5 Things You Need to Know about Page Titles

Page titles (also known as “title tags”) are one of your very best shots at search success. Page title is what shows up as the link to your site in the search results. It sits right up at the top left of your web browser, above everything else. The title tag is the window to your page’s soul. That one little tag tells search engines, potential customers, and any random monkey who stumbles by just what it is you think this webpage is about. And that carries a lot of weight.

So why, then, do so many websites get it so wrong?

Here are some common page title issues.

  1. Branding first. The marketing department and the CEO insist that the company brand name be as the first element of every page title on the site. “For branding!” they say. Well, think about it. Since the page title is your best on-page shot at search engine ranking, do you really want to squander that shot on the one search term you already should rank really well for? If you don’t rank at the top for your brand name, then it might make sense to use it as page title on the home page…. but even then, there’s probably a search term with a lot more traffic (and sales) potential than your brand.
  2. Repetition. This is usually seen in combination with the branding issue above.  The CEO says, “Brand name first on every page!” and no matter what the search marketing consultant says, that’s the way it will be. It’s a mistake. A HUGE mistake. It’s an epic freaking huge mondo mistake to use the same page title on more than one page. It’s only a marginally smaller mistake to begin more than one page title with the same keywords. So, if you’re company is Acme Zoologic Solutions, Inc., Makers of ACME Brand Monkey Repellent, and every page title reads Acme Zoologic Solutions, Inc, it will look to the search engine spider like your entire site is made up of 128 repetitions of the same page.
  3. Low Prominence. Search engines are smart, but aren’t that smart. If an engine sees a list of words, they almost always believe that they are in order of importance.  And if your titles all look like a variation on Acme Zoologic Solutions, Inc |  Aerosol 12 Packs, it will look to the engines like your brand name is the most important keyword on every single page. Every page title should at least begin with the best keyword phrase for that page.
  4. Length? . This one is a bit more debatable. Debatable ad infinitum, actually. SEOs have been arguing the relative merits of title length for about a decade now. And there really is no definitive answer. Google only displays 65 or so characters in search results. But they do read at least 128 characters, and probably index the whole string.  There are numerous examples of page titles with hunormously long titles. The number 2 result for the high-value search term “women’s shoes”:  Shop Women’s Shoes Online at DSW: Sandals, Flats, Spring Shoes, Flip Flops, Summer Shoes 92 characters. But the number one spot is Women’s Shoes | Zappos.com which comes in at a very trim 26 characters.  The advantage to the longer string is that DSW may be getting a boost for the keywords at the end: sandals, flats, spring shoes….  although a quick search for “women’s shoes flats” does put DSW in number 1, it is for their Flats page—which happens to have a very short crisp title:  Shop Women’s Shoes Flats — DSW. My personal instinct is to always make the page title as short as you can without sacrificing your best keyword phrase.  AND NOTICE, if you will, that in all the examples, the keyword “women’s shoes” is placed right at the front of the title string, even before the brand. Related to length—but with a different spin—is keyword stuffing, the number of keywords and/or phrases you can jam into one title tag. As in the above example for length, there are successful sites with 6, 7, 10 and more keyword phrases in their titles. Do enough testing, though, and you’ll start to see a pattern. Successful sites with stuffed titles tend to be most successful for the first keyword in the string. My recommendation is always to keep it simple. Lead with your best keyword and if you must use more, keep it to 2 or 3. Including brand name. There is another hazard here. Google is rumored to enforce an “over-optimization” penalty. Title tags stuffed to bursting with keywords are great big neon “over-optimized” signs.
  5. Poor targeting. The title tag should be aimed at the type of page it refers to. This is kind of hard for some web folk to grasp, but it shouldn’t be. Your most general keyword live at the top, home page level. Category level pages should have product type titles. Product pages should almost always use the product name in the title. Home page:  Monkey Repellent | ACME Zoologic Solutions. Top category page:  Aerosol Monkey Repellent. Middle category page: Safari Dave Aerosol Monkey Repellent. Product page: Safari Dave’s Original Aerosol Monkey Repellent, 12 count

So let’s wrap it up with a big old bow. Title tags should be:

  • Best keyword first, brand second (or no brand at all),

  • unique on every page,

  • short, and

  • to-the-point

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