At first glance, writing SEO-friendly titles seems like a simple task. They should include your main keyword and describe the contents of your page. Easy, right?
Wrong. Page titles are often too short, too long, or are not related to the page’s content. Since they are rarely visibly positioned, they are easy to overlook when building your page. And while the right title tag won’t instantly put your site in the top five search results, it will definitely make a positive and lasting impact on your organic traffic levels and conversion rates.
Before we move on to the details, let’s agree on one thing: your page title tag should match the user’s search intent. It should encourage the user to click on your page instead of neighboring results published by your competitors. It should also make the page’s contents clear to Google bots. While some creativity is allowed, a solid understanding of what works can give your titles that extra oomph they need.
Are you ready to take your page titles from “meh” to “great”?
Then let’s dive in!
The title tag: what is it?
<title> is one of the HTML tags stored in the head of a document file. It is displayed on the search engine result page as the clickable headline for a given result. Alternative names for this tag include meta title and page title, although the addition of the word "meta" is not necessary—the title is always a part of the page’s header metadata.
Optimizing a page’s metadata is one of the most basic SEO strategies, and it has a big impact on your position in search results—as it is not only visible to SERPs, but also to the users themselves. Both the title and short description appear on the search engines result page, meaning that its role is both to inform crawlers and catch the attention of users.
EXAMPLE • The title tag in HTML:
<title> Surfer · Data-Driven SEO Tool for On-page and Beyond </title>
The importance of titles cannot be understated. They give users an at-a-glance impression of the contents of a given search result. It is the first piece of information that helps them decide if your result is worth a click.
Meta title length in 2019
There is no single number that tells you how long your title tag should be; instead, maximum title length is dictated by the width of the user’s screen (typically about 600px wide). However, it is worth noting that various search engines can change this value, for instance, due to an update in how SERPs are shown.
Six hundred pixels allows for around sixty characters with spaces, so it is good practice to keep your title tag 50-60 characters long. If the letters' l' or 'i’ are frequent, the number of characters can be increased slightly.
What happens if a page title tag is too long? Well, the user might not see all of it in their search results, as the title will be truncated by search engines to fit on screen. This will likely negatively affect the click rate of your page, so you have to make an informed decision if you want to take that risk by including more characters.
Using vertical ( | ) instead of horizontal ( - ) separators will help shave off a few pixels and fit an extra character or two.
What is the difference between <h1> and <title> tag?
They are totally different HTML tags. However, people often treat them as the same thing, because they have the same purpose - to tell the user about the main subject of the webpage.
Many popular CMSs (e.g., Wordpress) by default set the <title> of the webpage exactly the same as the primary heading (<h1>).
So, the difference is that <title> is also displayed in the SERPs, Social Media and the web browser's title bar.
Okay, now you perfectly know what the <title> tag is, so we can jump to crafting your own!
Crafting your perfect SEO title tag: keyword research
If you want a well-optimized title tag, you need to know what you are optimizing it for. Therefore, keyword research is an essential part of the title tag optimization work.
If you are optimizing a page that is already live, it is easy to tell what main keywords to optimize for. However, even if your website is only being built, you can get ahead of the SEO game already—choosing keywords is a clean and data-driven process that can be kicked off parallel to development.
Let us start by going over the keyword categories. Two of them are particularly important for your meta description: head keywords and long-tail keywords.
What are head keywords?
These are short, popular, and competitive—it is tough to make it to the top 10 and take over slots already owned by the big guys in that space using only three keywords. They are usually broad, frequently used terms that users might search in different circumstances. Here are some good examples:
- white shirt
- cheap laptop
What are long-tail keywords?
These are phrases or sentence fragments, more specific, but less popular and competitive than head keywords. Using them, it is relatively easy to quickly rise in rankings. Pages and titles you create can more precisely match the user’s search intent.
- white men’s shirt size L
- work from home ideas
- best marketing books for CMOs
If you are just starting with SEO, I recommend picking long-tail keywords. You will be able to achieve top results without spending money on link building or on trying to steal reach from the big guys. One- or two-word keywords tend to be locked in the grasp of well-established brands with huge organic traffic. You will get more clicks ranking fifth from the top for a long-tail keyword than by fighting your way to page five for a high-traffic search.
