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What is a title tag? How do you write one? Why are title tags important? Do they actually help with search engine optimization? Can I see some good and bad examples?
Meta tags are HTML elements that provide information about a web page for search engines and website visitors.
These elements must be placed as tags in the <head> section of a HTML document. These elements are:
We’ve discussed how to write meta descriptions in a separate post, so for now let’s discuss title tags, the most important meta tags on your site.
Title tags are used to tell search engines and visitors what any given page on your site is about in the most concise and accurate way possible.
This title will then appear in various places around the web, including the tab in your web browser:
The title will also likely be pulled in as the anchor text when sharing on other websites and social media channels.
And most importantly of all, your title tag will show up as the big blue link in search engine results
You can add a title tag in the <head> section in your site’s HTML. It should look something like this:
However in most content management systems (CMS), including WordPress, you can either add a title tag in general settings:
Or if you use an SEO plug-in, such as Yoast, you can add a title tag to the ‘SEO title’ section, and you can preview an example of how it will look in search engine results pages (SERPs):
When writing an article, the section where you write a headline will automatically form the title tag.
If your title tag is automatically generated from the headline, you should try to override this by using either a plug-in (like the one mentioned above) or in the HTML itself. The headline (also known as the <h1> tag) is another opportunity to tell Google about the content of your page using a slightly different keyword string, so you may as well take advantage of this.
The title tag is the boldest, most obvious element in a search result and therefore a major part in the decision making process of whether a searcher will click on your result or not.
According to Moz, title tags have “long been considered one of the most important on-page SEO elements.” And the closer to the start of the title tag any given keyword is, the more likely it will be to rank for that keyword based query.
From an SEO point of view, the title tag should contain all the keywords you wish to rank for. And as I just stated above, the most important keyword should be at the beginning, followed by second most important, then finally your brand name.
Moz provides this handy reference:
Primary Keyword – Secondary Keyword | Brand Name
However one thing you must remember: write title tags for humans.
Although they should be formatted to some degree for search engines, it’s vital that the tag makes perfect sense to humans and reads like a legible sentence.
Kristine Schachinger wrote a perfect checklist on how to write optimised title tags in her original post, so I’m copying it for you here, with a few minor updates:
Occasionally yes. Sometimes if Google doesn’t like your title tag it will rewrite it for its search engine results, pulling in information from your meta description and page content. Chances are this won’t be as good as the one you’ve created, so you must ensure that your own title tag is completely relevant, descriptive, keyword rich but readable and the right length.
Here are a few examples that stick to the above rules in our checklist and therefore look more appealing on the SERP.
Esquire has all three keywords right at the beginning of the title tag, then follows this with a seductively appealing headline (everyone loves a list) and cleverly uses ‘buns’ in order to avoid repetition and keep the character limit to around 60.
Keywords are at the front, the brand name is at the end and Schuh has separated its keyword phrases with pipes | These used to be a necessity when writing title tags as the recommendation was to stay away from other punctuation. Although this is no longer true, pipes still look great on the page and are a clear separator.
Pitchfork has stayed away from a mistake that mine and other review websites make in putting ‘review’ at the start. Searchers do not start their search queries with ‘review’, they start with the artist.
And finally, using the same search terms as above, here are some bad examples of title tags:
This is buried far down on page four of the Google SERP. It’s easy to see why. The brand name and most important keywords are the opposite of where they should be. The headline itself also lacks any description or anything vaguely persuasive to make me want to click.
The keyword is nowhere to be seen. In fact it’s probably at the end of the title tag, but because it’s so long it has been cut out by Google. Also note the wilfully inconsistent capitalisation, which makes the link look really spammy.
Although Mashable should be applauded for trying a different headline approach, the stop words at the beginning of the title tag push the important keywords into the middle and this result languishes on page 4 of Google. The headline’s great, but the title tag is identical, so perhaps all the wording of the title tag needs is a slight reordering.