SEO Title Tags (Everything You Need to Know)

Posted on Sep 28, 2018

SEO Title Tags (Everything You Need to Know)

Optimizing your title tags for SEO is simple:

Just throw your keyword in the title and you’re good to go, right?

Yes and no.

You could stop there and probably do pretty well (if you’ve done everything else right).

But the truth is:

There’s so much more you can do to optimize your title tags.

That’s what this guide is all about.

Make sure you read until the end because I’ll be sharing some title tag optimization tactics that will skyrocket your organic search CTR.

Let’s jump in.

What is a Title Tag?

As the name suggests, a HTML title tag is an element of your web page’s HTML code that indicates its title. It is often used to let both search engines and people know what the page’s content is all about.

You can only have one title tag per page. It will appear in your code as:

<head>
<title>Example of a Title Tag</title>
</head>

Most people will encounter your title tag in four places:

1. Web Browser Tabs

The title tag can be seen on your web browser when you open your page in a new tab.

This is especially helpful when a user has many tabs open and would like to go back to your content. Because of this, it’s important that your title tags are unique, easily recognizable. and can be immediately differentiated from other open tabs.

2. Browser Bookmarks

Browser bookmarks on Chrome show the website’s title by default. As you’ll notice below, the titles are usually truncated when it’s on the “Bookmarks Bar”.

However, you can see most of a page’s title if you’re using folders. This is a good reason why you should use short, but descriptive titles. More on this soon.

3. Shared Media on Social Media Platforms

You know those little previews on Facebook and Twitter when someone shares content on those platforms? Your title tag will show up there as well, letting people know what the page is about and what they can expect to find when they click on that link.

Some social networks will allow you to customize your title tag just for their platform. An enticing title tag helps draw in more visitors.

If you’re on WordPress, you can customize your OG data using Yoast and All-in-One SEO pack. You can also download download this OG plugin. It doesn’t require any set up and it will ensure that your “Featured Image” shows up when people share your content on social.

If you’re having issues with your Featured Image not showing, use the following:

Facebook’s Debugger tool (you can force Facebook to recrawl your page).
LinkedIn’s Post Inspector
Twitter’s Card Validator

4. In the SERPs (Search Engine Results Pages)

One of the most important places where your title will show is in Search Engine Results Pages (that includes Google, Bing, Yahoo, DuckDuckGo, etc).

The title tag shows up as a big, blue clickable link above a short meta description or summary.

This means that if someone found your web page by searching a term that is related to your business, this is your first chance to make a lasting impression and convince them to click on your website.

It’s very easy to add a title tag to your website, but writing an effective one takes time, research, and a little skill (that’s easily developed).

But first:

Why are Title Tags Important for SEO?

Some blogs will tell you that title tags are obsolete in 2018. This is misleading. While title tags may not play the same role in SEO as they did a decade ago, there are still many reasons not to neglect this low-effort, high-impact SEO action.

Here are the benefits of optimizing your title tags (the right way):

1. Keyword Rankings

Do you need to place your target keyword in the title tag to rank well in Google?

The short answer is “Yes”.

The longer answer is that it may not be as important as it once was.

Brian’s research found that having the keyword in the title tag does impact rankings, but it’s a small factor in comparison to other factors:

Image Source: Backlinko.com

Ahrefs also found that “there’s a slight correlation between the usage of keywords in the title tag and rankings.”

Image Source: Ahrefs.com

And finally, one last case study from Matthew Barby also indicated that “The presence of keywords in the page title” does correlate to higher rankings.

Image Source: MatthewBarby.com

Truth be told:

I’ve never attempted to rank pages without using the target keyword phrase in the title tag.

That’s because it wouldn’t make sense me to stop doing what’s working.

My recommendation will continue to be that you should place your target keyword in the title tag. Just keep in mind that it’s a small factor in the larger ranking equation.

2. SERP Click Through Rate (CTR)

Although there’s some debate about CTR being a ranking factor, there’s no denying that increasing your CTR will increase your organic search traffic.

And just to be clear:

The goal of SEO is to get more organic search traffic. When you change your mindset from “rankings” to “traffic” it changes the way you operate.

Optimizing your title tag for maximum CTR is an intelligent action to take.

I’ll explain some tactics you can use to achieve that goal in a second.

Side note: I lean towards CTR being a direct or least an indirect ranking factor. The way I look at is there’s no benefit of NOT optimizing for CTR. Even if it isn’t a ranking factor.

