Optimizing Title Tags.

HTML Title Tags for Search Engine Optimization & Web Usability

We received numerous questions about Web page title tags during our Webinar with the AMA, including:

"Do I need to put a different title tag on every page of my site?"

"What is the maximum length of a title tag?"

"What is the proper formatting for a title tag?"

"Should I use the title meta tag?"

"Is there a title tag limit?"

Instead of addressing each question individually, we have created this overview document, which includes the following sections:

Basics: HTML Title Tags
The Roles of the Title Tag in a Web Page
Search Engine Optimization and Web Usability Considerations in Creating Title Tags
Web Page Title Tag Limits (Maximum Lengths)
Using Keywords in Web Page Titles
Getting Attention with your Title Tag
Special Characters and ASCII Characters in Title Tags

Basics: HTML Title Tags

In HTML code, the title tag specifies the title of your Web page. It is code which is inserted into the header of your web page and looks like this:

<head>
<title> Creating Title Tags for Search Engine Optimization & Web Usability </title>
</head>

The World Wide Web Consortium describes the title as a required element in an HTML document:

The global structure of an HTML document - 7.4.2 The TITLE element

"Every HTML document must have a TITLE element in the HEAD section."

"Authors should use the TITLE element to identify the contents of a document. Since users often consult documents out of context, authors should provide context-rich titles. Thus, instead of a title such as "Introduction", which doesn't provide much contextual background, authors should supply a title such as "Introduction to Medieval Bee-Keeping" instead."

Many other tags can be placed within the header tag as well, including meta tags.

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The Roles of the Title Tag in a Web Page

Title tags play four roles on the Internet:

  1. First, the title is used by resource librarians, directory editors, and other webmasters when they link to your page. If you present editors with a well written title, your site will be reviewed faster and will get favorable treatment by the editors. If you submit a page with a title like this, "Title Tags - Title Tag Limit - Title Tag - Web Page Title - HTML Title Tags, " then you can expect to wait for a review.
     
  2. Second, the title is displayed in the search results as the most prominent piece of information available to searchers. Taking the example above, put yourself in the mind set of a search engine user who is scanning the search results. If you see a title like the one above, which is so obviously stuffed with frequently searched keyword phrases, don't you think you would consider that the Webmaster is trying a bit too hard to get your attention, putting search engine optimization far above web usability? We think so.
     
  3. Third, the title is displayed by the visitor's browser (most often Microsoft Internet Explorer) in the border of the viewable screen as the visitor is viewing your website. This serves as an anchor so that the visitor knows where he or she is on your website. For this reason, titles need to clearly relate to their page and should include bread crumb or mouse trail information if there is space available. Microsoft's browser, called Internet Explorer, displays the first 95 characters of your title tag. For title tags longer than 95 characters, Internet Explorer will simply crop the tag, as you can see it has done to the title of this Web page.
     
  4. Fourth, the title is used by the major search engines as the most important piece of information available in order to help them determine the topic of your page, and thus to determine the ranking of your page in their search results. Given that the title is the most important factor in your page's ranking, it can be very tempting to load the title tag with keywords. For the first three reasons mentioned above, you should avoid the temptation.
     

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Search Engine Optimization and Web Usability Considerations in Creating Title Tags

The perfect title will balance all four purposes described above and will meet the technical guidelines explored below:

  1. All titles should be typed in Title Case (or Proper Case). This is the most often overlooked error we've found when using the web. An excellent resource for learning title case capitalization rules is Writer's Block - Writing Tips - Capitalization in Titles. By the way, your headers should be using Title Case as well.

    There are exceptions to the Title Case or Proper Case rule. In the case of FAQ pages, it is allowable to use the original question as the title to the page. In that case, title case is not necessary.
     
  2. For nonfiction or reference websites, titles should be written to clearly indicate what is available on the page.
     
  3. Every page must have a unique title. Do not put the same title on every page of your website. (See purpose 3 above.)
     
  4. The title must be able to stand on its own and clearly communicate the contents of the page to the reader. You must give the reader context. A title like "Home" or "About Us" when displayed in search results or bookmarks tells the reader nothing about the contents of the page. Remember, the reader is simply seeing a list of titles. When a visitor bookmarks your site or adds your site to their favorites menu, the title of your page becomes the title of their bookmark. Think about your own bookmarks. How many times have you had to edit the titles so that you would know what your bookmark contained? Jacob Nielsen provides some good illustrative examples of strong and weak titles as well as general tips in his article, Microcontent: Headlines and Subject Lines (Alertbox Setp. 1998).
     
  5. Home page titles present unique requirements. The home page introduces your organization and is almost always your best contender in a search engine optimization contest. Home page titles should clearly indicate what is available on the page, AND for the purpose of web credibility they should clearly indicate what organization is represented on the page. In other words, you need to include the name of your organization in the title tag of your home page! Not doing so can significantly lower your Web credibility.
     

