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March 11, 2008

Title Tags – WHAT’S IN A NAME?

The title tag has to be, in my humble opinion, the most important on-page factor when it comes to high rankings in the search engine results pages. Found in the head tag of a standard html page, the title is the first place that you can start placing your keywords. Surprisingly some pages don’t define this tag. Worse yet, some overlook it and omit it altogether. Here is a basic example of where the title tag fits into an average HTML page.

The title goes here

Web page content goes here.

Here are five points I always consider when constructing a title.

Limit the length of the title.

Google currently displays approximately 63 characters of a title. The total number of characters displayed varies from engine to engine. While it is not the end of the world to exceed this by a slight margin, (I don’t believe there are any penalties for having a long title) remember that the search engines will cut off anything that goes beyond that which they display. This would leave you with a “…” instead of a complete title.

The title tag can be useful for branding your traffic.

By adding your website or company name to the title tag you can build brand awareness and increase returning direct traffic. While many suggest doing this I would only recommend adding your company or website name to the end of your title tag. While I don’t think it makes much difference to the order, your keywords are placed in the title tag, I suggest that you ensure your keywords are towards the beginning of the tag as it reads easier. Once again don’t forget that the title tag is the first thing that is displayed from each site by the search engines.

Divide your title tag.

When branding your site, break the title tag so that it becomes obvious which is the page title and which is the site name/title. I find that by using the pipe break “|” (that’s the funny symbol above the “\” key) I am able to do this quite neatly. This is also a great way keep your titles consistent. For example:

Keyword Phrase Goes Here | Some Company

Instead of:

Keyword Phrase Goes Here and Blends into the Name of the Company

As you can see it makes it a lot clearer when considering which part of the title labels the page and which part labels the website.

NEVER, I repeat never, repeat your title.

Each page should have a unique title. By giving each page a unique title you are telling the search engines that each page is indeed unique. For exactly the same reason that you don’t name every file the same, (Well, apart from the most obvious reason which is that you just can’t!) as it is easy to distinguish the contents of a file by simply scanning the title. The same principal applies to web pages. This also goes a long way to indexing the priority of each page. If every page had the same title, which page would be ranked more relevant than the next?

Keywords in the title.

I have spent a lot of time optimising websites for real estate agents. While their stock standard pages have targeted keywords in the title, headings and content, it becomes a little more challenging to do the same for each listing. This is usually where the developers come into play. With a little effort the Title can be dynamically created. In my case, it drastically changed the titles I could offer from something such as:

Property Listed for sale or to let by Estate Agent

To a far more specific title that really does describe the listing perfectly:

House for Sale in Suburb, Area | Estate Agent

Okay, so I usually go a little further than that, but as you can see the title not only makes perfect sense and describes the page but also is keyword rich for the search phrase “house for sale in suburb” or even area in this case. While this works well for this kind of website, the principles can be applied to any other dynamically created web page.

I have noticed that time and time again the search engines return results with the search phrase in the title. I think we can all agree that if a web page has been titled correctly then the page will be accurately described. However search engines will discount a title that is no more than a list of spammed keywords. I think we’ve all heard the mantra, “create pages for real people not robots,” too many times. I would prefer to change that statement:

“Make well structured, informative web pages that are relevant to what you are doing.”

When you apply the above, search engines have little option but to regard each page highly and rank it accordingly. While there are so many other factors to consider when optimising a page I believe the title to be a crucial element.

Robert Cerff is a search engine analyst and marketing consultant for Prop Data Internet Solutions. He has ten years experience in e-commerce, online marketing and web development.