Technically speaking, the title tag is not a meta tag. (It is also not actually a tag, but an element). However, as it is inserted into the same <head> section of your code and is very important, I have decided to include it in the article.
Indeed, it is the single most important element on your web page – bar none.
The title tag controls the text that will appear in the top of your browser and, if you’re using a tabbed browser such as Firefox or Internet Explorer 7, the text in your tabs. It also forms the anchor text for your site hyperlink in the SERPs. It does not appear anywhere else on your web pages.
Users of a search engine will click on the hyperlink to visit your site; so you can see how important it is to human visitors browsing SERPs to have a title that is intelligible, short and punchy. Also, search engines themselves will gather information about your site from the title tag, too.
Using the tag is very simple, and the syntax is as follows:
<TITLE>Meta tags and SEO</TITLE>
Writing a Title Tag
As search engines use the title tag to identify your site, it is vitally important that we understand how to write a title that works to our benefit, rather than our detriment.
Take this title, for example:
<TITLE>YouShop.com has loads of great products and free downloads. Check us out</TITLE>
Although this is informative and written in a natural language, the search engines loathe this. Google will only read about the first 90 characters of your title and assigns a weight to each of the words based on the keyword density of the title.
In this example, we have 12 words. If the most important words for us are “free”, “downloads” and “products”, Google will assign a weighting of 1/12, as each word appears just once out of the 12 words in the title.
We can shrink the erroneous words out of the title by using the “|” symbol and lose the last part of the title, which serves no purpose:
<TITLE>YouShop.com | Loads of great products | Free downloads</TITLE>
Already, this is looking more attractive to our search engines. However, there’s more to do.
Not only do search engines concentrate on word density; they also assign weight based on where the word appears. As most languages read from left-to-right, Google assigns the most weight to the first word in the sentence and the least to the last.
If you want to optimise your keyword “YouShop.com”, this is a good thing. If not, we need to rework our title some more and decide which is the most important word(s) for this page.
At this point, you should also be aware that search engines will also look at the other page titles in your site. If they’re all the same, then this will also damage the level of weight that they assign.
With this in mind, we could create a different title for two different pages:
<TITLE>Free Downloads | YouShop.com</TITLE>
<TITLE>Great Products | YouShop.com </TITLE>
This has a few benefits:
- There are few words, so the keyword density is much richer
- Search engines will weight pages differently, which helps PageRank (in the case of Google) be assigned to internal we pages
- The text is short and informative for human SERPs visitors
This last point is vitally important. Although we are optimising for search engines, it is people that will eventually click through from the search engine. Remember, your title element is the very first thing that the visitor will see, make sure it leaves a clicking impression.
Title Tag Myths
As we’ve already discussed, search engines will weight words based on position and on their density in the title phrase. If you observe these two things, many of the myths around the title also disappear.
Spamming your title reduces the density and, therefore, the importance that Google deems it has. This statement was optimised for the search terms “bags” and “bag”:
<TITLE>Sports bags, hand bag, gym bags, cheap bag, canvas bags, shoulder bags</TITLE>
As you can see, the title:
- Makes no immediately readable sense to human visitors clicking through from search engines
- Dilutes the effectiveness of both “bag” and “bags” keywords*
- Identifies “bag” as being only the fourth most important word in the title
It would be far better to have separate pages for each genre of bag and individually optimise that area of bags.
* Google is currently experimenting with “stemming”. This will, hopefully, enable the search engine to identify both plural and singular versions of the same word.
Other Title Myths
“Search engines are case sensitive, so I have to write my words in multiple cases” (i.e. “bag”, “Bag”, “BAG” etc)
False. Most search engines are not case sensitive, so you can write your title tag in a way that looks most visually appealing. Remember, there’s a person at the end of the search.
“Using only keywords gets me a better result”
False. Although it may get you an initially better search engine result, the number of clicks through to your site will not be as positive if your title is incoherent.
As well as being the anchor text in the search engine, the title tag usually appears as the text when you ‘bookmark’ or add a page to your ‘favourites’ list. Therefore, it should make sense when a person reads it later.
“I change my title every few days and I get better results.”
False. Constantly changing your title will have no effect on the ranking of your site as the crawl rate and changes in the search engines can take time.
If you have a page that’s doing well, leave it be. Let it slip down to page 2. Even then, be real careful about the changes you make. Usually a small change is all that is needed to bump it back into place. You may even want to look at adding a second keyword if it already isn’t there.
I hope that you found this article useful. More tags will follow shortly. Next up is the meta description tag.