Ross Hudgens from Siege Media has an excellent video on this topic, worth a watch:

.embed-container { position: relative; padding-bottom: 56.25%; height: 0; overflow: hidden; max-width: 100%; } .embed-container iframe, .embed-container object, .embed-container embed { position: absolute; top: 0; left: 0; width: 100%; height: 100%; }

TL;DW: CTR may not be direct ranking factor, but it likely impacts rankings indirectly.

3. Social Sharing

Your page’s title is a focal point when it’s shared on social media. Does that mean you need to use clickbait titles like this?:

No, but you should think about why clickbait works.

The truth is clickbait is only annoying when the actual content doesn’t add real value.

4. Headlines Matter

What you place in your title tag is nothing more than a headline. You’ve probably heard the idea that only 8 out 10 Internet users will read past the headline.

Or that:

“Five times as many people read the headline as read the body copy. When you have written your headline, you have spent eighty cents out of your dollar.” – Confessions of an Advertising Man (1963) by David Oglivy

The truth is:

If you’re reading this, then you’re in the minority.

In fact:

Most people only make it through around 17-20% of my content before returning back to watching cat videos.

But regardless, the copy you use within your title tag is the first touch point for readers.

You have to do it well or your engagement will be low.

Those are four important reasons why you need to optimize your title tag, but now I need to cover a few important questions:

Does Google Rewrite Titles?

If Google doesn’t think that your title is relevant, readable, or provides value to your site’s visitors, it can and will completely rewrite it – and often in ways that you won’t like.

In fact, here’s what Gary Illyes said:

“We will never quit rewriting titles. We’ve seen so many sites whose title really suck. A lot of sites have no title; a lot of sites have a title saying “Top Page”. In fact, Google almost always rewrites titles. We couldn’t provide useful results to our users if we quit rewriting titles. Experiments showed us users preferred written titles. So, we’ll continue to write titles.” – Gary Illyes (Source)

It’s pretty clear based on Gary’s words that Google’s algorithms will rewrite your titles (and isn’t planning on stopping anytime soon).

But what can you do to prevent it?

The #1 thing you can do is make sure that your title matches your page’s content/intent. If your title is “Buy Shoes”, but your page is all about “buying blue Nikes”, then Google will likely rewrite your title.

Your title should be a 100% match of the page content.

One other factor you need to consider is title tag length.

How Long Should Your Title be?

There are technically no character limits to your title tag, but search engines can only display so much of your title before cutting it off.

If your title is too long, Google will cut it off with an ellipsis (…), which could potentially prevent site visitors from seeing important information about the page.

According to Moz’s research, Google usually displays the first 50-60 characters (including spaces) of a title tag, but the more accurate limit would be 600px. This is because some characters (like M, W, etc.) take up more space than others.

Staying under 60 characters is a good rule of thumb, but you can also use many title tag preview tools like this one just to be sure.

If you’re on WordPress, Yoast and All-in-One SEO pack will do the job.

If you want to find titles tag that are too long at scale, then I recommend using Screaming Frog.

Open up Screaming Frog, enter your target domain, click on the “Page Titles” tab, and select “Over 65 Characters” from the filter:

You can click on each individual URL and preview what the title tag looks in the SERPs. Just click “SERP Snippet” at the bottom:

Can Your Title Tag and H1 be the Same?

The short answer is, yes. You should try to keep your H1 tag consistent with your title tag, but that doesn’t mean it has to be an exact match. For example, this page has a different title tag and H1 tag:

One method you can use is to vary your H1 from your title tag to rank for more long-tail keyword variations. I prefer keeping my H1 nearly identical to the title, but it’s elements to test for sure.

You can use Screaming Frog to find all titles that are the same as your H1 tags.

Open up Screaming Frog, enter your target domain, click on the “Page Titles” tab, and select “Same as H1” from the filter:

With some of those important title tag questions out of way, let me show you:

22 Easy Ways to Optimize Your Title Tags for SEO

Since we’ve already established that a good title tag is a low-effort way to optimize both your SERP ranking and your CTR, how exactly do you go about writing one?

Here are 22 ways to optimize your title tags for better rankings, CTR, and social sharing:

1. Focus on the Content First

That’s right. The first action you need to take is to make sure your SEO content is the highest quality possible. It doesn’t matter how well you optimize your title tag if the page itself is low-value.

Getting the click is important, but getting visitors to dwell longer, visit more than one page, or complete a goal is what the objective should be. That’s only possible if you’re crafting effective SEO content.

Don’t take this step lightly!

2. Identify the Page Type

How you craft your titles will depend on the page type. For example, optimizing a title tag for a product page will be much different than a blog post.

