Even before a reader clicks on a link, the blog post’s title is what catches their attention. A well-written title holds the power to pique the interest of the reader. But that’s all on the side of the audience.
To rank well in the SERPs, you need to optimize your page titles for the search engines. SEO title optimization is an important factor that search engines use to determine whether or not your page is relevant to a search query. In short, if you want to boost your rankings, you need to pay attention to SEO title optimization.
It’s an easy way to get an edge over your competitors. The first step for optimizing your titles is to focus on title tags. If you're just starting out with SEO, check out our what is SEO guide.
What are Title Tags?
Title tags form an important part of your SEO strategy. That’s because title tags essentially decide how search engines read your title. They are HTML elements that specify what the web page title is.
Image via Google
When you open a search engine results page, you see a title for each of the displayed results.
What you see as a clickable headline in the SERPs is actually a title tag that you write as an HTML code for your webpage. In the HTML code, they will appear in the <head> section between <title> and </title> tags.
SEO title optimization can help you boost your chances of ranking well in the SERPs.
Title tags are also the first thing that your audience sees once they enter a search query. It is important to give your audience an idea about what they can expect from your content. If you want users to click on your content, you need to focus on crafting compelling titles.
Along with the SERPs, title tags also appear at the top of a web browser. If a user has too many tabs open on their web browser, title tags can help them identify the content of the webpage.
Ideally, you should start your title tag with the main keyword to make sure that users don’t lose track of what your webpage has to offer.
Related: How to Write Meta Tags for SEO
How to Optimize Your Titles for Search Engines
Not only can your titles impact your search results rankings, but they can also affect user experience.
Writing effective titles isn’t hard if you know what works and what doesn’t. Let’s take a look at some of the best practices for SEO title optimization.
1. Get the Length Right
Generally, search engines display only the first 60-70 characters of a page’s title in their search results. For this reason, the length of your title plays an important role in SEO title optimization.
Based on the most recent layouts in 2020, you should aim to write title tags that are about 55 to 60 characters long. Google uses double lines in mobile search results and single line displays in desktop search results.
The double spacing in mobile search results makes them a little more generous with how many spaces they give. This "Top Five Tips..." result in the desktop version gets cut off even though the final word "Telescope!" would keep them under 65 characters.
The full title shows up on a mobile search.
Those examples should prove that there's not always a hard rule for length, but 55-60 characters is a good target. Try to fit in the most important keywords at the beginning of the title tag. That is the part that search engines are least likely to chop off.
Some brands also like to include their brand’s name in each title tag. If you are planning to follow that strategy, make sure that you add it at the end of the title tag. Even if your brand’s name gets chopped of in the SERPs, users will still be able to figure out the purpose of your content.
You may sometimes notice that search engines also display titles that are longer than 70 characters. This is because some characters take up more space than others.
For instance, uppercase “M” is likely to occupy more space in the title tag than lowercase “l” or “f.”
Image via Google
In the image above, the first title shows more than 60 characters. That’s because in the word “brilliant,” the characters “illi” occupy very little space.
If you are pressed for space while writing a title, avoid using CAPS as it limits the number of characters that search engines can display.
To get a preview of how your title tag will be displayed in search results, you can use the Yoast SEO Wordpress plugin. If your title is too long, you will see three dots at the end of the title. This plugin can help you with SEO title optimization. If you don't use Wordpress, look for similar SEO title preview features in other platforms.
While there are no penalties for using a long title tag, it’s better to be mindful about how your titles get displayed in the SERPs.
2. Write Unique Titles
All web pages on your website are unique. Customize all of your title tags such that they reflect the gist of the content of that specific page.
Accurate descriptions and clear titles help search engines understand what your content is all about. At the same time, they help users who are looking for answers that your content provides.
To find the best titles for your web pages, you need to put yourself in the shoes of search visitors.
Using generic titles like “New Post” or “Home” may cause search engines to believe that your website has duplicate content. Additionally, such titles fail to engage readers.
Authenticity and uniqueness are crucial to SEO title optimization.
3. Use the Right Keywords
First, find out the most relevant keywords for your brand and niche. You should also check out keywords that your competitors are ranking for. For this, you can use our SEO Competitor Analysis tool.
