What Are Title Tags?
The title tag is one of many forms of metadata that can be provided on a webpage, although it is technically not actually a "meta tag", it is an HTML element. However, most webmasters and SEOers consider it a component of meta information so we may refer to this misnomer as such for classification purposes. The title is usually displayed on the web browser tabs and in the search engine's results page. As with any title, this element should be indicative of the content on the page itself.
The title tag is always placed in the "Head Section" of an HTML document and should generally look something like this:
<head> <title>Title Goes Here</title> </head>
The title element is often deemed as the most important "On-page SEO Factor", partly due to strong correlations of effective implementation and high ranking webpages.
Titles should distinguish one article from another and be unambiguous as well as recognizable. In most cases, the title should be descriptive of the topic.
How The Title Element Affects Rankings
The title is mainly used as an indication of relevance only, since the body of text is generally too small to extract any sort of "quality guideline". It is a strong indication of relevance if a user's search query were to match (in part or in full) with the title of the document in question. However, there is an important consideration that perhaps not all titles are perfectly indicative of the article's content. This may prompt the use of a "title-to-content match" algorithm, in combination with the user's search query.
When determining the relevance score of a page's title tag, one must consider 2 variables.
- The Title's Relevance to the Page's Content
- The Title's Relevance to the User's Query
To determine if the title is related to the article, one can simply use a word match algorithm to determine whether or not the words in the title match some percentage of the words in the article. Upon analyzing a corpus of highly qualified documents, there seems to be a wide range of reasonable "text-match percentages" between the titles and bodies of text. If one were to use the "title" as a search query to explore the body of the document, a broad match should result for each particular word in the query and a 'significant' portion of the query should result in a "phrase match". Ideally, the results would even yield an exact match and 2 separate phrase matches.
It's also important to combat keyword stuffing, the algorithm should devalue repetitive words in the title as well as give priority to keywords within the first 30 characters of the title.
Title Tag Relevancy Score: y= (tag-body-correlation * tag-query-match)
Writing Optimal Titles
There are many factors to consider when creating the title of a webpage. The original purpose and main intent of the title element is for the user. The title is displayed in the browser tab, which usually only shows about 25-30 characters. The search engines themselves usually display up to 65 characters. Through a consensus analysis using a reference corpus, the average title length is about 4-6 words. In that analysis, the word count was much more relevant than the character count since it largely depended on the content's theme.
Matching Title's With Page Content
It's very important that the title closely matches the content of the article since users expect to read information related to the title of the document. The words within the first 30 characters are often given more weight since those are the words that will be seen by users when they actually use the page.
Matching the Title With User's Search Query
Assuming that a title is truly indicative of the content it precedes, then a match (broad, phrase, exact) of keywords is a great way to signal relevance.
Other Important Considerations of a Title Tag
Title Tags Affect Click Through (CTR)
When users browse through the results they will very often consider the title of the document before clicking on the link. In a different section of this site, "Click Through Rates" are discussed as another ranking factor. Higher click through rates can indicate a more relevant result to the user and subsequently affect the rankings. Therefore, having an eye-catching and engaging title can have a significant affect on your rankings if users click on your title more frequently than the competitors. Conversely, if you have an irrelevant and/or uninteresting title, you may suffer in the rankings when users repeatedly skip over your listing.
Title Tags Are Often Used as Anchor Text or Link Title Attributes
Anchor text is another very important ranking factor that can be affected by a page's title tags. Often when a page is linked to, whether through a social share or a webmaster's doing, the title tag may be automatically used as the anchor text or even "title attribute" of the link, hence affecting another relevance factor. The words used by the linking source is a major indicator of what a page is about and having a keyword rich (but not stuffed) title tag can really boost your relevance score for those keywords. This element is often used when bookmarking pages in a person's browser. This is another reason why the title should be memorable and descriptive. Keep it short and sweet while being descriptive as possible, sounds contradicting doesn't it?
