Most people think title tags are quite straightforward. There is no chance you can mess them up, right? Or is there?
Actually the reality is that title tags have more capability (and SEO value) than most people realize.
For example, take a look at these two title tags:
This is what happened to our regular traffic when we changed the title tag of our rank tracker from the former to the latter:
There is an increase of approximately 37%!
Sidenote: We think there are a lot of variables. We cannot say with certainty that a change in the title tag contribute fully to this increase. But we think it is clear that this had a positive effect, at least.
In this article, I am going to cover everything you need to know about the SEO title tag. I will guide you through the 4-step process for creating title tags that work every time.
Let’s get started.
The title tag is the HTML element that is used to indicate the title of a web page.
That’s how it looks in its raw form:
Its main task is to tell visitors and search engines what they can expect from a web page (in the shortest way possible).
Since title tags are usually displayed in search results and when a page/post is shared on social media, it is important that the title tag looks attractive to users to click on the links to your posts from the search results (or elsewhere).
Here are a couple more reasons why title tags are essential:
Keep in mind that Google (and other search engines) look at your title tag, with other things, to help make sense of your page.
There is probably a slight correlation between the use of title tags and keywords in the ranking.
Sidenote: As correlation != causation, you should take this graph with a pinch of salt—after all, 0,0496 is a very weak correlation. Either way, this isn’t to say that you need an exact-match keyword in your title tag. You don’t. Ever since the introduction of Hummingbird, Google is smart enough to understand synonyms and “conversational search.”
In short they are two completely different HTML-tags.
The confusion arises because title and H1-tag copy is often the same.
For example, here’s the H1-tag from our list of 75 SEO tips.
In terms of copying, this is similar to a title tag.
So how do you know the difference?
In short, this is your title tag that appears in search results and when your content is published on another platform. An H1 tag, on the other hand, is a “title” displayed on a real page.
Do not confuse it with the title that appears on the tab of your browser – this is the title tag.
So now that you understand what a title tag is and how essential it is, let’s talk about how you can prepare a good one.
But first, let’s talk about some basics …
A quick guide to title tag rules (and etiquette)
Have you ever seen a result in the SERPs that looks like this?
Google begins to cut title tags in the display after 50-60 characters. (Okay, this is actually pixel based, but 50-60 characters are a good rule of thumb.) So keep the title tag at that length.
This cutting is known as title tag truncation.
You can check the title tag using one of the following pixel width checking tools:
Sidenote: By using our SEO analyzer tool you can also do a full check of all title tags on your site .
How about this?
Most likely not.
All-caps does not seem good, it is poor etiquette when it comes to title tags. And to be honest, I have never seen an all-caps title tag ranked on the first page (or anywhere, for that matter).
Here are the two options we suggest for title tag formatting:
And yes, the odd all-caps word for emphasizing purpose is fine.
Keep in mind that don’t always go for all-caps, no doubt it will attract attention but the intent will not be right.
Remember these few other things while crafting title tags:
Got it? Good. Let’s get crafting!
At Syndiket, we believe four types of SEO exist – and we have an acronym to represent those 4 types of SEO. The acronym is T.R.A.P.
“T” stands for Technical, “R” stands for Relevancy, “A” stands for Authority, and “P” stands for popularity. Search engine optimization has many smaller divisions within the 4 types, but all of them can be placed into one of these 4 buckets.
Generally, technical SEO for local businesses carry the least importance for ranking. Technical SEO has a bare minimum that is required and this usually includes things like site speed, indexation issues, crawlability, and schema. Once the core technical parts are done, minimal upkeep is required.
Relevancy is one of trivium elements of SEO. It has equal importance with popularity signals and authority signals. Relevancy signals are based on algorithmic learning principles. Bots crawl the internet every time a searcher has a search. Each search is given a relevancy score and the URLs that pop up for a query. The higher the relevancy score you attain, the greater your aggregated rating becomes in Google’s eyes. Digital marketing is a strange thing in 2020, and ranking a website requires the website to be relevant on many fronts.
Google’s Co-creator, Larry Page, had a unique idea in 1998 which has led to the modern-day Google Empire. “Page Rank”, named after Larry Page himself, was the algorithm that established Google as a search engine giant. The algorithm ranked websites by authority.
Every page of a website has authority and the sum of all pages has another authority metric. The authority metric is largely determined by how many people link to them (backlinks). The aggregate score of all pages pointing to a domain creates the domain score, which is what Syndiket calls “Domain Rating”, per Ahrefs metrics. The more a site is referenced, the more authority it has. But, the real improvement to the algorithm came when Google began to classify authority weight.
If Tony Hawk endorsed Syndiket for skateboarding, it would carry a lot more authority than 5 random high school kids endorsing Syndiket. This differentiation in authority happened in 2012 with the Penguin update. Authority SEO is complicated but VERY important.
