15 Title Tag Optimization Guidelines For Usability and SEO

Title-Tag-Optimization-Guidelines-Usability-SEO
The HTML title tag defines the name of a web page and should be used to describe content of that page in a concise way. Thus, what is placed between the opening and closing HTML title tag is extremely important for both usability and Search Engine Optimization (SEO). In this post I will discuss proven title tag optimization guidelines that you can use to create the ultimate title tag: one that is both human and search engine friendly – a title that will help in driving quality traffic to your web site.

Title Tag Optimization: Why is it important?

Title tag optimization is important because the content of the title tag is used by:

  • Web browsers: To label the web browser’s tab(s) (Older browsers used to display the title of the web page in the browser’s window title)
  • 15 Title Tag Optimization Guidelines for Usability and SEO Web Browsers

    Web browsers display the page name in their tab by retrieving the contents of the title tag of the web site being viewed

  • Search engines: As the clickable headline for listings on Search Engine Result Pages (SERPs)
  • Title-Tag-Optimization-Guidelines-Usability-SEO-SERP

    The main search engines show the title tag as the clickable link to a web site in their SERPs

  • Search engines: To determine the topic of the web page. Search Engine spiders or crawlers analyze the content of the page title and then translate the page topic.
  • Social bookmarking sites and Web browsers: To assign a default value to bookmarked web sites
  • Title-Tag-Optimization-Guidelines-Usability-Social-Media

    Some social media and social bookmarking web sites such as Digg and Facebook automatically retrieve the contents of the title tag when the user submits a URL

  • Users: to

    • Identify the web sites that are likely to contain the information they are searching for within the list of web sites on a SERP
    • Locate the tab in their web browser which contains the site they want to view
    • Find the web site they have bookmarked in their browser
    • Determine whether a web site that others have bookmarked in a social bookmarking web site is worth checking out

There is an overlap between usability and Search Engine Optimization as to what techniques can be applied in order to optimize the title of a web page. Thus, I have compiled the following list of guidelines which, if adhered to, will make your web pages both useful and SEO-friendly

Title Tag Optimization: The Do’s

  1. Place your keywords at the beginning: Search engines assign more importance to the first word in the title tag than to the second one and so forth. From a usability perspective, since users understand just the first 11 characters of links, then it is important to make the most out of these characters by placing the most important content there.
  2. Use keyphrases instead of keywords: If your page title contains a phrase instead of a keyword, then it is more likely that you will attain a higher ranking in search engines for specific user searches. Thus, for example if you have a company that makes toys, then you will rank better if your web page title contains more specific keyphrases rather than just “toys”.
  3. Use modifiers: In SEO, modifiers are words like “best”, “offers”, “buy”, “cheap” and “reviews”. Users tend to include modifiers in when searching and subsequently when scanning the web pages on a SERP.
  4. Use numbers: This is purely a usability tip. Users do not typically search for the “50 best button designs for inspiration” but they would rather click on it in a SERP rather than a title that reads “best button design inspiration”. I would dare to add more – they would even prefer to click on it rather than one that reads “best button design inspiration – 50 excellent examples”. Numbers convey meaning to users as to what they should expect to find on a web page and they also serve to attract their attention especially if they are at the beginning of the title.
  5. Title-Tag-Optimization-Guidelines-Usability-SEO-Numbers

    The 2nd and 3rd web sites listed in the above SERP are more likely to be clicked on by a user searching for inspiration. This is due to the use of numbers and the cleverly worded title.

  6. Separate your keywords with hyphens (-) or pipes (|): Both hyphens and pipes will make it easier for your user to scan the content of your title tag. From an SEO perspective, hyphens have the added advantage that they will enable you to rank for different keywords while listing them only once. For example, if you are a web designer, then the keyphrase “web-design” will associate you with search queries for “web design” and “webdesign”. From a usability perspective, this is very useful since you are not restricting the user to type in a specific phrase to reach related content.
  7. Include Acronyms: Unlike synonyms, there is still some disagreement as on whether search engines interpret the meaning of acronyms. Even if they do, it would be difficult if not impossible for both search engines and users to deduce page content from an acronym alone. This is because acronyms can be interpreted differently like for example “AAA” can be interpreted as American Automobile Association, Access All Areas, Anti Aircraft Artillery and another 190 ways . Still, users may search for the acronym directly (as in the case of SEO). So, if your page content is about something that can be converted to an acronym, it is best to include both the acronym and the full keywords. Acronyms are the only text that should be written in capital case in the title tag. For normal text, use title case or proper case as these are easier to scan and look more professional.
  8. Each page on your site should have a unique page title: Placing specific keywords in the title tag for each page based on the content of the page will make your individual pages easier to categorize for search engines. Moreover it easier for the user to decide which page to click on in the SERP when presented with a number of pages from your site.
  9. Title-Tag-Optimization-Guidelines-Usability-SEO-Same-Name