There are a few different types of SEO-driven pages that a website will have:

Homepages

If you decide to optimize your homepage for a target keyword, there’s a good chance it will have middle or bottom of the funnel intent. For example, Hubspot targets “inbound marketing software” with their homepage.

This keyword phrase has transactional intent so their homepage is structured to drive leads for their software (not educate).

Notice the effective use of a curiosity gap at the end of their title tag as well.

Category Pages

E-commerce websites are the most likely candidate to try to rank category pages. However, there are some information-driven websites where it makes sense.

For example, RTINGS have a beautifully-structured category page for the target keyword phrase “tv reviews”.

Although the keyword phrase “tv reviews” may lead to sale in the future, I still consider it to be top of the funnel intent. Or, informational in nature.

Notice that RTINGS front-loads their primary keyword phrase and use not one, but two modifiers (“Best” and “2018).

Product Pages

Many product pages will target a combination of Navigational/Transactional keyword phrases. For example, take a look at the keyword phrase “Nike trout 4 cleats”.

Someone searching this keyword is primed to buy, so the title tag needs to reflect that intent.

Local Pages

Keyword stuffing title tags seems to be a common practice on the local level. After digging around, I was able to find an interesting example for the keyword phrase “Los Angeles personal injury lawyer”.

Although I don’t love the idea of jamming “car accident lawyers” in the title, I do like a few things about this title. First, they’ve front-loaded their primary keyword. Second, they’re using numbers within their title, which makes it much more eye-grabbing.

Blog Posts

Crafting title tags for blog posts is the easiest to understand.

Your goal should be to make your title as accurate and interesting as possible. The following tips can drastically improve your blog post title performance.

Most blog posts are going to target keyword phrase with Informational intent, so you need to satisfy that.

3. Satisfy Searcher Intent

This applies to both your title and the page itself. The best way to satisfy searcher intent is to think about it from a funnel or buyer journey perspective.

There are four primary categories of searcher intent:

Informational – These are top of the funnel search queries such as “what is SEO”.
Comparison – These are middle of the funnel search queries such as “Ahrefs vs Moz”.
Transactional – These are bottom of the funnel search queries such as “Moz free trial”.
Navigational – These types of search queries are branded like “Gotch SEO”. This means the searcher already knows your brand or may already be a customer.

Most keyword phrases will fall under one or more of these categories.

Your title must satisfy the search intent behind keyword phrase you’re targeting. You do not want ambiguity. Make it as clear as possible for the searcher.

4. Front-Load Your Primary Keyword

If you approach crafting your title tags from a searcher intent perspective, it would make sense to have the keyword phrase front-and-center. If someone’s searching for “best baseball cleats”, they’re likely to click on a result that showcases that keyword right away.

Keep in mind that “front-loading” doesn’t mean that your keyword phrase needs to be first in the title tag. It just needs to be towards the beginning.

5. Write for Searchers, Not Search Engines

Yes, place your keyword in your title, but don’t do this:

“SEO Company | SEO Agency | Chicago SEO Company”

You wouldn’t believe how often we find this type of keyword stuffing in our SEO audits (check out our SEO audit service if you need help).

There a few reasons why you shouldn’t stuff keywords in your title tag:

It’s Not Necessary

Google’s algorithms are much more sophisticated than before. More specifically, Google’s Hummingbird algorithm is designed to understand content better.

That means it can identify synonyms and variations of your keywords. You don’t need to jam keyword variations into your title tag. Instead, you can place keyword variations or synonyms naturally throughout your copy and you’ll still perform well for them (given you did everything else right).

You Should Only Target One Primary Keyword Phrase Per Page

Although there are some exceptions to the rule (super authoritative websites), you should aim to target one primary keyword per page.

You’re Losing Precious Real Estate

Most keyword phrases aren’t persuasive in any way. When you stuff your title tag full of keywords, you’re losing the ability to add elements of effective copywriting and persuasion. I’ll be explaining some of these tactics in a second.

6. Use Shorter Titles

Matthew Barby’s research found that shorter titles tend to perform better in Google:

Image Source: MatthewBarby.com

Try to stay below 60 characters (including spaces).

If you’re struggling to keep it below 60 characters than you should try:

Avoid using all-caps in your title tag. Capital letters take up more space than lowercase letters.
Avoid using punctuation when necessary
Remove redundant or repetitive words
Use short phrases instead of long, complicated ones

7. Avoid Duplicating Page Titles

No two pages (that you want indexed in Google) should have the same title. The best way to find duplicate page titles is to use Screaming Frog SEO Spider.