Popularity signals are especially strong for GMB or local SEO, but popularity and engagement are used for all rankings. The goal of this signal is for Google to verify its own algorithm. You can check off all the boxes, but if your content is something real people hate, Google has ways to measure that. Syndiket has proprietary methods of controlling CTR (click-through rate) but we also infuse CRO methods into our work to make sure people actually like the content. Social shares and likes are also included in this bucket.
Here at Aherefs, we usually advocate targeting topics with keywords.
This is due to the fact that most pages are not only ranked by their “main” keywords, but also by other related terms and variations (i.e., Long-Tailed Keywords).
In fact, we found that the average page of ranking No. 1 would also have a good rating for about 1000 other relevant keywords.
The keyword “best whey protein powder for women” has a search volume of 400/month.
Whereas each of the top-10 ranking pages receives thousands of organic visits per month.
This is because each of these pages occupies hundreds of other long-tailed keywords.
Here are some of the more than 700 keywords also ranked for the current ranking page:
Very good, isn’t it?
However, when it comes to heading tags, we suggest that you optimize for one main “head”keyword. (And maybe one or two keywords with a long tail. More on this in step # 2.)
Now got a keyword in mind? Great.
Otherwise, try this:
Go to Keywords Explorer.
Enter a short description of your page/post.
If we were doing this for our list of 75 SEO tips, we’d enter something like this:
Sidenote: Forget “keywords” and “SEO” for this. Just write a rough description of your page.
You will notice that there is little/no search volume for whatever you entered.
This isn’t a problem.
Scroll down to view SERP. It tells you the keywords (i.e. which keywords send the most organic traffic) for each of the 10 pages of the ranking.
In nine cases out of ten, the most appropriate keyword for your page will be displayed.
In this example, this is clearly “SEO tips.”
None of these Top Keywords seem like a good fit? Try this…
Hit “Keywords ideas” > “Also rank for” (on the left-hand menu).
This will reveal a ton of other keywords that the top-10 ranking pages also rank for.
They are arranged by search volume, so work your way down the list until you find a keyword that fits your content.
In this instance, “SEO tips” and “SEO techniques” are a nice fit.
But as “SEO tips” has a greater search volume, we’ll stick with that.
You should always focus on one main keyword.
But usually it also makes sense to focus on one or two long keywords.
What for? Because ranking your primary keyword can be time consuming. But you can start getting traffic from very long variations very quickly.
And these long-tail variations can often be incorporated into your title tag without making your article unnatural.
Here’s what David McSweeney explain regarding long-tail keywords
“Long tail keywords are the search queries with very low individual search volume, but an enormous total search demand as a group. The name comes from the “long tail” of the so-called “search demand curve” — a graph that plots all keywords by their search volumes.”
Here’s the graph he is referring to:
As David points out, these keywords are generally longer and more specific than the keywords that are being searched. (Not always, though)
You get the idea.
But how you can find long-tailed keywords?
Go to the keyword explorer and enter your primary keyword (for example, “SEO Tips”).
Then click “phrase match” in the left sidebar.
This will give you other keywords that contain your primary keyword.
Sidenote: You can use the “Having same terms” report to find long-tail keywords. As the name suggests, this shows other similar keywords that contain the same terms as our primary keyword, but not necessarily in the same order. E.g., “SEO copywriting tips” or “SEO content writing tips.”
These will be irrelevant.
For example, “youtube SEO tips” and “local SEO tips” aren’t relevant to our list of SEO tips.
But “SEO tips 2017” is. (Well, 2018 now).
So we would notice that down alongside our primary keyword.
Your next step is to craft a basic title tag.
Here are the rules:
Now draft a title tag for our list of 75 SEO tips.
Something as simple as this would work:
This would include both our primary keyword (“SEO tips”) and our long-tail keyword (“SEO tips 2018”).
Sidenote: This is true that it doesn’t add our long tail keywords as an exactly same phrase (i.e. “SEO tips 2018”). But this is not an issue. Google is smart enough to understand that the inclusion of “2018” must mean that these tips are fresh and relevant for 2018. Adding the exact phrase of “SEO tips 2018” in there wouldn’t make sense as it doesn’t read certainly well.
Of course, this is pretty simple. – just make sure it’s descriptive.
Let’s try another one; this time it’s for our multilingual SEO guide:
Pretty simple things, right?
But what about the product page?
Here are some formats for a fictional printing house that sells business cards:
Don’t be afraid to come up with a couple of draft title tags. You can take them both through this process and decide which one is best at the end.
It is so simple.
Remember that your main focus is descriptiveness. Don’t try to include any keyword irrespective of the content. Just describe your page correctly and briefly. And include your main and long keywords there.
