Title Tags: Important, Overlooked, and Misunderstood

Writing great title tags can be one of the quickest and easiest ways to get more search engine traffic – and can even increase the number of visitors you get from social media sites.

But the websites of many small businesses ignore title tags or follow bad advice – and drive away potential customers. Read on for how to avoid making that mistake.

What Is a Title Tag?

Technically, a title tag is a piece of html code, inserted into the “head” section of your webpage. According to W3Schools, it should look like this:

<title>Title of the document</title>

The title tag traditionally shows up in the top of the web browser, or the tabs of more modern browsers:

Website Title Tags

Title Tags in Internet Explorer, Chrome, and Firefox

Perhaps more importantly, the title tag is also used as the first part of search listings:

Title Tag in Search Engine

Title Tag in Google (the blue heading)

A Key to SEO

One of the main reasons to pay attention to your title tags is to make sure you’re ranking well and getting as many clicks as possible out of the search engines.

Better Local & Organic Rankings

Although there are many factors influencing SEO, simple title tag changes can have a big impact on your search engine rankings. If the keywords a person is searching for are included in your title, the search engines take this as an indication that your page is relevant to the search. Adding location information can help rankings on locally-oriented searches.

Improving Click-Through

Title tags are also important for convincing people to click on from the search to your site (an interesting example of this was recently posted at Search Engine Roundtable). When people make a search, they quickly scan the results – a title which makes it clear that you have what they need will encourage them to click. In addition, the search engines highlight any keywords that were part of the actual search, yet another benefit to having keywords in the title.

One note: some companies stuff their titles with 20+ keywords in nonsensical combinations. If this has any benefit, it is unlikely to last forever, and remember, searchers will see your title – this looks like spam and won’t encourage anyone to visit your site.

SEO Suggestions for Title Tags

Some ideas for getting the maximum SEO benefit when editing title tags include:

  • Small businesses will want to put their name at the end of the title tag on most pages (ie, Title of Page | Company Name). This gets your keywords closer to the front. If you have a really well-known brand (that everyone will want to click on) you can turn this around. If your company name is keyword-laden that may be another exception.
  • Realize that keyword phrases can be broken up and still derive at least the highlighting benefit. For instance, if a search is made for “san diego pizza” and your title tag is “Great Pizza in San Diego, CA | Company Name” – the search result will appear as “Great Pizza in San Diego, CA | Company Name.”
  • Google only shows 70 characters of the title tag. Try to keep yours within this limit.
  • For local businesses, include your city/state frequently, and consider just adding it to every page. There is even evidence that adding your address and phone number to the title of your Google Places landing page can improve your local search rank.
  • Don’t forget that people read these. Beyond keywords, use a title tag that searchers will want to click.

Where Else Do Title Tags Matter?

In addition to their appearing in search engines, title tags will frequently be used when your site is being referenced on the Internet. For instance, when stories are shared on Facebook, the title tag will often be the heading:

Title Tags on Facebook

Title Tags on Facebook

Title tags are also used as the default text for bookmarks in most browsers.

Finally, title tags are often used as the text for links to your site. If you have keywords in your titles, this is a nice bonus, as they will further indicate to the search engines the topic of pages on your website.

Editing Title Tags

Editing title tags should be fairly easy, but this isn’t the case for all companies. A few possibilities include:

  • If you pay someone to update your website, changing a title tag should be no problem.
  • If you can edit the html for your website yourself, all you need to look for are the  <title> and </title> tags. They should be near the top of your html. Edit the text in-between the two tags to change your title. If the title tags do not exist, add them somewhere between the <head> and </head> tags.
  • If you use a content management system, it will hopefully have a blank for editing the title. If not, some automatically use the headline or name of the page as the title. WordPress is one that does this – for more control over the tag you can use a plugin, such as WordPress SEO by Yoast.

Conclusion

Carefully written title tags can be one of the simplest, quickest ways to increase your search engine traffic. Take a look at your site – do the titles manage to use keywords while also providing a description that would encourage surfers to click?

If not, this should be near the top of your website to-do list.

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