Open up Screaming Frog SEO Spider, enter the target domain, and click on the “Page Titles” tab:

Then click the “Filter” dropdown and select “Duplicate”:

Sort the list by “Title 1”:

You only need to be concerned about duplicate title tags if your page is indexed. The new version of Screaming Frog makes this super easy with their new “Indexability” column.

8. Write Unique Titles for EVERY Page

Every page on your website should have a unique title. In fact, according to Google:

“Titles are critical to giving users a quick insight into the content of a result and why it’s relevant to their query. It’s often the primary piece of information used to decide which result to click on, so it’s important to use high-quality titles on your web pages.” – Google

The best way to find pages with missing titles is to once again, use Screaming Frog SEO Spider.

The steps are identical as above except you’ll select “Missing”:

9. Use Title Modifiers

If you dig through my content on Gotch SEO, you’ll discover that I love using title modifiers. I believe using title modifiers is one of the best ways to drive more long-tail traffic (without much effort).

I actually call this The Phantom Technique because many of these keyword variations are largely untapped.

Here’s a free video from my paid training course, Gotch SEO Academy explaining how to execute this tactic:

Like this training? Join Gotch SEO Academy today and save 20% when you use coupon code “titletag” at checkout.

With that said:

Some simple title modifiers you can use are “top”, “best”, or the year.

Important note: If it’s relevant to use a year in your title tag, make sure that your URL doesn’t include it. For example, I update my anchor text guide every year and change the year in the title tag, but the URL never changes.

That means I can continue to build the authority of that page because my URL isn’t changing every year.

10. Build a Keyword Variation List

I also build a keyword variation list every time I find a new primary keyword phrase to target. For example, my primary keyword phrase for my backlinks guide is “backlinks”.

But obviously my title couldn’t just be “Backlinks | Gotch SEO” because that’s A) boring and B) I would lose out on long-tail traffic.

Instead, I searched for relevant keyword variations I could naturally add to the title.

Ahrefs Keyword Explorer is perfect for this task.

Enter your primary keyword phrase, start the analysis, and then click on “Phrase Match”:

This section is a goldmine for finding keyword variations for your title.

You can also use UberSuggest and Keywords Everywhere to build your keyword variation list (both are free).

Although you won’t use 99.9% of these variations in your title tag, a large percentage of these keywords can dispersed throughout your page.

11. Emphasize Freshness

Do you know anyone that prefers old content? I don’t and that’s why emphasizing “freshness” in your title works really well.

One persuasion principle that I picked up from Frank Kern is that people love “new” things. In fact, something simply being “new” can be a big driving force.

Hence the reason why you’re more likely to buy a newer model car than a car from the 80s.

Another example if when you see a training course use “2.0” or “Revamped” in their headline. They’re emphasizing freshness.

Some ways to incorporate freshness into your title tags are to use the word “new”, “updated for YEAR”, “new data”, etc.

12. Use the H & W Strategy

The H & W strategy simple: Just use one of the following words in your title tag:  “How,” “What,” “Why,” “When,” “Where,” or “Who.”

How to {Create|Learn|Build|Use|Leverage|Increase|Get|Do}…

Example: How to Tie a Windsor Knot

Total Organic Keywords: 5,079
Total Linking Root Domains: 161
Total Social Shares: 819 (Buzzsumo)

What {are|is}?

Example: What Are Second Cousins vs. Cousins Once Removed

Total Organic Keywords: 2,600
Total Linking Root Domains: 59
Total Social Shares: 1.9 Million (Buzzsumo)

Why

Example: Why the Myers-Briggs Test is Meaningless

Total Organic Keywords: 2,500
Total Linking Root Domains: 77
Total Social Shares: 19,000 (Buzzsumo)

When

Example: 21 High-Protein Snacks To Eat When You’re Trying To Be Healthy

Total Organic Keywords: 1,800
Total Linking Root Domains: 32
Total Social Shares: 28,000 (Ahrefs)

Where

Example: The Complete Guide to Where to Put Your Eye Makeup

Total Organic Keywords: 5,200
Total Linking Root Domains: 33
Total Social Shares: 26,000 (Ahrefs)

13. Use Numbers

We’ve all been victim of consuming numbered listicles at one point or another. That’s because they’re super effective.

According to a study by Conductor, they found that 36% of respondents preferred headlines that included numbers:

Image Source: Moz.com

An example of an effective listicle post is “18 Unforgettable Countries Where You Can Roll Big on $50 a Day“. This example ranks for “cheapest countries to visit” (~3,600 searches/mo), has 45 linking root domains, and over 81,000 social shares.

Outside of the traditional listicle, you can also use monetary values such as: “Silicon Valley’s $400 Juicer May Be Feeling the Squeeze

Or, you can use percentages in title tags like this: “Nike’s online sales jumped 31% after company unveiled Kaepernick campaign“.