Title Text Ranking Function
The text used in the title of a page is one component of keyword analysis. It's easy enough to extract the keywords in a title and apply a technique in determining their relevance to a search query, but unlike content keywords, you must also match the title text to the body of the document to ensure it's a relevant title before applying substantial weight to keyword matches between the search query and title. Additionally, some components of keywords analysis can apply to the title while others do not. Potential applications you can use in the title's keyword analysis is prominence and keyword density. The techniques for analyzing all of these components of a title is pretty straightforward. The ranking function must consider these variables:
- Keyword match between the search query and title
- Keyword match between the title and body
- Keyword prominence
- Keyword Density
Components of Keyword Analysis
The full spectrum of computing a keyword analysis and relating search queries to bodies of text is beyond the scope of this page, but that information can be retrieved in the provided link.For those who want a brief synopsis, just know that the major elements of query matching consists of the 3 different types (or sometimes 4) of keyword matches. These include:
- Exact Matches
- Phrase Matches
- Broad Matches
- *Broad Match Modifiers*
These types of matches combined with the other variables mentioned will make up the title tag ranking function. So let's get started...
Common Questions About the Use of Title Tags
Can or should I use the same text in both my title tag and H1 (heading) tag?
The difference between a title tag and H1 tag is very subtle. The heading is not necessarily a title of a page, but more specifically the title of the preceding section of text and generally, the very FIRST heading precedes the entire document, making it essentially the same thing as the title. But the title tag has an additional component. It is also a "Call to Action". Therefore, you should take the time to incorporate some marketing strategy into the title tag in order to entice a user to click on your snippet in the results page, this is a strategy you wouldn't normally employ in your headings.
Additionally, varying your titles and headings can open up more possibility for long-tail keywords, word stems, and related keywords.
Using the same text for your title and H1 tag will not trigger any sort of duplicate content issue and may in some cases slightly increase the weight of the phrasing used within the text, but the benefits of varying the text outweigh the gain in relevance of the specific phrase used as the title and heading.
Is it bad to change my title tags often?
An occasional change to your titles is not inherently a bad thing. In other words, "frequency of title tag changes" is not a ranking factor. However, constantly changing the theme or targeted keywords of a page will hinder its ability to score as highly relevant for any search query.
There are many valid reasons why one might change their titles; old products being replaced by new products is a great example. The title, Widget 1.0 for 2013 Applications might get replaced with Widget 2.0 for 2014 Applications, and this is perfectly valid. So when changing the title tags, keep the theme and targeted keywords similar. If you have to consistently change the theme, then use a more generic title like Widget News instead of a specific widget.
Title tags are very important and can greatly affect a site's rankings in both direct and indirect ways.
SEO Best Practices:
- Use at least 25 characters, no more than 65. Note that most search engines will often add additional text in their results page if your title is short. Too much text may water down your keyword strength and not enough text may simply be too vague to produce highly relevant matches or hinder long-tail potential.
- Make Your Title:
- Predict the content
- Catch the reader's eye
- Set the tone
- If possible, aim for close to 6-8 words, but make no sacrifice to the quality of the title for user's purposes in order to hit this goal
Things to Avoid:
- Duplicate Title Tags - As mentioned, titles should be unique and distinguish one document from all other documents, especially since unoriginal content is of little value to a huge and constantly growing source of information, ie the web.
- Invalid Characters - Many website have been guilty of using the quotes ("") notation within their title tags from time to time. If you are a developer or familiar with some basic HTML code, you'll immediately recognize why this is bad. The title tag is enclosed by quotations so when a pair of quotes are added to the title, the first quotation mark signals the browser or spider that the tag is over. Anything after the first quote is not included in the title tag and resultantly, not only do you have an incomplete title, but you also have sloppy code.
This document is a great resource for writing quality titles. It will explain what makes a good title and provide a short (and kind of fun) 20 step process for coming up with a good title for your piece. From a technical perspective, you can learn more about html title tags here.