremely advantageous!

What Is a Title Tag and Where Is It Found?

The title tag is a brief snippet of code that allows you to describe the content of any given page of your website. Every page of your site has its own title tag that can be customized for content of that particular page.

The general idea of the page title is to use it as you would when writing the title of a college paper or business report. It’s a very short, compelling introduction to the content designed to let readers know what the reader is about to consume.

The actual title of your page is found in the title element of your code:

<title>This Is Your Page Title</title>

For the search engines and browsers to read it properly, this code needs to be placed in the <head> section of your code:


How and Where Is the Title Tag Displayed?

While your page title is essentially hidden in your code, there are four places it is visible. Each of these places have varying degrees of impact on your potential audience.

Search Engine Results Pages
When a search is performed, in most cases, Google and other search engines pull the page title to display as the clickable link. This is what most people see, scan and read as they are deciding which site to visit after a search.

Title Tag in SERPs

Browser Tabs
More and more, web users have multiple browser tabs open at one time. It may be three or four, or even dozens at a time. Your well-written title tag will help them find your information more quickly as they seek to navigate back to the open page.

Keep in mind that usually only 1-4 words of the title will display in the tab, giving you viewable ranges from 25-50% of the whole title. This might alter the way you structure your title, placing the most important information first.

Title tag in browser tabs


Browser Bookmarks

If (or hopefully when) someone bookmarks one of your pages, the default bookmark text that shows is the page’s title tag. This text is completely editable, but there is a high likelihood that they won’t. Therefore, it is extremely important that the title accurately represents the page content because, just as in the search results, you’ll be competing against other sites they’ve bookmarked, as well.

Title Tag in Bookmarks

Social Links
When pushing content out onto social media channels, the title of your page is usually the title of the link that gets pushed out. If your title is too long or has additional words that are unnecessary (such as company name), this could lead to socialization of a not-so-compelling or interesting title. Since clicks are an important part of socialization, your title should be optimized for that, too.

Title Tags in Social Media

How You Can Benefit From Good Titles

A title tag serves three main purposes of SEO, usability and socialization. They influence rankings, persuade people to click and increase visibility.

Tatle tag influenceSEO: Influence rankings
As I mentioned before, if I could only make one change to a site for search engine ranking purposes, it would be the title tag. Adding or moving keywords in a title tag can mean the difference between a page not ranked and page ranked on the first page in the search results. Depending on your competition, it can literally have that much power.

Usability: Persuades the click
Since the title tag is (usually) displayed in the search results or on social sites, it is the often the very first point of influence in bringing someone to your site. If your title tag isn’t compelling, then all your top rankings and social shares ultimately won’t amount to a whole lot as potential visitors bypass it for other more compelling content.

Socialization: Increases visibility
When looking for social engagement, the more compelling your title, the greater likelihood that it will be passed and re-passed and re-passed by the masses. Boring titles that get skimmed over don’t engage audiences. Exciting titles do. The higher your engagement, the better visibility your title tag earns you.

How to Craft a Good Title Tag

Crafting a quality title tag isn’t always as easy as it seems. Every display platform has differing limitations and serves a different purpose. Obviously, good writing is essential to being effective. Poorly crafted and structured words are skimmed over at best, and portray a level of incompetence at worst. Using good writing practices will ensure you craft a title tag that is worthy of the attention you want.

65-70 character limit
A good rule of thumb is to keep your title tag under 65 characters. Remember when I said the title tag is the beachfront property of SEO, this is one of the reasons why. Space is extremely limited, so you have to make the most of it.

While different platforms allow for different title lengths, arguably the most important platform is Google. Google will display between 65-70 characters of your title, so whatever you have to say should stay within these limitations if you want to be sure it displays in the search results. My recommendation is to stay under 65 characters so you don’t have to deal with truncated post titles in the SERPs.

The two examples below show the difference in a title that is slightly too long vs. one that is just right.

truncated title tag


Title Tag in SERPs

Recent experiments show that Google no longer cares about character count but instead is looking at overall pixel width for title tags. What is yet to be determined is exactly how many pixels. Nor is there a convenient tool for counting pixel width of your title tags. Until this information is readily available, my suggestion is to break the 65 character limit carefully. Review your pages in the rankings to be sure it doesn’t truncate and edit accordingly.

Lead with your keywords
how to craft a good title tagKeywords are an important part of both SEO and usability. People search using certain phrases because that is how they are thinking about the product or information you have. If you want them to notice your site, the phrases they used to search should be visible to the searcher. If you don’t use the same keywords in your title tag, there may be a disconnect between what the searcher wants and what they believe your content to be about.

When writing your title tags, placing your keywords at the beginning, rather than in the middle or end serves three main purposes:

1) Google weighs information at the front of your title tag more heavily than information toward the end. If you’re trying to improve your rankings for a page, sometimes moving the keywords from the middle or end of the title tag to the front makes all the difference.

2) Searchers scan down the left side of the page. Seeing your keyword where they are scanning increases the odds of the searcher seeing your link and finding it to be relevant. Google will bold the searched phrase in each of the title links, making it easier for them to be seen wherever they are, but for quick scanning purposes, it’s better in the front.

3) When your page is open in a tab, only the first couple of words might be displayed. If your topic keywords are not in the front, then the visitor will have a harder time getting back to the relevant information they need or pass it up for several other open tabs with better title tags!

Be compelling
It could be argued that it is more difficult to craft a compelling page title if you always have to place the keywords at the beginning. I agree. Sometimes you have to compromise in one area or another to be effective.

