What is the Title Tag?
Over the years, the page title tag has been viewed as the most important on-page SEO ranking factor due to the weighting traditionally accorded to it by the search engines. It is the first element of a webpage that a search crawler looks at when indexing or analyzing the relevance of the webpage to a particular search query. The title tag is typically used to determine the page’s theme or topic, which is why it needs to be an accurate and concise description of it’s content.
Optimizing a webpage for a particular keyword used to focus heavily on matching keywords a webpage. With Google’s move to semantic search however, this strategy has been rendered much less effective for increasing the organic search ranking of a particular webpage. This was confirmed in a search engine ranking factors study by Backlinko which analysed one million Google search results. The study found that although keyword-optimized title tags were still associated with a better organic search ranking, the relationship between optimizing the title tag for a particular keyword and the webpage ranking for that keyword was smaller than it once was.
It is important to note however, that optimizing the title tag is still a very important SEO practice. This is because of the influence that the title tag can have on clickthrough rate (CTR) from the SERP. There has been much debate as to whether or not clickthrough rate is a search ranking factor. Nevertheless, the fact of the matter is that a page’s title tag can significantly influence whether or not a searcher clicks through to your site from the search results page. This factor alone makes optimizing the title tag critically important.
Identifying the Title Tag
The page title tag appears at the top of your browser on every webpage on the site. This is why the copy you use for your title tag can make a big difference on how many people click through to your site from the SERP.
In addition, the search engines will show your page title tags in the clickable part of the link in search results. This is why it is important to ensure that what the searcher sees is concise and succinct, and directly relevant to the search query.
The page title tag is meant to accurately and concisely describe the webpage’s content
The page title tag should read naturally, be fairly short, descriptive and very targeted to the theme or topic of the webpage that you want to rank for. Keep in mind that the tag will be displayed wherever the page is shared on the web, including social media channels such as Facebook and Twitter.
For best practices, make sure that your page title is no longer than seven words and no more than 60 characters at the most including spaces, even though technically, the title tag can be as long as 70 characters. A long page title will not necessarily hurt your site, however if it is too long, it will be truncated and won’t appear in its entirety in the search results. This could affect the quality of your message, and ultimately, clickthrough rate.
Google tends to display the first 55 – 60 characters in the search results, so it is important to include your most relevant keywords at the beginning of the title tag. You also need to ensure that the main part of the title that could show up in search results will be engaging enough to draw the click from the searcher in the SERP. Furthermore, each title tag must be unique across each webpage. Don’t mass replicate your title tags as this may create duplicate content issues.
It is important to keep in mind that if Google doesn’t like the look of your title tag, it may rewrite it for you, and you may not like what Google chooses to write on your behalf. This is why it is important to craft a title tag that is relevant, concise, content-descriptive and most importantly, not keyword-stuffed.
Impact of Semantic Search
The Google search engine is gradually evolving into a semantic search engine rather than a keyword-driven search engine. With semantic search, Google aims to focus on user intent and contextual relevance rather than simply returning pages that have been best optimized for the exact keywords used in the search query. Essentially, semantic keyword research and contextual analysis is now critically important in optimizing your title tags.
For an increasing number of queries, the Google ranking algorithm is now better able to find and return the most relevant web pages to a particular search query, even if the title tag of a particular web page does not contain the exact keywords used in the search query. It is important to keep in mind however, that semantic search is still a work in progress, and the Google search engine is not yet a fully-fledged semantic search engine. Consequently, for many queries, relevant keywords in title tags still play a key role in ranking webpages.
Crafting a Compelling Page Title
The page title should effectively represent the whole flavor & content of the webpage and your website. Before you start crafting your title tag, one smart tactic suggested by Brian Deane of Backlinko.com is to check out the Google and Bing ads that surface for relevant searches, and incorporate the elements that have worked for those ads into your meta tags.
Get into the habit of placing your most important keywords into the far left of the title tag as possible. Google assigns more importance to the keywords at the beginning of the tag. Note also that each page on your website should have unique content, especially including your page title tags.
So, if you are a local business selling pizza online, you can include specific keywords like – Order Your Pizza Now, or Home Delivery Pizza along with your phone number in your title tag. When including your phone number in the title tag, make sure it exactly matches up with one of the phone numbers you added to your Google My Business page. This is critically important. Including your phone number in the title tag of the home and contact page does help your visitors to take direct action. It also makes your site look more professional when it’s being displayed in the SERP.
Note that search engines will ignore stop words in the title tag. Stop words include words such as “in”, “and”, “the”, etc. You can experiment with the title tag by tweaking it to make it more enticing to searchers, and then monitor the CTR of the page to evaluate the effect of the changes. Typically, well-written title tags will always attract more clicks in the search results.
Also, as a general practice, you should always place your brand name at the end of your title tag. This is good for branding purposes. It is also important that each web page on your site naturally ranks well for your brand name. It is therefore important to add your brand name at the end of the tag separated by a semi-colon, a dash or the pipe symbol.
Here’s the optimal format for the page title:
Primary Keyword – Secondary Keyword | Brand name
Following on from this, here’s an example of a well written title tag:
<title>Personalized Greeting Cards, Free Online Delivery – Rozeen.com</title>
It is important to note that using too many keywords in your title tags could be seen as manipulative by the search engines. When optimizing the title tag, you need to strike the right balance. The content of your title tag needs to read like a human being wrote them, for humans! They cannot appear to have been manipulated for ranking purposes.