Finding the perfect keyword
There are a lot of free and paid tools that can assist you in your research of keywords relevant to your page and business. Here are my personal favorites:
1. Keyword Planner
This is a free tool made by Google for advertisers looking to plan their ad campaigns. However, you can also use it to quickly analyze potential keywords.
Keyword Planner lets you find new keywords and check the volume of queries for each, as well as how competitive they are and how frequently they are expected to be searched in the near future.
STEP ONE: Enter a keyword to learn about Google’s suggestions.
STEP TWO: Choose the search location(s) and language.
The data shown here is not one hundred percent accurate, but it gives a solid, broad overview of expected search volumes for phrases that interest you. In addition, you will find plenty of inspiration in the Planner.
2. Keywords Everywhere
This is a free Chrome and Firefox plugin that draws data from Google Planner, among others, and displays it in real-time Google searches. Simple, clean, and very helpful for quick research!
The quickest and easiest method is to check Google hints. While this method may seem more daunting, you can find keywords that you would not be likely to come up with on your own that are worth considering.
I recommend installing the Keywords Everywhere plugin beforehand to streamline this process—this way, you will see some general information about volumes of queries.
The bottom of the results page can also offer valuable insights, such as the “similar results” list. Digging into it can help you significantly expand your understanding of what users search when trying to access content similar to what is on your page.
Surfer offers a couple of tools that make keyword research a quick and easy process. Go to Keyword Analyzer and enter your planned primary keyword. Surfer will suggest long-tail alternatives if what you enter happens to be a head keyword—and thus, more difficult to rank for.
This tab displays keywords that are similar to the one you entered. We count two keywords as similar when at least 2 of the top 20 pages are the same for both keywords.
For example, if you search for SEO services or SEO services company and Surfer finds that at 2 of the top 20 results link to the same page in both SERPs, it will assume that those keywords are similar.
This tab shows top questions from the People Also Ask (Related Questions) box in Google. This is the set of collapsible question-and-answer boxes that serve as a sort of FAQ for the searching user. PAAs often lead users down a rabbit hole of further search results—and help us identify further keywords worthy of our attention. Researching them is especially helpful if your website offers guides, definitions, and other roundup-style pages.
Also, you can find here similar questions that comes from Surfer's database and are relevant to primary keyword.
One of my favorite tactics in identifying my page’s potential keywords is to check what my competitors are trying to rank for. This tab in Surfer’s interface is a true goldmine of inspiration that can dramatically grow your keyword list. If your competitors find a keyword-relevant to their audience, chances are, it should be something you rank for, too.
In order to find these phrases, go to the Keywords tab and click on the number of ranked keywords for a subpage of your choice.
This is what you’ll see once you enter the section:
Optimize titles for better rankings and click rates
By now, you should know how important your title tag is for SEO and for which keywords you want to optimize your title tag—and the whole page.
But optimization is not just about keywords. Sure, they are important and help you rank higher in the search results, but what truly gets the user’s attention is a promise of high-quality content. Make sure the title tag is clear and visible, so that it catches the user’s eye and convinces them to click on your page among the dozens, if not hundreds, of other results.
If you are optimizing English titles, I would advise using title case (starting words with capital letters) could help you increase visibility and give the page title a cleaner look. But this is not a silver bullet solution. In Polish, for instance, using title case is a capitalization mistake that would make your page look less trustworthy, and possibly machine-translated.
The simplest naming convention that you can implement is a variation of the following:
Primary Keyword - Secondary Keyword | Brand Name (if possible)
Adding the company name at the end of the title tag helps with brand visibility.
Primary Keyword - Secondary Keyword | Year | Brand Name (if possible)
Placing the current year at the end of the title tag gives the impression that the user will find up-to-date information, which usually raises CTR.
With these tips, you cannot go wrong. Of course, different titles will work for articles, transactional landing pages, e-commerce stores, or catalogue pages. Once you work out your naming convention, add it to your style guide and keep it consistent across your domain. Your website will look sleek and professional, and creating new titles will be a breeze.
Avoid writing the entire title in capital letters. Not only does it not look clean, but it makes the title more difficult to read and is frequently associated with attention-grabbing spam.
