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Search Engine Marketing > Are Your Title Tags Fully Optimised for the Search Engines?
February 29, 2012

When you see people you haven’t seen in a long time, it’s common to notice the smallest things that are different about them. But when you see them every day, years could go by, hair could go grey, weight could be lost and gained, and yet you’ll barely notice anything different about them. It’s odd, but that’s just the way we are – unfortunately, it’s not a trait that works well when dealing with search engine optimisation and title tags.

How is this characteristic relevant with title tags you say? As one of the leading website design and SEO companies in Sydney, we’ve been faced with the task of making and remaking various title tags for numerous company websites, and one of the most common occurrences we’ve encountered is that, after long periods of time staring at their websites, website owners tend to overlook the most basic and arguably the most important part of their website, which is the title tag.  

Search Engine Optimisation Friendly Title Tags

Though most people who view websites (and not build them) barely notice title tags are actually there at the top of the browser's window, those of us who know the inner workings of search engines optimisation realise that title tags serve a very important role that is beyond simply being a label. Search engine marketing news site SEOMoz states that it is “the single most important on-page SEO element” apart from the overall content within a website. SEO writer Rick DeJarnette concurs, stating on Search Engine Land that aside from appearing on your browser, your search engine results page and as anchor text on external websites, title tags also possess “the most SEO power of any tag on the page for establishing keyword relevance” and it is ideally “the best place to get a concise description of the content on the page.” “This one tag is a huge opportunity to properly introduce your page to both human users (via the SERPs) and to search engines (for building keyword relevance),” writes DeJarnette. Your title tag can be likened to a pillar that stands at the forefront of your website, encapsulating everything your website or page is about while also holding your website and its many pages up in search results pages. Suffice to say, your title tag will have to be pretty solid to achieve the full benefits related to search engine optimisation that it can offer a website, so if you’ve been staring at your title tag for far too long perhaps it’s about time you took a look at it from a different angle.

Propping That SEO Pillar Up Right

Hours of staring at the same title tag may have a numbing effect and block your view of the many ways to better your title tag, but DeJarnette offers a few pointers to break that numbness and give your title tag the boost it needs to reach its full potential:

  1. Use Only One Per Page. Perhaps having the notion that it would be simpler and more convenient, some website developers and site owners just opt to have one title tag for all their web pages, or multiple tags in one page, or no tag at all. DeJarnette points out that these are all wrong and completely negates the value of the title tag. He stresses that there must be only one per page and it should be contained within the <head> section of the code in order to “keep your code valid and earn the value inherent in this key HTML element.” Having only one per page also gives you the opportunity to get more keywords in (just be sure they are all relevant to the actual content of the page). More than one will only confuse Google and hamper search engine optimisation benefits.The title tag in your HTML code should look like this: <title>your important words here</title>.

  2. Place Your Most Important Keywords in Front. In a study conducted by SEOMoz, 35 out of 37 participants said that keyword usage in the title tag was the most important place to use keywords to achieve high rankings, and the closer the keyword is to the start of the title tag, the more helpful it will be for ranking and the more likely it will be for a user to click on them in search results. It is crucial then to place your keywords on your title tag in a descending order, beginning with the most important to the least important. To determine which one’s which, DeJarnette suggests noting search traffic generated per month for each keyword or phrase when doing keyword research, and also noting how competitive the word is for close calls and as tie-breakers between keywords. This will help you decide which words to lead and end with. But be careful not to stuff your title tag with too many keywords! Don’t repeat your keyword several times within your title tag as well, as this will only make it appear suspicious, not to mention incoherent. Remember, it still has to be appealing to searchers so make it as natural as possible while still incorporating your most important keywords.

  3. Brand Names Go Last, Except.... when your brand name is actually one of your keywords. That is usually only true for the more established brands though, so if you are not one of those brands, better place your brand name last. Some SEOs will suggest you leave it out completely, but Search Engine Watch states that you can leave it in for the purpose of branding, though this is not valid for all sites.

  4. Be Mindful of Length. You should only use a maximum of 70 characters (including spaces) when creating your title tag for two reasons: first, DeJarnette point out, “search engines don’t typically like long <title> tag text. After a certain length, the keyword relevance value drops to pretty much zero.” Second, SERPs will only show so many characters on a title tag before it stops it with ellipses (...)

  5. Be Mindful of Wording. When it comes to the actual words in your title tag, aside from focusing on your keywords you have to make sure not to include what DeJarnette calls “stop words”, words such as:

    • articles (such as “the”, ”an” and “a”)
    • auxiliary verbs (such as “am”, “is”, and “can”)
    • conjunctions (such as “and”, “or”, “but” and “while”)
    • particles (such as “if”, “then”, and “thus”)
    • prepositions (such as “of”, “that”, “on” and “for”)
    • pronouns (such as “he”, “we”, “which” and “her”)
    • and more

    These words carry little to no keyword value and will only eat up your limited number of characters. This rule of course does not apply to pages like this one, where the title of the article needs to be stated in full. With everything else though, you need to trim the fat for a website title that is search engine optimisation friendly .

    Before you get too caught up with keywords, you have to consider the readability and emotional impact of your title tag as well. SEOMoz states that “it's important to not only think about optimisation and keyword usage, but the entire user experience. The title tag is a new visitor's first interaction with your brand when they find it in a search result and should convey the most positive impression possible.”

  6. Be Mindful of Keyword Separation. Commas, underscores, dashes and other punctuation marks should not be used for the same reason “stop words” should not be used, unless your keywords are really written with them. To separate keywords or phrases, Search Engine Watch suggests using pipes (|) instead. A smart website design consultant should already know this. For example, when making a title tag for your “about us” page, it could look like this:
    Important keywords | About us | Company name Or About | Important keywords | Company name.

  7. Use Title Tag Keywords In Your Page Body. DeJarnette notes that using the same keywords on your page body as those on your title tag will tell search engines of the relevance of these keywords and how they best define the contents of the page, boosting their value and your page’s ranking.

According to Search Engine Watch, sometimes Google will rewrite your title tag when it finds your existing one unsuitable. This new title will be based on various pieces of information, and will more than likely be one you dislike. Avoid this by follow the above guidelines and ensure your title tag follows the above best practices for search engine optimisation friendly webpages.

Content Revised: 19/06/2012

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