For on-page SEO, there is no more important part of a page than the title element. In just a few words, you need to craft a summary of your page’s content in a way that both capitalises on popular search queries, and encourages people to click through to your page.

The Title Element?

You’re already familiar with the title element. It’s the text at the very top of your browser window when viewing a web page, and the words you click on one choosing a result in a search engine like Google. As with much of the building blocks of HTML, the World Wide Web Consortium provide key information on best practice:

Every HTML document must have a TITLE element in the HEAD section.

Authors should use the TITLE element to identify the contents of a document. Since users often consult documents out of context, authors should provide context-rich titles. Thus, instead of a title such as “Introduction”, which doesn’t provide much contextual background, authors should supply a title such as “Introduction to Medieval Bee-Keeping” instead.

http://www.w3.org/TR/REC-html40/struct/global.html#h-7.4.2

So, you need to write a title element for every page you create, and keep it context rich. This is as good a piece of advice to SEOs about titles as you’re likely to come across. Neither a search engine (when deciding whether or not to show your document in response to a search query) or a user deciding whether to click on your link in search results understands the context of your page (i.e. what it is truly about). The title is the definitive summary of your webpage.

Remember also that your title will likely be the most read part of your page. Perhaps it’s a depressing thought, but for every user that reads your title element, there are dozens if not hundreds or thousands who see the text without visiting your page. This includes in search results, in bookmarks and in links from other external sites.

How to write an optimised title

Remember that users don’t read webpages – they scan them (even for short excerpts of text) so you need to pack as much information as possible into your title. Aim for punchy statements that will appeal to as broad an audience as possible. You know what your page is about, but you need to describe it in as appealing a way as possible. At this point, you will want to consult a keyword suggestion tool that provides monthly search numbers. You can use Google’s Adwords Keyword Tool for free (remember to choose language/audience and pick “exact match” to get the most reliable results).

Don’t pick the most popular keyword and adapt your content around it. If you’re new to SEO you don’t want a large volume of competition, and you don’t want to end up with clumsy writing. Choose the most popular keyword that is a direct fit with your content. This page, for instance, is about the title element. Gut feeling suggests that it is better known by the misnomer of a title tag. But rather than mislead the audience and write inaccurate text, a better fit is to use the correct (if less popular) phrase.

Decide if you want to include branding elements, and where. Perhaps the majority of titles include the site name – usually at either the beginning or end of the title. This not only provides context, but provides valuable name recognition. However, space within title elements is severely limited. Old school SEOs will also be used to placing the least specific element of the title at the end for (now declining) ranking boost, but it makes sense to make English speakers (who read left to right) to work as little as possible. Make a personal decision, and decide if name recognition matters enough to include branding in every title, or whether you want to squeeze as much space possible for more specific words and phrases.

64 characters? There isn’t a technical limit on title length, other than the truncation of titles that will occur in search results (at around the 64 character mark) or within browser title bars (which often depends on monitor settings). But working to (tight!) restrictions will help you focus your title elements. Aim to fit around the 60+ character limit, and cringe when you go beyond that; your titles will be more focussed – and more effective – as a result.

Real people will read your titles so make them as attractive as possible to users. No-one wants to click on a list of keywords, but everyone wants to click on a link that promises to provide them with the exact information they need.

Avoid automatically-generated titles since they result in frequent (and detectable) repetition of patterns. If you use a program to create titles, aim to make them as customised as possible.

And finally, remember that you can always run a Free SEO Analysis with the Reaction Engine to view your titles, and see instantly if they relate to your target keywords.

One Response to “The <title> element: writing titles for SEO”

  1. Evan Says:

    The title tag is very often mis-used, thanks for this refreshing tip on how to bring it back to live.

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