    In this screenshot, 3 different pages from the same site have shown up in the SERP. This site has the same contents in the title tag of each page. Notice how difficult it will be for the user to know which link to click

  10. Best title naming convention for the homepage: The first word in the homepage title should be the name of the web site. It should then be followed by the tagline which is a short description of what the web site is about. Never start the title of the homepage with generic words such as “The” or “Welcome” as they would make it more difficult for a user to locate your site. Moreover, if users opt to bookmark it, your site will be indexed under “T”or “W” respectively whereas the user will try and find it using the first character of your company’s name.
  11. Title-Tag-Optimization-Guidelines-Usability-SEO-Naming

    A whopping 822 million web sites contain the words”Welcome to the website of” in their homepage title tag. For the majority of them, these words are the first words. Imagine how difficult it will be for users to locate them in a SERP or among their bookmarks

  12. Best title naming convention for other pages: Start the title with the keywords or most prominent information-carrying words that describe what the page contains. These should be followed by the company name at the end of the title. The reason why the company name is placed at the end of the title is that if a user accesses an inner page via it’s home page, then he/she already knows which site they are on. If they access it via a web search, then they are more interested in the specific content of that page. They would still be able to identify who owns the site via the site ID (such as the logo).
  13. Title Tag Optimization: The Don’ts

  14. Do not make the content in the title tag longer than 69 characters: This is because Google, Bing and Ask only show the first 69 characters as the title of web pages in their SERPs whilst Yahoo! shows 72 (source). Still, this does not necessarily mean you have to try and use all 69 characters at your disposal. Whilst more keywords may enable you to show up in more searches, your users will find it more difficult to scan longer page titles. Additionally, because of keyword density , keywords in your title will be more relevant for search engines if your title contains less characters.
  15. Title-Tag-Optimization-Guidelines-Usability-SEO-Google-Yahoo

    Notice how the important keyword “Wales” has been replaced by ellipses in the Google SERP as opposed to the same web page in the Yahoo! SERP. This is because Yahoo! displays more characters in its SERP. In this case, this problem could have easily been resolved through the removal of the useless words “Welcome to the website of” from the title tag.

  16. Do not place too many keywords: From an SEO perspective, this constitutes a practice known as keyword stuffing in order to attain better search rankings. Not only will this technique not work but, major search engines such as Google will penalize you for it. From a usability perspective, even if your page manages to show up on a SERP, it will be unlikely that a user clicks on it for the simple reason that it will look like you have a web page that discusses a little of everything. So, keyword stuffing make your page title look amateurish and will show little value to the user.
  17. Do not use stop words: Stop words are words that are ignored by search engines and (sometimes) users. These include words such as “by”, “it” and “as”. There are quite a number of stop words so it is worth checking them out when optimizing your title tag. From a usability perspective, I recommend that you do this process carefully. Be judgemental and only remove useless words that do not help the user in identifying your page content. Remember that some users will still include stop words in their search queries.
  18. Do not use a lot of commas: Whilst commas may look good for the user to scan the content of your page title, using a lot of them may cause search engines to penalize you since they interpret it as keyword stuffing. Thus it is advisable to separate your keywords using the hyphen (-), pipe (|) or underscore (_) symbols. Yes, underscore. Whilst I find the underscore symbol as not very usable, I included it since surprisingly, some “experts” seem to have forgotten that search engines have been treating underscores like hyphens since 2007!
  19. Do not use special characters: Search engines tend to ignore special characters. For example Google ignores punctuation symbols and other special characters. On the other hand, special characters may be used to attract the user’s attention, although I personally think that such strategy will backfire since it decreases the site’s credibility. Thus it is best to avoid them as they do not add real value to the user or SEO.
  20. Do not overuse synonyms: It is true that users may use “buy” to mean “purchase” and vice versa so you may be inclined to place them both in your title. Unfortunately, this will cost you the wastage of valuable characters in your title tag. Luckily, search engines such as Google (since 2008) recognise more and more synonyms. So, my advice is to include synonyms only if you think that users may equally search for the different keywords. Otherwise, stick to the most common keyword.

