9 quick tips to optimise your title tags
But why are they so important?
First, in case you don't know, let's answer the question: what exactly is a title tag?
If you've ever tried getting those all-important search engine rankings for your website, you've already come across title tags and know what they are.
But, just in case, here's a technical definition, courtesy of W3Schools:
The tag is required in all HTML documents and it defines the title of the document.
defines a title in the browser toolbar
provides a title for the page when it is added to favorites
displays a title for the page in search-engine results
Why is the title tag so important?
Let's break that down a little: the title tag "defines a title in the browser toolbar". In plain English, that means that the cool browsers - Chrome, Firefox and Safari - display the title tag on their tabs. Oh, and so does Internet Explorer.
Our third bullet point above says the title tag "displays a title for the page in search-engine results". That's pretty simple, isn't it? Do a search in Google and you'll see the title tag displayed in the results as shown in the image below.
So, there's two great reasons why title tags are so important. If you need others, then you should know that social bookmarking websites like Delicious and StumbleUpon also use the title tag whenever someone bookmarks a page from your site.
And, finally, when you share a page on most of the major social networks, it's the title tag that is displayed by default as the title of the shared post.
How to make the most of your title tag
When you consider how often the tag is used, you want to be sure that your title tags display the best possible message to people who are likely to see it.
Here are 9 great quick and easy tips on how to make the most of your title tags:
1. Choose what comes first wisely
If you can, put the most relevant, optimised message in the first 60 to 70 characters of each of your title tags. This is the part that's visible in most search results, social bookmarking tools and social networks.
Most small business websites have the company name in every title tag. Don't waste your time - and valuable tag space - doing this. It's unnecessary, won't help your SEO efforts and doesn't "build your brand" as some suggest.
If you feel that you absolutely must have your company name in your title tag, then restrict it to the home page only and put it at the end, not at the beginning. Google assumes that the most important words in your title tag are those at the beginning so make sure your keywords occupy this space, not your business name.
Finally, the words at the beginning of the title tag are the ones that will grab people's attention. Make sure they're words that will compel people to click through to your site.
2. Use keyword phrases, not keywords
Page titles that contain phrases rather than keywords get better rankings. A "Lettings agent in Nottingham that accepts housing benefit" will do better for searches on that topic than "lettings agent Nottingham".
3. Use pipes
Use the pipe character (this one > |) to separate phrases in your title tags. They look cleaner and it's easier for people to scan for relevant information.
4. Don't include too many keyword phrases
I believe that you should only try and optimise a page for 2-3 keywords at most - and preferably only one.
Why? Because too many keywords dilute the content, purpose and impact of the page. Plus, it doesn't work. Which is kind of important too.
The same is true for title tags. Opt for 2 keyword phrases at most and, ideally, only one. If you stuff in too many, people won't click through to your site because they'll believe that your page covers too much and it will be difficult to find what they're looking for.
5. Say why you're different
Remember that your objective with search engines, bookmarking sites and social networks is to get people to visit your site. So, whether you call it your USP (Unique Selling Point), Value Proposition, Differentiator or whatever, state what is unique about you and your business to compel people to click.
Think about the keyword phrase you're optimising for and what someone entering that into Google would be seeking. Someone searching for "mobile phone shops in Nottingham" may be drawn to 'Expert advice available in-store' while someone searching for "iphone 5 deals" might be more interested to hear that you have the 'Best contract offers' available online.
6. Use acronyms if you can
If your business uses an acronym that people might include in their search (SEO, PPC, VAT, HR and so on), consider including it in your title tag. If there's space, include the full phrase too. Type the acronym in capital letters but use proper case or title case for everything else.
7. Use numbers
Just as I have in this post, use numbers at the beginning of your title tags if you can. In a survey of 184 people, 171 said that they like articles with numbers in the title. OK, so I made that up.
Anyway, numbers get attention. They suggest accuracy and clarity. And research has shown that more people click through to articles and pages with numbers. Honestly. What would you rather click on? "9 quick tips to optimise your title tags" or "Quick tips to optimise your title tags"? Numbers convey meaning.
8. Check your spelling
Nothing says amateur better than a spelling mistake. Check and double-check before you post. If your website uses a Content Management System (CMS) like WordPress or Drupal, make sure your web designer installs an editor with a built-in spell checker.
9. Make sure your title tags are unique
If you want to do well in Google, you must have unique page titles for every page on your site. If you have a lot of pages, get a free website audit to find the duplicates) or get a 30 day free trial of the excellent Raven Tools (you don't even need a credit card so no fear of an unexpected bill because you forgot to cancel). You can then run your own site audit.
In the example above, two different pages from the same site have exactly the same title. How do you know which one to click?
There are more title tag optimisation tips than I can reasonably include in this article without making it too long.
However, if you follow these 9 title tag tips, you'll be on your way to a better optimised site, more visitors and, I sincerely hope, more clients.
Share your questions, ideas or your own tips in the comments below.