Even before a reader clicks on a link, the blog post’s title is what catches their attention. In a crowded search engine results page (SERP), your title being more eye-catching and appropriate to your audience’s search intent can be the difference between a click or a pass—so it’s crucial you nail it.
A perfectly optimized SEO title balances the needs of search engines and searchers, making it both enticing to read and helpful for keyword rankings. When done right, SEO titles will help you achieve more visibility on the SERP, maximizing your number of clicks from search engines. This guide will walk you through everything you need to know about crafting the best SEO titles for your content: from helping you understand what a title tag is to specific best practices and title tag examples for you to learn from.
What Is a Title Tag?
A title tag is a piece of HTML code on your page that tells search engines like Google what titles they should use for your page on their SERPs.
At its heart, a well-optimized SEO title tag helps search engines and readers understand the unique value your page offers, which is why they’re so important for ranking well on Google’s SERPs. When you’ve mastered the art of title tag SEO, you’ll increase the likelihood of getting searchers to click through to your page—the all-important first step on a searcher’s journey to becoming a loyal user or customer.
If you right-click and select “inspect” on any web page, you can see its title tag, which appears in the <head> section between the <title> and </title> tags.
When Google puts your page on a SERP, it’ll read that title tag and choose whether to display it as a clickable link for searchers. Sometimes Google will disagree with your title tag (we get more into that later), but generally, the title tag you choose will be the one that ends up on the SERP.
Along with the SERPs, title tags also appear at the top of a web browser. If a user has a few browser tabs open, title tags can help them identify the content of the webpage.
Your goal with your title tag is to craft a page title that is both enticing and descriptive of what your page offers. This is often easier said than done, but we’ve collected some rules you can follow to get you going in the right direction.
4 Rules for Perfect Title Tag Optimization
Title tags are the first thing that your audience sees once they enter a search query, so if you want users to click on your content, you need to focus on crafting compelling titles.
On top of making your titles good for users, you want to do your best to use keywords strategically to help boost your SEO. Adding keywords into your title can help you rank for those terms.
Since your title must capture your audience and include keywords, it’s easy to get lost in over-optimizing for keywords or making your title too long to fit on the SERP. To make it easier, we’ve created some SEO-title best practices that’ll get you crafting the best SEO titles in no time at all.
1. Aim for Titles That Are 50–60 Characters
Generally, search engines display only the first 50–60 characters of a page’s title in their search results. When optimizing your SEO title tags, try to keep within this limit so that any extra doesn’t get cut off by Google with an ellipsis, potentially ruining the readability of your title.
For this reason, it’s considered best practice to fit in the most important keywords at the beginning of the title tag—the part least likely to be cut short.
On the other hand, some brands like to include their brand’s name in each title tag to help lend authority to their pages (you may be more inclined to click on a link about space if you know NASA wrote it). If you’re planning to follow that strategy, make sure you add it at the end of the title tag. Even if your brand’s name gets removed in the SERP, users will still be able to figure out the purpose of your content.
Making your SEO title tag too short is also a problem. Google advises you to avoid titles that are “half empty” because these titles won’t give Google or readers enough information to work with.
For this reason, a length of 50–60 characters is ideal. Short enough to not get cut off and long enough to give Google and readers a specific, descriptive title.
We give a range to aim for because the number of characters Google allows changes from desktop to mobile and can depend on the individual letters and symbols in your title.
For example, when we compare the same SERP on mobile and desktop, we get two different results for the title tags.
In this desktop SERP, the “Top Five Tips …” result gets cut off at 54 characters, omitting the final word “Telescope!”
However, the mobile result extends the title to 62 characters.
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.
You may also notice that sometimes search engines display titles that are longer than 70 characters. This is because some characters take up more space than others. For instance, an uppercase “M” occupies more space in the title tag than a lowercase “l” or “f.”
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’re writing a longer title, avoid using CAPS as it limits the number of characters that search engines can display. As well, you can use tools like the Yoast SEO WordPress plugin to get a preview of how your title tag will be displayed in search results. With the preview, you can see exactly what will and won’t make the cut, so you can fine-tune your title tag to convince people to click through to learn more.
2. Make Your Title Tags Unique on Your Website and on the SERP
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” won’t engage readers, and it may cause search engines to believe that your website has duplicate content. Instead, use titles that describe what your new post is about, like “Top 20 Cars of the 2000s” or “Everything You Need to Start a Garage Band.”