Conclusion

I think that by now you should have a better idea of the importance of the title tag and how to optimize it for both usability and SEO. My final word of advice is that what you would have achieved at this point is a step forward towards making your web pages easier to find and more usable in terms of scannability. However, as the saying goes, “content is king”.

As search engine algorithms evolve, they are able to better detect the content of your pages and they will penalize you in rankings if the content is not of sufficient quality to match the user’s search query. Moreover, if your web page still manages to rank and the user clicks on it because you have a good title, he or she will not hesitate to close the browser tab if they do not see good content within the first 10-20 seconds of scanning its content.

Bottom line is this – Write quality content and then, based on what you write you can optimize the title of that page using the guidelines explained above.

  • http://www.bluedaggermedia.com Tom Launder

    Great job on this article. You pretty much nailed all the tips/tricks for title tags. Nice catch too about how Facebook will catch the title tag (and meta description) when you share the link.

    - Tom

  • http://www.go4promotion.com Mohul

    awesome post.. In the future, this can be referred to as the Bible of Title Optimization! Applause..

    • http://www.facebook.com/richard.dacker Richard Dacker

       It does pay take notice of snippets posted on my facebook ..I must get rid of those comma’s in on page seo. Use keyword phrases instead of keywords I like keyword phrases makes more sense to me since 2008. Yet all the SEO tipsters give on page seo structure that now has been superseded. Where to next?

  • http://www.usabilitygeek.com Justin Mifsud

    @Tom, @Mohul – Thank you so much for the great feedback. Much appreciated!

  • http://www.Biquitous.com Chris Fernandez

    Hey Justin,

    Fantastic article that goes over many conventions (Do’s and Dont’s) that lots of folks, including an SEO vet like myself, have forgotten, or at least not thought about in quite some time.

    You also stole my thunder because we are just about to launch our new website and blog, and one of my first pieces was going to be focusing on the Title tag, but you did such a great job with the explanations, examples and fantastic screenshots, that you might have just made my post idea obsolete!

    Either way, keep up the good work, and fantastic piece.

    I’ll be passing it along to my list via Twitter and Facebook as soon as we launch.

    All the best.

    • http://www.brianlis.com Brian Lis

      Ditto what Chris said, “Fantastic article that goes over many conventions (Do’s and Dont’s) that lots of folks, including an SEO vet like myself, have forgotten, or at least not thought about in quite some time.”

      Bookmarked for future use. Good job!

    • http://usabilitygeek.com Justin Mifsud

      @Chris – Thanks for your great comments. Sorry for affecting your post Chris. It happened to me a couple of times and I know, it pretty much sucks. Looking forward to see your blog. Best of luck!

      @Brian – Thanks a lot! Glad that you found this post useful.

  • http://www.paulund.co.uk Paul

    Great article

    Title tag are so important to a page for SEO and social media and strangely most people underestimate them.

  • ParticleMan

    Regarding the homepage, points 1 and 8 contradict.

  • http://www.usabilitygeek.com Justin Mifsud

    @ParticleMan

    Contradiction may not be the best word here. The home page is different than the other pages of a web site since it typically contains a snapshot of the internal content of the site.

    Therefore it represents the entire site – i.e. its title tag content needs to reflect what one will find in the entire site. This is why point 8 recommends that the first word of the title tag of the homepage is the name of the company / product etc that the site is about.

    On the other hand, each inner page contains specific, different content. This is the reason why points 1 and 9 recommend placing the most important keywords at the beginning of the content in the title tags for inner pages.

    Thanks for your comment and hope this reply has cleared any misconceptions.

