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How to Strengthen a Site via Title Tag Strategies, Part 1: The Basics

by Brian Brown  |  
April 1, 2008
  |  11,532 views

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.

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Comments

  • by Chris Keller Tue Apr 1, 2008 via web

    I was intrigued by the title but the copy writing in this article is a bit rough

  • by Jaime Tue Apr 1, 2008 via web

    I did not learn anything new from this article. This seems to be common knowledge in the SEO world.

  • by Ruth Seeley Tue Apr 1, 2008 via web

    In order for this article to really make sense, it would need some illustrative examples. I think I got lost at 'title tag.' We aren't all web designers, you know. Some of us just write for a living. :)

  • by Jeff Bach Tue Apr 1, 2008 via web

    With only 65 characters, or some other smallish number, and therefore only a few words per each title, I think it will quickly get difficult for a site to come up with unique titles, that make sense, for what could be several HUNDRED pages on the same site.

  • by Brian R. Brown Tue Apr 1, 2008 via web

    Thanks all for the feedback. I know I can't please everyone here, but let me see what I can do to even things out a bit.

    Ruth, if you right-click in your browser on a web page and do a "view-source," one of the first things you'll see is the title tag. You may be accessing that directly or through a field in your content management system... that part I can't help out with.

    But by way of example, and to help Jeff see that 65 characters is still quite a bit... let's dig a little further. Jeff, yes it can be challenging, but keep in mind that the 65 number is just something to shoot for. Possible on a site with several hundred pages? Most definitely -- even several hundred thousand... it's more in the millions that things start getting challenging.

    So let's take Jeff's site as an example. When I do a "site:" search in Yahoo (site:2wheelfilms.com) and expand my listings to 100, I can quickly see that things look pretty good for title tags, but there is some heavy duplication with "Progress pictures for Sport Legends Bike." What's more challenging is that many of these pages are just photographs with only a few words of text on the page... so about all the search engines have to judge those pages on for content value is the title tag.

    So are all these pages the same, no, not at all. They are all theme related, but each features a different UW Madison celebrity. Unfortunately, Google at least has only indexed the Jeff Sauer and Joe Panos pages, yet there are 34 of these individual pages, along with the page leading to these to be indexed. It will probably be awhile for Google to get around to indexing them all because they appear to be the same.

    So how do we differentiate each of these pages? The best way, especially for super large sites, is to identify a pattern and handle it programmatically. But the logic holds true even for hand-coded, static sites.

    Or even mix and match... here are some examples...

    Barry Alvarez signs UW Sport Legend Bike
    Jeff

  • by Brian R. Brown Tue Apr 1, 2008 via web

    okay... no surprise, we hit a limit on the comments, so here is the rest...

    Jeff Sauer Autographs UW Sport Legend Bike
    Ron Dayne - University of Wisconsin Sport Legend Bike

    You could even add " - 2 Wheel Films" onto the mix and Ron Dayne's page will just stretch past the 65 mark by 4 characters.

    The general approach is to start broad, and work ever more narrowly, placing the most important, targeted words prominently at the beginning. For the case of a more traditional ecommerce site, perhaps something like this:

    Color - Product Name - Brand - Sub Category - Category | Website

    Tweak as necessary.

    Yes, much of this is basic SEO knowledge, yet I see sites everyday that are missing this key element. While it may seem challenging, once you start looking at it in this way, it is quite doable... and can be done in a way that satisfies both spiders and humans.

    Good luck,

    Brian

  • by Chris Wed Apr 2, 2008 via web

    A good basic often forgotten. Thanks for the reminder.

  • by Ryan O'Donnell Thu Apr 3, 2008 via web

    This posting was a nice intro for those individuals who don't know very much about SEO and title tags. Well done. A few examples (what to do vs. what not to do) might have been helpful for inexperienced SEOs / developers, but as an intro, this was pretty good.

    One aspect of title tag development I would stress is consistency and communication within your organization. Be sure engineers, copywriters, designers, and execs know who gets the final sign-off on title tags. In my opinion, this should be a combination of an SEO expert and a copywriting expert.

    Be sure to establish a title tag pattern and make it widely known with all those involved. I have seen sites that have all of the following being used throughout their site:

    [product] | [company]
    [company] | [product]
    [product] %3E%3E [product]
    [product] | [category] : [company]

    This is very common within larger organizations that have multiple platforms within a single company. In some cases, a good argument can be made for having different title tag structures. However, for many companies it arises from lack of communication and from never defining an owner. From a branding standpoint, inconsistent title tag structures really look bad.

    Mark my words, if no one is tasked with optimizing title tags, you can expect two outcomes:

    1. Duplicate title tags
    2. Poorly optimized title tags

    Remember, it is a lot easier to get your content right before it goes live than it is to have it updated later.

  • by Santhosh Thu Aug 27, 2009 via web

    Very good article. Sadly many people working for ears in Content Management/ HTML authoring does not know how search engines work and the relevance of Title tag. Thanks for the article

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