I heard a story once about the special effects department on the show Star Trek: the Next Generation. Due to budget limitations, the department often had to compromise on the effects they wanted and find solutions that didn’t cost as much. The producers admitted that while these limitations frustrated them, it often forced them to be creative and, ultimately, gave them better special effects than they otherwise might have generated with a bigger budget.

Twitter has the same limitations. You have to say what you want in no more than 140 characters. This forces you to be more creative and reduce unnecessary words, which often results in a more poignant message. This proves that creating a compelling title in 65 characters and leading with your keywords is possible.

The best title tags are those that are the most readable. Title tags that are nothing more than a list of keywords are difficult to read, understand and usually tell you very little about the context of the page content. Sentence structure title tags allow for easy reading and can frame the content succinctly. Here is an example of a title tag that reads purely as a sentence:

<title>Website Marketing and SEO Strategy Company for Online Businesses</title>

Many SEOs – me included – like to work the keyword into the title tag more than once. This makes a full and complete title sentence a bit more complicated, but there are ways around that which I believe create both a visually appealing and readable title.

In the example below, I placed the keyword first, followed by the pipe symbol and then a keyword rich “sentence.” This gives me the opportunity to always have the keyword in the scan zone as well as a variation of it in sentence format.

<title>Website Marketing | SEO and Web Marketing Strategy Company</title>

Using Title Tags for Branding: Good Idea or No?

Many businesses ask whether they should place their business name in their title tag. The short answer to that is no. The title real estate is just to valuable is to waste it on a name nobody knows about. However, there are times when you should use your business name in the title. It all comes down to branding, whether you have it, need it or if it matters at all.

Branded Title Tags

In general, people searching for non-branded keywords do not care about branding. If people are searching for “soda” (or “pop” as they call it in the Midwest), they aren’t necessarily looking for Pepsi. If they were, I think they’d just type in “pepsi” for their search. Of course, that Pepsi result might generate more click-thrus than, say, “Pop’s Soda,” but that’s because Pepsi is already a recognized brand that attracts attention.

That is the key difference. Recognizable brands can gain additional clicks by putting their brand name in their title tag, but that only works for recognizable brands. If you’re not a recognizable brand, then putting your business name in the front of your title tag is stealing keyword real estate that could be helping you outrank Pepsi, giving you a shot at stealing that click.

If you absolutely insist on including your brand name in your URLs, my suggestion would be to add it to the end of the title tag rather than the beginning. While you lose some keyword real estate, you’re not losing the prime property at the beginning. However, most companies don’t need it and shouldn’t use their brand name unless it’s a product name that is frequently searched.

Common Title Tag Mistakes

We’ll end this post with some common mistakes people make when crafting their title tags. Some of these have already been touched on above, but this will serve as a good reminder of what you should not do.

Same title is used on every page.

Common title tag mistakes.Lazy webmasters and site designers are known to create a single title tag and throw it on every page of the site. Sometimes a default title is built into the CMS, waiting for someone to come along and customize it for each page. Regardless of why, this is a grave mistake.

Since every page should have different and unique content, each should also have a customized and unique title tag. This helps the search engines differentiate pages from each other and gives them better context for ranking them.

Leading with business name

As noted above, most business just don’t need to do this. It severely hinders your optimization efforts and also looks bad in social media channels.

Long list of keywords

We talked about making the title tag compelling. One of the most non-compelling things you can do is load your title tag up with keywords. We’ve probably all have seen title tags that look like this:

<title>SEO | PPC | Web Marketing | Link Building | Social Media |</title>

While this might give a good idea of the services you provide, it provides absolutely nothing compelling to the searcher. A good title tag gives value and a reason to click.

Lack of keywords or description

On the opposite end of the spectrum are title tags that are nothing more than generic information. They include maybe a single keyword phrase but no more descriptive content. Giving the searcher as much information as possible encourages the click to your site and creates a bit of anticipation that you will be the one to meet their needs.

Title tags are not too complicated, but, for their small stature, they sure do pack a punch. Proper title tag optimization is essential to any good optimization campaign. Not only do they boost search engine rankings, but they also increase clicks as visitors find what they want before they even land on your site. That increases the chances of getting the sale before the visitor leaves your site.

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Stoney G deGeyter

Stoney deGeyter is the author of The Best Damn Web Marketing Checklist, Period!. He is the founder and CEO of Pole Position Marketing, a web presence optimization firm who's pit crew has been velocitizing websites since 1998. In his free time Stoney gets involved in community services and ministries with his bride enjoy and his children. Read Stoney's full bio.

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7 Responses to The Complete Guide to Mastering Your Title Tags

    • It may have been my browser with an issue. The moment my comment was posted and the page refreshed, there was no longer a second article stacked on top of the first. Everything looks good now, Thank You.

  1. I liked the neat trick with putting the most important words in the title first because of the browser tabs, bookmarks and social links – I didn’t think at this before.

    I feel that Google has given a much bigger importance to the title tags lately (especially with the latest EMD update) so this article is really useful.

  2. James, glad to hear it was just a hiccup.

    George, thanks for the feedback. A lot of this is old news for those of us who do SEO but I was hoping to hit some things that perhaps aren’t on the forefront of our minds.

  3. Thank you for clarifying the position regarding branding in titles. So many small websites think they should have their company name because a big brand does it. I will refer them to your article in future!

  4. Eric, I agree. Using business name in title tags–especially at the beginning–is a complete waste. No one knows or cares who you are, unless you’re a brand. And if you kill your rankings because you put your business name first, no one will ever find you.