If you hadn't paid much attention to title tags until now, but you implemented the basic concepts covered in part one of this series, you are already well on your way to creating a better user experience as well as a more-optimized search experience.
Of course, most of us aren't satisfied with just the basics.
Title Tag Patterns
It's important to establish patterns, or style rules, for title tags before you begin changing them—for two reasons: Doing so will greatly simplify the process; and it will be more consistent across the site.
Depending on the site, title tags may be manually created and managed, or they may be created automatically—which further supports the need for creating a pattern or formula for title tag creation.
The best of both worlds is provided by systems that allow the ability to manually override a title tag. However, it is important, if overriding, to not end up duplicating the title of another page.
Let's start with the homepage, since that is often the page that can vary the most from the patterns used throughout the site. The homepage often serves as the main landing page and needs to strongly support the site or company name as well as the broadest or most important search terms.
Accordingly, the homepage often lends itself to leading off with the site or company name:
Some Company www.somedomain.com keyword1 keyword2 keyword3
Whereas on the internal pages, we might see something like this:
Main keyword - supporting keyword phrase | www.somedomain.com
And as we move further into the site, we also might see a pattern like this:
Page keyword - supporting keyword - category keyword | www.somedomain.com
Or even this:
Page keyword - supporting - sub-category - category keyword | www.somedomain.com
Depending on the levels and site structure, variations may be created for different sections or for different levels of the site... it just comes down to what makes the most sense for a specific site.
In each case above, we're using the most prominent keywords first, and then using the hierarchy of the site or section to further build on that and to provide a way to maintain uniqueness.
E-commerce and large informational sites are often most challenged by this effort, as there may be several products that could easily take the same title. At that point, including a distinguishing model number may help to reinforce the page in searches that include the model number, as well as also providing enough difference to make it unique:
Some product model number - brand - sub-category - category | www.somedomain.com
Well, whether this strategy is truly radical is open to interpretation. Some would consider it so, or disagree entirely; in any event, it isn't one that should necessarily be undertaken lightly or by everyone.
In all of the examples above, there have been some references to either the company name or the site's domain. Although that may provide additional association to search engines between the domain and the keywords, most will probably simply consider it a reiteration of brand identity.
And that is important, which is why diverting from that strategy—that is, excluding the branding to instead increase the importance of the target keywords or introduce additional modifiers—should not to be done without careful consideration.
But experimenting, at least on some pages, may make sense if you are operating in an extremely competitive space—going up against strong established competitors or having difficulty securing a position in the search results for key search terms.
In such an instance, when nothing else has been able to gain traction and move the page in the search results, one has to ask, "What's the value of brand identity if it isn't being seen?" Sure, having the brand there may influence more clicks, but if having it there keeps the page from getting into a high-enough position within the results for it to be clicked on... it's a catch-22.
Again, though, there are more things at stake than just search results. Applying this idea means that the branding wouldn't appear in the browser when one is viewing the page. Though we can also argue whether people notice there are titles there anyway; or, if they do, whether they would notice that the branding isn't there; and whether there is probably more than enough on-page branding to make up for the absence.
In any event, it be a rare situation where dropping the branding is enough to significantly influence ranking position. However, in a hyper-sensitive, competitive area, it just might be enough.
Test and Measure
All of this leads us to testing and measuring, which are often left out... Title tags are too often considered "set-once and forget." Much time and effort may go into identifying the ideal keywords and the creation of the ideal title tag, only to be forgotten about from that point on.
Title tags are typically fairly resilient creatures. We can change them, monitor movement in the search results positioning, and in case of negative movement change them back without permanent negative impact. And if the page doesn't return to the position it was in before, chances are it was teetering on the edge anyway and it was only a matter of time before it moved backward.
Testing should be a regular practice, and not just limited to individual pages. Testing should also be used to identify the ideal tag patterns: What pattern provides the greatest global impact by improving the rankings of multiple pages?
Perhaps having the brand name and then the product name is more powerful, or having a key modifier before or after the type of product, product name, or brand is more powerful. Again, testing can be done on a few pages, and then rolled out to entire sections—with additional monitoring, of course.
The other often-overlooked key point is to monitor and measure other key metrics, such as the amount of traffic coming through to the site and whether a certain tag or tag pattern results in more traffic conversion. For example, which would be preferable: a title tag in the top ranking position that achieved 50% click-through, or one that was further down in the results but achieved 80% click-through?
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The title tag is an important tool that deserves attention, as well as testing and experimentation—all of which, however, need to be backed by a plan for monitoring and measuring results.
Most importantly, the ultimate goals of the site need to be kept in mind: Though title tags serve as a signal to search engines, it's critical to remember that they serve as a signal to searchers as well—especially since they are the ones looking to buy.