Another common pitfall is using so-called “boilerplate text.” Although technically unique, these titles feel generic and often include identical pieces of text on each title tag. As Google states, “Long text in the <title> element that varies by only a single piece of information (‘boilerplate’ titles) is also bad; for example, a common <title> element for all pages with text like ‘Band Name - See videos, lyrics, posters, albums, reviews and concerts’ contains a lot of uninformative text.”
When crafting unique titles, you don’t just want to look internally at your site. If every page on the SERP uses similar titles, being the one to stand out can help draw readers’ eyes to your content and hopefully increase your click-through rate (CTR). In this example from the SERP for “how to change a tire,” almost every title is the same.
Because everyone has the same title, the article “Stuck with a flat tire? …” stands out, even if it has bad capitalization choices. When deciding which is the best SEO title for your page, look at the SERP and your own content to see how you can make this page stand out to readers. Ask yourself what makes this page unique, and then articulate it in your title.
Whether your article is directed at a specific audience (for students), has unique content (with an interview from …), or is just more comprehensive (Everything you ever needed to know about …), use your title to make your content stand out and give people a reason to click through.
3. Follow Basic Writing Etiquette and Be Honest
A poorly written, dishonest title puts your page at an immediate disadvantage because, when you make these kinds of mistakes, Google and readers will likely punish you because your content is sloppy or outright deceptive. Every title you create should follow some basic writing etiquette. This includes:
- Proper spelling
- Consistent capitalization formatting (either title case or sentence case)
- Language that is appropriate for your audience
These standards are fairly basic, but it’s surprisingly common to find these mistakes on SERPs. These mistakes damage the trust readers have in your website. If you can’t spell “train” right, why would anyone trust your opinions on which train rides in Europe are worth taking?
Dishonest titles are of equal concern. These title tags promise content that isn’t actually there. They may get clicks initially, but over time they’ll hurt your SEO because when people realize they’ve been tricked, they’ll bounce. If Google sees a steady stream of people bouncing from your page, it’ll likely affect your rankings, and not for the better. As well, Google itself doesn’t like when people try to cheat the system. Google’s page on title links discourages “inaccurate titles,” saying that Google may choose to ignore your title tag altogether and make their own in these cases.
If you’re a content creator that cares about what they make and takes pride in good work, none of this should be an issue. Spellcheck everything before you publish and tell people honestly why your content is better than the competition. Some hyperbole is always okay, as long as readers get what you promise in the end.
4. Use Keywords in Your Title Tag (Where Appropriate)
Keywords can help show Google and searchers that your content is relevant, but when they’re stuffed into the title, it can weaken your SERP presence and chances of earning a better ranking.
Ideally, title tags should include your primary keyword somewhere near the beginning of the title. Having it at the beginning helps it stand out and ensure it won’t get cut by Google. Sometimes it’s even possible to include two keywords in your title naturally, which you should do if you can.
For instance, this title might be optimized for two keywords: “Bali itinerary,” which gets 1,300 searches a month, and “2 weeks in Bali,” which has 110 searches a month. This title tag works because it reads naturally, it’s descriptive, and it fits in two keywords that could help bring in traffic.
However, the critical word here is “naturally.” Many SEOs get fixated on keywords above all else, adding keywords into titles where they don’t belong. This is known as keyword stuffing, and it can result in:
- Google changing your title tag for you
- Awkward sentences with poor grammar
- Titles that don’t convince readers to click through
For example, this SEO title tag feels like someone wants to optimize for two keywords but couldn’t make them work together.
Although both halves of the title are fine, having both doesn’t add extra information for readers to know why they should click through.
You should also avoid stuffing your title with keywords that are closely related or variations of the same phrase multiple times in the title tag. In the below picture, variations of the word “groom” appear three times. It is definitely more than what’s needed.
The other issue you can encounter while doing your SEO title optimization is adding in long tail keywords. Long tail keywords are more specific and can sometimes be difficult to add into a title naturally.
For instance, the keyword “carrot cake recipe gluten free” has a monthly search volume of 260, but it would be a mistake to put it in your title verbatim because it wouldn’t make any sense grammatically. Google agrees, and all the top articles on its page instead return variations on “gluten-free carrot cake recipes.”
In cases like these where the keyword you find is awkward, always go with the most natural way to write it out; you may still end up ranking well for this keyword anyway. Finally, if you’re optimizing existing content or refreshing decaying content, one trick is to look at strong keywords that it’s already ranking for.
You can use the SpyFu SEO Top Pages Tool for that. Use this tool to look up your page, find the best keywords it already ranks for (you want high volume, low difficulty, and high relevancy), and then add this keyword when creating your new title tag. For 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 for both “creating a sitemap” and “how to create a sitemap.” Both are highly relevant, but “how to create a sitemap” has a higher volume, meaning it could bring in more traffic.