How to optimize the title tag for better CTR
It is not a good idea to run constant conversion optimization tests on the living organism of a website that is already ranked in search engines. Continuous title tag changes are not only tedious, but may have a negative impact on the ranking, not to mention that the data you would draw from these experiments would be polluted. You would not be able to get real-time numbers, as the frequent changes would affect the keywords for which your pages would rank and their positions in those rankings. If anything, such testing could lower your results instead of improving them.
Fortunately, there is a better way to test the potential of your titles for more clicks. Unfortunately, it does not come for free, but it is infinitely more effective and will not have any negative impact on your already built up SEO results.
The strategy? Come up with various versions of the page title tag and run paid search engine campaigns on platforms like Google Ads. We have written about this before—if this test strategy interests you, you can read more about testing titles in Google Ads here.
Why do different search engines show different titles?
Even if we fit our title tag within the set character limit and our page code is clean, a search engines algorithms can still alter, and sometimes even completely change the page title tag and other metadata we set. It might also add on the company name or website address to the page title tag.
There are many reasons why this may happen. Search engines may change your title tag when:
- The title tag is stuffed with keywords*
- There are several versions of the page title tag in the page code (for instance by having SEO-assisting Wordpress plugins installed)
- The set title tag does not match the page context
- The set title tag is not related to the keyword searched by the user
* What is keyword stuffing? It is stringing keywords together into titles to the point that they stop being human-legible. Here is an example:
Foobar, foo bar, foobars, foo bars | example.com
Keyword stuffing is a hugely ineffective method of getting better on search engines results pages. Such practice can be seen as an attempt to outsmart the algorithm, which—when identified—may cause your rankings to nosedive, and may even lead to your results being taken off a search engine’s listings.
The SEO challenge of optimizing large websites
While creating or optimizing meta tags for subpages should be a quick task, working with large sites is much more complicated. With hundreds of pages come hundreds of titles—and a task that would have seemed like a few hours of work quickly turns into weeks. Imagine manually correcting meta tags in an online store, on each product page, for each of the tens of thousands of products. Even if you found someone willing to do it, it would be slow, arduous work.
Fortunately, there are tools that let you generate unique meta tags for each subpage of a domain. Most popular CMS systems allow the use of variables. One of my personal favorites is the Yoast SEO plugin for Wordpress.
What are some meta tag templates that will be both human-readable and easy to index for SEO purposes? Here are two examples:
[Product Name] at Excellent Price [Store Name]
Apple iPhone XS Max 512 Gb at Excellent Price | SomeShopExample
[Category Name] in [Store Name] • Available immediately
Casio Women's Watches at SomeShopExample • Available immediately
Product names will have different lengths, so some titles will inevitably be too short, while others will end up too long. When generating titles, try to match variables and other content in such a way that as many resulting page titles as possible fall within the recommended range of 50-65 characters.
What is the title tag?
<title> is one of the HTML tags stored in the head of a document file. It is displayed on the search engine result page as the clickable headline for a given result.
What is meta title length in 2019? It is good practice to keep your title tag 50-60 characters long. If the letters' l' or 'i’ are frequent, the number of characters can be increased slightly.
Can title tag and h1 be the same? Yes. Both serve as titles to describe what your webpage is about.
What is the difference between <h1> and <title> tag? They are entirely different HTML tags. The main difference is that the title tag appears in search engines, on the social media, and on the web browser's title bar.
What is the SEO title in Wordpress? Is the title of the page or an article. By default, it is set as the same as <h1> tag. It is a clickable headline in the search engine result page.
Are title tags important for SEO? The importance of titles cannot be understated. They give users an at-a-glance impression of the contents of a given search result. It is the first piece of information that helps them decide if your result is worth a click.
Why do different search engines show different titles? There are many reasons why this may happen. Search engines may change your title tag when:
The title tag is stuffed with keywords
There are several versions of the page title tag in the page code (for instance by having SEO-assisting Wordpress plugins installed)
The set title tag does not match the page context
The set title tag is not related to the keyword searched by the user
A page’s <title> tag has a huge impact on search engine optimization (SEO). If you will do it perfectly it might affect positively on your search traffic.
I hope this article will serve as a base for creating your own page titles tags that will be appreciated by users and search engines alike. And as always, share your experiences and advice in the comments!