Title tags can help you get better search rankings if you optimize them with the right keywords. A good habit for including keywords for SEO title optimization is to add them at the beginning of your title. This is more of a secondary benefit, though. It gives the reader more confidence in the priority of your topic (via your keyword), but we don't see evidence that it earns more ranking weight this way.
If you are optimizing existing content or refreshing decaying content, one trick is to look at strong keywords that it's already ranking for.
We use the Top Pages section of SpyFu for that. If the strongest currently-ranked keywords are relevant but you are still out of the top spot, make sure that the most relevant keyword is in the title. Here's an example.
We had an article titled "The Beginner's Guide to Creating Sitemaps in Less Than a Minute." It's a descriptive title, but it wasn't optimized for a more likely search.
This article ranked on "creating sitemaps," when the stronger keyword is "how to create a sitemap." Even with similar positions, the page would get potentially more clicks from the top keyword.
We updated the title tag to "How to Create a Sitemap." You might eventually update the URL, but this is the first step and doesn't require redirecting.
When you add keywords, don’t get too carried away. There's a line between "adding" and "stuffing."
Google does not encourage webmasters to stuff their titles with keywords. Google may recognize such search results as spammy. It creates a bad user experience so search engines do not see it as a positive strategy.
Do not use a list of keywords that are closely related or variations of the same phrase multiple times in the title tag. In the above picture, variations of the word “groom” appear three times. It is definitely more than what’s needed.
Stuffing in too many keywords can negatively impact your SEO title optimization initiatives.
4. Use Your Brand’s Name
Using your brand’s name in your title tag can add an element of relatability and credibility to your content. This is especially true in the case of well-established brands.
Image via Google
If users already recognize your brand, they are more likely to click on a page title that features your brand. That’s because they are likely to consider you as a more trustworthy and reliable source of information.
But to avoid hurting readability, always add your brand’s name at the end of the page title. To further make your title tag look cleaner, use a delimiter such as a colon, hyphen, or a pipe.
Adding your brand’s name can also help you improve your SEO title optimization.
Why Your Title Tag Isn’t Always Displayed in the SERPs
Sometimes, you may notice that Google displays a page title that is different from the title tag you entered. This can be confusing, especially if you have invested time and effort in finding the right title tag for your content.
In such a scenario, the explanations listed below can help you understand why this happened:
- Overstuffing of keywords: If you’ve used too many keywords in your title tag, Google might simply rewrite the title for you. Too many keywords are a big “no” for SEO title optimization. To avoid such a situation, focus on writing titles that are genuinely helpful for search users.
- Alternate titles: Along with title tag, you might have added alternative meta titles. Sometimes, Google might pick any of the alternate titles and display them in search results.
If you’ve written a relevant meta title, then this scenario shouldn’t concern you. In case you find that the title displayed in the SERPs is not appropriate, consider changing your title tags as well as your meta title.
- Mismatch with the search query: If your web page matches a search query but your title doesn’t, Google might rewrite your title.
No title will exactly match every search query. However, it’s a red flag if your title is not being picked up for keywords that have high search volumes. In such cases, you should rewrite your title tag to optimize it for keywords with high search volumes.
If Google detects any of the issues mentioned above in your title, the search engine is likely to generate a new title for your web page. This new title is created on the basis of on-page text, anchors, and other sources.
To avoid this, you should focus on SEO title optimization for all of your web pages.
However, sometimes Google may also change the titles for pages with well-written, concise titles. Regardless of what the search query is, the title specified by the webmaster is always static.
But Google aims to customize their search results to better match a user’s query. Google leverages customized titles to explain to users why a particular result is relevant for them.
Explaining relevance and tailoring results for a user’s query can actually increase the chances of them visiting a web page.
If you’re not satisfied with a title that Google has changed, you can always get it changed. For this, you can seek help from the Webmasters Help Community.
It’s easy to overlook title tags when you have bigger things to worry as part of your SEO strategy. But ignoring SEO title optimization can cost you loads. Your page’s title plays a crucial role in determining how well it will rank in the SERPs.
Thankfully, writing effective page titles doesn’t require much time or effort. But it can give you big results in terms of improving your search rankings.
To create effective titles, you need to understand how Google’s ranking algorithms function and find the right balance between writing keyword-focused and user-focused titles.
Do you have any other tips for SEO title optimization? Please let us know in the comments section below.