So during that refresh, we update the title tag to “How to Create a Sitemap” to try to increase our rank from position 6 to capture that traffic. Although this all might seem complicated, it really boils down to writing for humans first and worrying about keywords second. But sometimes, it’s easier to see how something works than get told some rules, so let’s see how people optimize their title tag SEO in real life.
4 Examples of Good and Bad SEO Title Examples
In each of the below examples, we’ve compared two results on the same SERP. We’ll show you two SEO title examples from each SERP, one where they did well and another where they did not. From these two examples, we’ll show you what you can do to create better SEO title tags.
1. The “best water bottles” SERP
This SERP for the keyword “best water bottles” is dominated by big brands with lists of the best water bottles available this year for you to purchase through their affiliate links. Our two examples come from NBC News and CNN. Both do well to add their company names to the title tag to add authority to their link and to include the year to show readers that their list is up to date. However, NBC does a better job of being specific about what makes its list unique. NBC adds the word “reusable,” helping it stand out from others on the list who did not.
The term “reusable” speaks to the environmentally friendly intent probably behind a searcher wanting to buy “the best water bottle.” Adding this word might help searchers decide to choose this page over others.
CNN, on the other hand, doesn’t tell us anything about the bottles it is reviewing.
Presumably, it’s also looking at reusable bottles, but people won’t know that without clicking in.
2. The “how to write a good essay” SERP
This SERP is a prime example of why you don’t need to be too fussy when optimizing for a long tail keyword. Both of these articles rank on the first page of Google, but Grammarly chose to not use the keyword “how to write a good essay” so they could instead focus on writing a more engaging title tag.
Grammarly successfully captures the intent behind the “how to write a good essay” keyword without restricting themselves to using it in their title. By crafting a unique title tag, Grammarly helps its content stand out. It’s also a nice touch that they include “you” in the title, so it connects with readers who may be desperately looking for this all-in-one essay writing resource.
This is a well-played tactic. They took the risk of not using the target keyword, but the payoff probably comes from more engagement (clicks) from the SERP. And that, of course, is the ultimate goal of SEO work.
In contrast, this guide from Bow Valley College instead uses two long tail keywords in a way that doesn’t read as well as Grammarly’s title. Although Bow Valley’s title tells us that we’ll find materials for essay writing, it doesn’t say much else. For instance, “What is an Essay?” is a basic question that most people already know the answer to, and adding it looks like keyword stuffing.
Bow Valley would be better off making an argument for why its essay writing guide is best, whether that’s because it’s an ultimate guide, written by English professors, or something else entirely.
3. The “tooltips” SERP
“Tooltips” is a broad, short tail keyword that lends itself to overview-style articles that describe all the basics of this UI tool used for customer onboarding. Both articles put their primary keyword at the beginning of the title, but these two titles diverge entirely after that. Our first example from Appcues takes advantage of the whole title tag to inject some life and personality into a somewhat dry topic.
Appcues’ page title example isn’t just fun, but it also tells us we’ll learn how to use a tooltip if we click through.
Our other example doesn’t tell us much of anything. It’s a classic example of making a title that’s too short. Instead, they could have used that space to get into what specifically about tooltips and Bootstrap they’d be exploring.
4. The “how to make an English breakfast” SERP
There are plenty of articles on the “how to make an English breakfast” SERP, so how can you make yours stand out? Bon Appetit makes an argument in its title to draw in readers. Instead of plainly telling you what it is, it tells you the central argument at the core of this article: if you want to make the best English breakfast, it starts with home cooking.
This title style also helps narrow the audience. Instead of being for anyone, it’s perfect for home cooks—the likely searcher anyway.
BBC’s recipe article takes a different approach with a very boiler-plate style to their title tag SEO. It simply tells people what they’ll get and who they’ll get it from. There’s very little to make it stand out, and that could hurt its CTR.
Why Your Title Tag Isn’t Always Displayed in the SERPs
Sometimes, you may notice that Google displays a page title different from the title tag you entered. This can be confusing, especially if you have invested time and effort in finding the best SEO 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 the 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 picked up for keywords with high search volumes. In such cases, 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 from the 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 its 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 again. For this, you can seek help from the Webmasters Help Community.
Learn Schema to Nail Your Meta Descriptions
To maximize your CTR, you need to optimize your meta description as well as your title tag. Meta descriptions are the snippets that live below your title tag on the SERP, and they can be just as important for convincing readers to click through to your article. Take a look at our guide to writing schema and meta tags so you can mark up your pages for the best possible results on the SERP.