Why is it that one of the most important elements of a Web site—title tags—which also tends to be one of the easiest to manage, is so often done incorrectly? What makes that shortcoming even more amazing is that SEO practitioners constantly talk about title tags.

In fact, if ever there could be an area of universal or near-universal agreement in the SEO community, it would be in regard to the importance of title tags.

We know that all major search engines use the contents of the title tag as the title of their search snippets in nearly all cases (there are rare exceptions): The title appears in a larger font size and as a blue hyperlink above the search-result description. Therefore, the title tag serves as a strong influencer of click-through as searchers hone in on references to their search phrases.

Perhaps more importantly, in relation to getting the title into the results for searchers to even consider clicking on, search engines use the title tag behind the scenes as one of the leading signals for determining what a page is about.

As critical as title tags are, the basics for optimizing them are quite simple. Because of the importance that search engines place on the title tag, getting this even partially right can have real impact for a site. Sadly, though, far too many sites fail to get it right.

Placement and Location

Title tags are different from most Web page elements because they are actually contained within the head section of the code and don't actually appear on the Web page. Though there may be similar or identical text on the page, that text doesn't come from the title tag.

The content (text) of the title tag does appear in the top "chrome" area of the browser window, and if the page is bookmarked in a browser the tag text typically becomes the default text (bookmark name). And, as noted above, it nearly always appears as the snippet title in the search results.

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Brian R. Brown is a consultant with natural-search marketing firm Netconcepts (www.netconcepts.com) and blogs at www.cnet.com/seosearchlight.