Do not be afraid to mix things …
Blending some things or denying some words is also great.
For example, let’s assume your keyword was “best protein powder.”
This would work:
And it’s fine to use synonyms, too.
Google does a great job of countering search engines using natural language. Therefore, they will understand what you are talking about.
Everyone who does a search on Google is looking for something.
But it is not always the case.
People are looking for particular “qualities” in the search results—exactly what these are will depend on the nature of the query.
If you have made your page/post around a particular query/topic, it’s probably that there is already overlap between the “qualities” your content embodies and the qualities people want to see.
You only need to indicate this to potential visitors in your title tag.
Here are five “qualities” that people value (and how to make them clear in the title tag.
Sidenote: For e‑commerce sites, “price” can also be seen as a valued quality. So, if you’re competing on price, don’t be afraid to let people know by stating this in your title tag. Here are a few words/phrases to use: “cheap,” “low cost,” “bargain,” “…from $XXX,” etc.
But what should you do? if your page touches on multiple “qualities”?
Okay, firstly you don’t need to dominate the search engines by placing too many outlets in the title tag. Always keep it natural.
Then look at what rankings are already in the search results. This will give you a deeper understanding of the researcher’s intentions. He will also tell you what “qualities” people value in the results.
For example, Google “best restaurants in New York” and you’ll see a lot of results like this:
In fact, all of the top 10 results are “listicles.”
People who are looking for this query clearly value “quantity” above all else.
But if you Google “cheap holidays,” you’ll see that people value price above all else.
Let’s add this into our SEO tips title tag.
Adding the phrase “That Work in 2018” to our title tag shows that this is a fresh, up-to-date post. We are showing people that these tips work right now.
But this title tag also incorporates a couple of other “qualities, too:
Bottom line: always align the title tag with the intent of the crawler.
And we are done … at least until you start the rating!
But then what?
Here’s what to do once you rank in the top 10…
I know what you’re thinking …
“Why didn’t we talk about CTR? A ranking factor these days, right?”
Yes, no doubt it is.
However, there’s no point spending time and effort optimizing for CTR until you reach the top 10.
What for? Because most people do not go beyond the first page of results.
This means that the impression of your results in the SERP will be less – just check the search console.
However, as soon as you start ranking in the top 10 for any significant keyword (i.e. people with the actual search volume), it should be more focused.
Here are a few ways to increase CTR with your title tag:
Add emotions to your text by including words like Amazing. Remarkable. Magic. Extraordinary. Etc.
These are all power words that tap into people’s emotions. Adding these into title tags can do wonders for CTR.
But contrary to popular advice, you shouldn’t pick these randomly.
First, you should ask yourself the following questions:
For example, let’s take the term “SEO tips”. (again)
We are aware that anyone searching for this term wants to see a list of SEO tips; you can tell because it’s a plural term (i.e., “SEO tips,” not “SEO tip”).
The fact that most of the top 10 search results are list-style posts also confirms this.
But what about the specifics?
Answer the questions above and try to find out.
It looks like actionability is our unique value-offering here.
Let us update our title tag:
Brackets/parentheses can assist you in breaking up your title tag and improve readability.
For example, let’s add parentheses to our SEO tips tag:
Sounds better, don’t you think?
Yes, and parentheses can also help improve clickthrough rate (CTR).
Proven.com’s Sean Faulkner added brackets to this guide and saw a 128% increase in organic traffic.
Have you ever read on Buzzfeed or UpWorthy?
You will probably be familiar with this technique by then.
Here is the definition:
“The curiosity gap is the space between what we know and what we want or even need to know.”
And here is an example of this:
If, like me, you thought: “My God! What the hell was this incredible act of kindness !? ”, Then you experienced the curiosity gap.
As you might have guessed, there is a particular psychology in this technique – this post has more and more time to explain to me.
I, therefore, suggest that you read this post and this one.
That second post is actually a piece of research. It is very heavy, but still well worth reading.
But you need to be careful with this technique … you do not want to follow the “clickbait” path.
Yes, you want people to click through to your article, but you don’t want to lose their trust.
For instance, here’s a version of our “SEO tips” title tag that includes the curiosity gap:
If we ignore the fact that this title tag is too long (and will be cut off in the search results), most likely you are thinking of something similar to:
“OMG…Google doesn’t want me to know about these SEO tips? They MUST be good! I NEED to know them!)”
But this may get people to click, It is wrong.
There is nothing in our list that Google doesn’t want you to know about.
Here’s a better example:
It’s honest, but it helps to arouse a sense of curiosity (i.e., “Wow, they act like a charm” … I think I better take a look!)
Front-loading means placing important details (i.e., your keywords) at the beginning of the title tag.