  • http://www.search-engine-academy-washington-dc.com Nancy E. Wigal

    Nice post! Thanks for compiling these tips to write better title tags. So many of my attendees never think that they matter, but once we go over the importance of tags (and we teach what’s listed here), they understand a little better about why they need to take charge of their websites and optimize all the elements that are available, for both their human visitors and the crawlers.

  • http://www.optidge.com Danny Gavin

    Great Post! I hear your recommendation about the title tag on the home page. But what about a situation where the company’s name is quite long, wouldn’t it be better to use the valuable real estate for keywords??

  • http://wordswordsseowords.com/ Christopher Skyi

    “Search engines assign more importance to the first word in the title tag than to the second one and so forth.”

    I hear this all the time, but does anyone have any hard evidence for this?

    It doesn’t make sense from a algorithmic/crawl or parse perspective. The real computation limit on the search engines is how much text they can parse and bring back to their server. Keywords anywhere w/in that limit should be fine. Why would it make any difference where they are?

    From a human perspective, good copywriting (using critical keywords) is the goal. That title first needs to be persuasive. Google knows that — why force people to force a keyword into the first position at the possible expense of a persuasive title?

  • http://www.pagerank-seo.com Robert Visser

    Just a point of clarification on web standards, “title tag” is a colloquialism. The discussion is on a Title element. Please see the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) documents below.

    HTML 4.01 Specification
    W3C Recommendation 24 December 1999
    The global structure of an HTML document
    7.4.2 The TITLE element
    http://goo.gl/o2htI

    and

    7.4.2 The TITLE attribute
    http://goo.gl/xJnN0

    or if you’d prefer:
    HTML5
    A vocabulary and associated APIs for HTML and XHTML
    Editor’s Draft 30 September 2011
    4.2.2 The title element
    http://goo.gl/L3gLQ

    There is, of course, a difference between what Google displays on a search engine results page and what may actually be indexed. Beginning in late May 2010 we began seeing discussions on the forums that Google had increased the number of displayed characters on their SERPs to 70. And while there is no means to limit the number of characters one can place in this field, there are some additional places we can look for guidance.

    The input filed for a Business Title on the form to create (or edit) a Google Places business listing has a limit of 80 characters.

    On Aug. 17th, 2011 Matt Cutts stated in a Webmaster Central Help video, What role does being in DMOZ play in rankings? http://goo.gl/xPzQZ , that Google does still rely on DMOZ listings for a few asian countries (the implication being non-roman alphabets) as well as for some snippets. The input field for a Title element in a DMOZ listing is 100 characters.

    Again, neither the character counts of 80 nor 100 specifically indicate Google has any limit on the number of characters which might be indexed for the Title element.

    As far as authority given to the keywords placed in a Title element, long tail keyword phrases at the beginning of the field (to the left on a roman keyboard) receive a higher value.

  • http://www.ryanbradley.info/ Ryan Bradley

    Do ampersands count as special characters? I’ve used them before and I don’t believe I was penalized.

  • http://www.flyteblog.com Rich Brooks

    Great, solid content. My only bone of contention is #8.

    I’ve seen very smart people take up opposing sides on this issue (start the home page title tag with your company name) and I find myself coming down on the other side of the issue.

    I feel it’s company dependent. My company name is “flyte new media.” I figure, if anyone’s searching for “flyte” or “flyte new media” they’re going to find us right near the top no matter what we do.

    Maybe this is specific to us b/c we misspell our name, and only have to compete with a bike, fan, boy band, and a high-end Nashville restaurant.

    I’d rather have people find us who need our services but have never heard of us. Yes, I can (and do) have a page on “Web Design” and another on “Internet Marketing”, but our home page is the most powerful page for inbound links and SEO, so for me, I bury my company name after “Maine Web Design & Internet Marketing for Small Business…”

    So far, so good.

  • http://www.motleyhealth.com/ Jon

    Now that Google re-writes titles when it feels it is a good idea, is there any point in writing anything other than something that is meaning full the reader? I recently had a perfectly semi-SEO long and meaningful title re-written by google to show a keyword dominant short title in the SERPS. My message lost, the main keyword search phrase added.

