Everyone knows what a basic, run-of-the-mill title is, but SEO title tags can be a bit more confusing. They don’t necessarily match the headline appearing on your page or post, but they are still an important SEO building block. Title tags serve a specific purpose and, as such, should be created and optimized according to a special set of best practices. When you follow these SEO title best practices, you can encourage readers to choose your site over competitors and rank higher for priority keywords.
What are SEO Title Tags?
A title tag and the title on the page are not necessarily the same thing. The title tag is what appears on the Search Engine Results Page (SERP). It’s also shown when a link is shared on social media and in the browser title bar.
Typically, the title you see displayed when you open a page will be longer and will read more like a traditional title (i.e. 5 Kitchen Renovation Trends to Keep Your Eye on for 2021). The title tag may be shorter and include additional keywords or branded terms (i.e. 5 Kitchen Renovation Trends for 2021 | Hodgekins Home Remodeling).
Some people also mix up the SEO title vs. the SEO description. Both are important pieces of a page, but the title is a descriptive title which should usually be no more than around 60 characters long, while the meta description is a short description (usually no more than 160 characters long) that explains what the page is about. Both appear in the SERP.
Why Do SEO Title Tags Matter?
Title tags are important for two main reasons:
- Users will see your title tag in the SERP. Depending on the quality of your title tag and meta description, they may choose to pass on your page or click on it to read more.
- Google is also checking out your title tags. It’s one element they use when deciphering what a page is all about, and a well-optimized title tag can improve your rankings.
Adding and optimizing a title tag whenever you publish is not particularly time-consuming, but failing to do so can have strong negative effects on your site.
9 Ways to Optimize SEO Title Tags
It’s tempting to make every title tag simply match the headline, but there are unique elements of title tags you need to consider. When reviewing the title tags on your site, here are some tips to keep in mind:
Make Sure You Have Them
Sounds obvious, but it’s important. Every page should have a title tag. Not sure if you’ve got your bases covered? Do a crawl of your site using a tool such as Screaming Frog and look at titles. It will produce a report that will tell you how many pages are missing titles (as well as how many are above the recommended SEO title length).
Ensure Proper Length
Speaking of length, if you put a novella in your title tag, no one will see it because Google will truncate the title. The recommended title tag length is 50-60 characters, which will generally ensure that your full title will be displayed on both mobile and desktop views. Now, proper length has some wiggle room—it’s not like Google will ding you for having a 65 character title—but it’s a good guideline to make sure you aren’t getting cut off. When in doubt, manually check the SERP to see if your full title is being displayed. Some ways to keep titles short include using actual numbers (i.e. 7) rather than typing out “seven” and substituting ampersands for uses of “and.”
Put the Keyword Towards the Front
The primary SEO keyword for your page should go in your title tag. Not only that, but your title will be stronger if you front load that keyword. So, if your keyword is “Sourdough bread starters,” then “Sourdough Bread Starters | 7 Tips for Beginners” is a stronger SEO title than “7 Tips for Beginners Using Sourdough Bread Starters.”
Consistent and Correct Capitalization
My preference is for titles to be capitalized in title case. That seems logical, right? Some people prefer capitalizing SEO titles using sentence case, which is also an acceptable choice. What you definitely want to avoid, though, is having titles be either all lowercase or all caps. That makes your title difficult to read. You also want to make sure that, whatever case you pick, you are consistent with your capitalization. For example, if you’re using title case, there shouldn’t be any major words left uncapitalized.
Title Tags Need to be Unique
Even if you have pages with similar focuses, they need to have different title tags. Like duplicate content, duplicate title tags may cause the Google gods to frown on you, and no one wants that.
Make Them Engaging
It can be easy to get so caught up with keywords and word counts that you forget that real people are also reading this title and deciding if they want to read your content based on it. Your title should be readable, clear, and eye-catching. When possible, use emotional appeals and demonstrate the value of your product or service. Think about your word choice and the emotions you’re evoking. You want a title that will jump out and grab the attention of your readers.
Use Branding When Appropriate
Title tags can be a great place to add the name of your company or other branded terms. This is most important on key pages such as the homepage. For other pages, you can add branding if it fits. Remember, your company’s name will be all over the site and ranking for unique branded terms is easier, so if you can’t fit it in the title, it’s not a big deal. In fact, if a title is too long, taking out the company name is an easy way to shorten it. But, if there is room in your title tag, you can always toss in your site’s name.
In order to fit the important stuff in without going over the character count, your title might end up chopped up a bit. And, if you have room, you might want to throw in some additional keywords or your company name. To pack it all in while staying concise, you can use punctuation such as commas, dashes, pipes, and colons to separate parts of your title. For instance, a good SEO title tag example for a service page could look something like: “Oil Change Services | Portland, OR | Charlie’s Auto.”
Google will sometimes rewrite your title tag (rude, right?) if they think the title and the content are a mismatch. So, it behooves you to shoot straight and honor the actual content on your page. Readers are also more likely to bounce quickly if they discover your content is a far cry from their expectations.
How to Add and Update Title Tags
If you are using WordPress as your CMS, the simplest way to use title tags is by installing the Yoast plugin. Once Yoast is installed, you will find a handy little Yoast section at the bottom of every page or post. It will give you options for modifying the title, slug, and meta description. Yoast also provides a preview of your SERP for both mobile and desktop and will warn you when you go above the recommended character count.
You can also add title tags using HTML with <title> if you have a custom site or just really enjoy digging around in code.
Integrating Title Tags Into Your SEO Process
Title tags are one of those SEO elements that sometimes seem so small and insignificant that it’s easy to pass by. But that would be a mistake. Every new post or page you add should have a well-oiled title tag, and if your site has been around for a while, it’s worth the time to do a title tag audit. This way, you can ensure you’re making the most of those 60 (ish) characters.
Now go forth and tag those titles!