14. Use This Secret Title Tag Hack (Copywriters Hate It)

Ahh… yes, the classic clickbait headline.

I know I’ve fallen for many, but that’s because they work well! Mainly because they leave open loops in your mind and engage our natural human curiosity.

The trick here is to give readers a sneak peek into what they can find out by clicking on your link without giving too much away.

Employ as much tantalizing language as necessary; remember: you need to evoke surprise, amazement, or speak to a deeply-rooted fear. You can combine this technique with the other techniques above to create a truly click-worthy headline.

Example: 7 Unbelievable Exercises That Will Help Keep Your Nose In Shape

Total Organic Keywords: 3,500
Total Linking Root Domains: 17
Total Social Shares: 12,000 (Ahrefs)

Note: Use clickbait tactics few and far between because they can be annoying or unauthentic. Overuse could hurt your brand’s perceived value.

15. Be the Most Comprehensive

Fear of Missing Out (FOMO) applies in many different scenarios, but especially with knowledge gaps. People want assurance that they aren’t missing out on any important information.

That’s why {Complete|Ultimate|Definitive} guides work well.

Example: The Ultimate Guide To Brunching In NYC

Total Organic Keywords: 3,300
Total Linking Root Domains: 62
Total Social Shares: 48,000 (Ahrefs)

16. Emphasize Speed (or Time Savings)

One of the most powerful benefits to emphasize is saving time. Although this usually applies to products, it can be emphasized in title tags as well.

Use words like “fast”, “quick”, “simple”, etc.

Example: How to Get Rid of Stretch Marks Fast

Total Organic Keywords: 4,200
Total Linking Root Domains: 113
Total Social Shares: 160,000 (Ahrefs)

17. Break the Pattern

Pattern interrupts are common in video content, but there are ways to break the pattern in the SERPs as well. Some the best methods are use [brackets], {curly brackets}, (parentheses), equal signs (=), plus (+) or minus (-) signs, or pretty much any unordinary symbol.

You can also test using Emojis in title tags as well. Google doesn’t always show them though.

18. Use Title Tags to Find Keyword Cannibalization

Keyword cannibalization occurs when two or more pages on your website are optimized for the same keyword phrase. Auditing your title tags using Screaming Frog SEO Spider is actually one of the fastest ways to identify keyword cannibalization.

Open up SFSS, enter your target domain, click on the “Page Titles” tab, and keep the filter set to “All”:

You can then use SFSS’s built-in search function to find pages that are similar. In this example below, I searched “backlinks” and identified two pages using that primary keyword phrase.

In this case, it doesn’t make sense to consolidate these assets because the intent behind “how to build backlinks” vs “buy backlinks” are much different.

Identifying keyword cannibalization issues requires manual analysis, but it’s time well spent.

19. Test Your Titles

How do you know if your title will be effective? Well, the good news is that it doesn’t have to be a shot in the dark. I recommend using AM Institute’s tool to test and refine your titles before going live:

You can also use CoSchedule’s free headline analyzer tool as well.

20. Incorporate All the Methods

The good news is that you don’t need to be exclusive with what techniques you use. Mix and match the title tag optimization methods to get the best results possible.

21. Measure Performance with Google Search Console

Google Search Console shows you CTR data for your organic keywords. Just click on the “Performance” tab and you’ll access to all kinds of useful data:

Although your CTR is determined by more than just your title tag, it’s one of the most important factors. If you are ranking well, but your CTR is subpar, then you should test changing your title.

Here’s a simple title tag testing framework I use:

Create 10-20 title variations
Qualify the idea using AM Institutes tool
Execute the change
Annotate the change in Google Analytics
Wait (at least 3-4 weeks) – You need to give Google time to recrawl the page and see whether there’s a positive or negative impact.

The goal of these tests is to increase CTR.

Keep in mind: Navigational search queries (that aren’t your brand name) like “Blogspot” (I’ve been floating between the #2 – #5 spot) will have low CTR:

Changing your title tag won’t do much in this scenario because it’s based on intent.

On the other hand:

Navigational search queries that ARE for your brand (branded search) should have exceptionally CTR:

22. Be Realistic

All of these methods will help you optimize your title tags for peak SEO performance.

But don’t forget:

Placing your keyword in your title tag is a micro ranking factor.

Think of it as the bare minimum for ranking well.

That’s All for Title Tags!

I hope this guide helped you learn a thing (or two) about title tags.

If you got a lot of value out of this post please share it and drop a comment below because I respond to every single one