  • http://www.sitesuite.com.au/articles Tim

    Superb article, particularly the comparisons. Didn’t Google announce via their video blog recently, however, that hyphens and underscores are treated differently, not the same as you state in your article? I could be mistaken.

    Anyhow, great article!

  • http://stockfresh.com Peter

    Fantastic article, sums up everything. I’m in the process of reviewing our SEO practices and these points are really helpful.

  • http://www.agent-seo.com Jacob Stoops

    Great article. You hit all of the major points of emphasis when optimizing title tags for SEO. Also, thanks for the reference to my SEO Stop Words article. I really appreciate it!

  • http://itrackfast.com/ Doris C

    Your post got everything I need to know. Thank you.

  • http://tap-marketing.com/ Thomas

    Nice article! This answered a lot of questions I had concerning title tag optimization. How many characters does Google consider too many? At what point does Google penalize a page for an excessively long title tag?

  • http://www.indiabroadband.net/bsnl-broadband/index2.html Bsnl Broadband

    Great info, thank you! I used to use Pipes, but got away from doing that a couple of years ago. I thought I had read that pipes, were old school. I guess I was wrong, I’m going to add in pipes to my Title tags and test to see if the results are better. Thanks again for the info.

  • Sanjiv

    Thank you-very useful tips

  • http://twitter.com/PromotionalSite Local Business Tips

    If you exclude stop words, won’t that result in keyword stuffing/spam?
    Example: Remvoing and from Buy and Sell, thoughts ?
    Thanks for a great collection of tips !

  • http://twitter.com/priyankairle Priyanka Irle

    This post was exactly what I was looking for. My first stint with SERP usability and here are my guidelines. Thanks a ton.

  • http://twitter.com/brfinancial Blue Ray Financial

    Great article! very informative. I will definitely be implementing some these tips. Thanks

  • infatex

    These were really very useful tips, and these points can really help me out in working for Seo.

  • LESZEK KRAKOWSKI

    awesome post.. In the future, this can be referred to as the Bible of Title Optimization! Applause..

  • http://www.facebook.com/molly.e.richardson Molly Richardson

    What if your company name and product includes stop word such as Non-Slip and Sure Step? When trying to use these as keywords, it seems to hurt more than help…

  • Mkabayi

    Precise, comprehensive and extremely well-crafted. Bookmarking and using your article for reference without a doubt.Thank you.

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  • http://www.espan.co.uk/ Sonya Brucciani

    Great article and advice, simple and easy to follow and all makes sense. Title tags should be obvious, however some title tags I have seen are such a missed opportunity, both for usability and SEO.

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  • http://dreamingofargentina.com/ Ailsa Ross

    Hey Justin,

    Great article! I was wondering if anyone has done testing on colons yet?

    To play it on the safe side, I wrote to some of my freelancers: “Question your colons: Google recognizes colons as separators which delineate keyword phrases. So if the title reads ‘Toronto: Food Tour, When Pigs Fry’, Google will read the keyword phrases as being ‘Toronto’ and ‘Food Tour When Pigs Fry’.” Is that the right advice to give?

    Thanks,

    Ailsa

  • Nick

    Hi, I have a new web site http://www.lioneltrainsets.com and when I do a search for a product name in google it is not showing up, then I found that all my product titles have the site title on the end of the name in google like this: Lionel Peanuts Christmas Train Set 6-30193 – Lionel Train Sets is having site name on end no good for seo ?
    Lionel Peanuts Christmas Train Set 6-30193 – Lionel Train Sets the Lionel train sets is automatically showing up, is that good for seo or should I somehow get that fixed & take out the title name fromthe product name ? Thanks Nick

  • hamrouni_amine

    Still a great article for me ! :))

  • Tania

    Amazing and helpful article! Thank you very much for making everything so crystal clear! :)

  • http://www.sharelocalbusiness.com/ Mandeep Hooda

    This is amazing to read this blog. Its really informative for best SEO purpose. thanks for a Well blog.

  • http://devendrameena.ml/ Devendra Meena

    Grate post, worthy. sir in my website main title is >

    GeekDk – Windows Tutorials, Blogging, Tweaks, FAQ and SEO

    please tell me is this okey in view of seo?