It may make sense here for three reasons:
To be honest, your most important deciding factor here is personal preference. That is, do you think your title tag with front-loaded keywords is better or not?
Sometimes, it just doesn’t work.
You can see that we need to change a few things for this to work. And honestly, we think the original version is a little better.
So we stick to it
For example, Amazon has 104M pages in Google’s index.
Do you really think that someone is sitting there and creating title tags for 100M + products?
These title tags are generated automatically, most likely by Amazon’s CMS.
Here are a few plugins with this functionality:
But besides technicalities, what is the best format for self-generated title tags?
And here are some ideas for “local” pages:
You get the understanding right…
None of them is an exhaustive list; you can mix and match variables as you wish.
TIP: GIVE TOP-PERFORMING PAGES THE VIP TREATMENT
You cannot possibly write custom title tags for hundreds of thousands of products.
But you can do so for your top-performing pages; this will then give them a boost.
Paste your domain into Site Explorer.
Go to Organic Search > Top Pages.
This shows you which pages receive the most organic traffic.
For these pages, it’s worth optimizing their title tags manually (using the steps above).
Why? Because small boosts in CTR or rankings will result in significant jumps in organic traffic.
Why is Google rewriting my title tags?
Google has a habit of writing title tags from time to time.
This may be disappointing, especially if you have taken the time and effort to prepare a “optimized” tag.
So why does Google do this?
Here are a few reasons:
In 2016, Gary Illyes was asked about Google’s incessant rewriting of title tags. This was his response:
“We will never quit rewriting titles. We’ve seen so many sites whose title really suck. A lot of sites have no title; a lot of sites have a title saying “Top Page”. In fact, Google almost always rewrites titles. We couldn’t provide useful results to our users if we quit rewriting titles. Experiments showed us users preferred written titles. So, we’ll continue to write titles.”
– Gary Ilyses Google
Simply put, not everyone is trying to write a stunning title – this leads to the fact that the title of the tag “sucks.”
So…Google rewrites them.
Google does not always rewrite the title tag; It depends on the request.
This means that Google can rewrite title tags when something is searched for X, but not when they search for Y.
What Gary Ilyas had to say on this subject?
So the title tag is query dependent. Basically what we are trying to do is ensure that people will click on the results. We see lots of bad title tags [me: like homepage] yes and untitled for example, and I know for sure that this is actually a good thing, even if people don’t like it.
-Gary Ilyses Google
This is actually quite simple.
For example, this is what you see when you Google “Zappos”.
If you look at the title tag on the page, you’ll find that it’s slightly different.
For clarity, here’s how they look together:
Google rewrote the title tag to bring the brand name to the forefront.
I’d hazard a guess that it’s because Google finds you seeking for a brand name, so they decide to prioritize this in the search results.
After all, if you are looking for Zappos by name, you are most probably just looking for their website.
Thus, front loading the brand name into the title tag most likely increases the clickthrough rate.
Most inbound links have anchor text – Google is looking for links to help you understand what your page / message is about.
Here’s what Aaseesh Marina (from Google) said in 2016:
“If we see anchor text from website A linking to website B, sometimes we can pick, depending on the user’s query, sometimes we pick the anchor text that links from A to B as the title for that particular search result. Again, we obviously want to serve results that make the most sense for the users, users are what we try and make the best possible results for and in some cases if we think the anchor text is a good title, and it is more relevant for that particular query, then we’ll serve the anchor text.”
-Aaseesh Marina Google
However, Google usually refers to this solution only if they exist (that is, for pages that are indexed but blocked from crawling by Googlebot).
In this example, searching for external factors (such as anchor text) is just one of the methods Google can use to write a good title tag.
How can I stop Google rewriting my title tags?
You cannot … at least not with 100% certainty.
Here’s what Gary Illyes said:
“We also won’t provide ways to prevent rewriting entirely. We anticipate they can be abused. For example, keyword stuffing. […] Send us feedback that is on the bottom of search results pages if you don’t like rewritten titles.”
– Gary Ilyses Google
We’re guessing he’s referring to this:
Honestly, none of us will ever press this button. So how do you actually rewrite the title tag?
Here’s what we think:
You will be able to make your title tag the best it can be by crafting a great title tag in the first place.
This means that you have be sure that your title tag has the following features:
If you are able to make your title as explained above then there is no need for Google to rewrite your title tag.
Title tags are not that much complicated, they just require a little bit more time and a smart effort to get it right.
By all effort and struggle still they will never be 100% perfect. Therefore you need to continually test and improve titles by using hit and trial methods. If you have enough traffic, you can also do a split test to see which title works best.
(However, this one is a bit more complicated or requires an advanced tactic)
Do you have any other cool hacks or ideas for creating the perfect title tags? Drop us a line in the comments. Feel free to contact us.