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Web Page Title Tag Limits (Maximum Lengths)

The W3C, in their page W3C - The TITLE element in HTML, states:"The title should ideally be less than 64 characters in length. That is, many applications will display document titles in window titles, menus, etc where there is only limited room."A 64 character limit is a good starting place, but oversimplifies things a bit.

Google will display up to 66 characters of a title tag, cropping to complete words. For example, the following title is exactly 68 characters, so Google leaves off the last word in the title when displaying the website in its search results:

68-Character Title Tag: Creating Title Tags for Search Engine Optimization and Web Usability
Google Display: Creating Title Tags for Search Engine Optimization and Web ...

On the other hand, if the word "and" were replaced with an ampersand, the title would be exactly 66 characters, and would be displayed in full:

66-Character Title Tag: Creating Title Tags for Search Engine Optimization & Web Usability
Google Display: Creating Title Tags for Search Engine Optimization & Web Usability

Google isn't the only thing to consider when deciding on the optimal title tag limit. Yahoo! has an absolute cutoff in presenting titles of exactly 120 characters, which is substantially longer and gives the webmaster much more room to present longer titles. If your title exceeds 120 characters, the title will simply be cropped, whether the display title ends in a complete word or not. That is quite different from Google, which ends the display title with the last complete word which ended before the 66 character limit was reached.

The best strategy for creating a long title is to make sure that the title works for both Google and Yahoo. The optimal title tag should be thought of as consisting of a primary title (for Google) and a secondary title (for Yahoo!). Your primary title length should be limited to 66 characters, including spaces and punctuation. Your secondary title can be any length up to the point where the full title reaches 120 characters in length. You can create a longer title if you wish, but be aware that anything beyond 120 characters will be cropped in the Yahoo! search results, and no one will ever see it.

Shows the maximum length of a title tag in Google and Yahoo!

On Google, the title tag above will appear like this:
Creating Title Tags for Search Engine Optimization & Web Usability ...

On Yahoo, the title will appear like this:
Creating Title Tags for Search Engine Optimization & Web Usability - Search Engine Marketing FAQ - SEO Logic®

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Using Keywords in Web Page Titles

Now that we have created a title tag with the optimal length (as close to the maximum length for a title tag as we can get) for display in the search results of Google and Yahoo!, it is time to consider whether we have used the title optimally in the context of search engine optimization. As we mentioned earlier (see above for the fourth role of the title tag), the title tag is the single most important piece of information the search engines use when deciphering your Web page. For that reason, including your target keyword phrase or phrases in your title is very desirable. We have researched the keyword phrases related to title tags, performed a competitive analysis, and determined that the following keyword phrases are our best targets for this example: title tags; title tag limit; title tag; web titles; web page title; maximum length of a title tag; formatting title tag; and HTML title.

Our primary title tag already includes the phrase "title tags" which includes within it the phrase "title tag." By making a minor edit to the tag, we can include one more of our keyword phrases without substantially reducing the title's ability to fulfill it's first three roles.

Original:CreatingTitle Tags for Search Engine Optimization & Web Usability

Edited:Web PageTitle Tags for Search Engine Optimization & Web Usability

So, our final title tag reads, "Web Page Title Tags for Search Engine Optimization & Web Usability - Search Engine Marketing FAQ - SEO Logic®, " and you can see it in the Internet Explorer title bar above, cropped to exactly 95 characters.

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Getting Attention with your Title Tag

Webmasters have resorted to all sorts of things in order to make their title stand out from the pack. Here are just a few examples using parenthesis/brackets/asterisks, etc. in titles:

((( Search Engine Optimization Company )))

: : : Web Design Company : : :

* * * Internet Advertising Company * * *

| ABC Company |

§ Insurance Company §

» XYZ Company «

¤ Web Marketing Company ¤
 

Obviously, anything that serves to draw the search engine user's attention toward your title will help, but care must be taken not to overdo it, like in the following example:

Search Engine Optimization - Look No Farther - Click Here!
 

The title above fails to fulfill any of its four primary functions and completely lacks credibility.

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Special Characters and ASCII Characters in Title Tags

AltaVista, AllTheWeb, Google, MSN, and Yahoo! will display the copyright symbol(©), the trademark symbol (™), and the registered trademark symbol (®) in titles. You can use &copy; or &#8482; to put the Copyright symbol in your title, &trade; or &#8482; to put the Trademark symbol in your title, and &reg; to put the Registered Trademark symbol in your title, and all will appear correctly in AltaVista, AllTheWeb, Google, MSN, and Yahoo!, as well as others.

On Yahoo!, you can try interesting variations such as &#9658; which makes an arrow (►) to draw attention to your title. The other major search engines do not display such symbols in titles, and Yahoo! is likely to stop soon. As of Monday, March 29th, 2004, Yahoo! is no longer displaying ASCII Characters in titles in their search results. Either way, if your site is listed in the Yahoo! directory, then the title it received when it passed through editorial review will be the title that is always displayed.

Here are a few special characters which you can use in your titles to draw attention to yourself, but be warned that Yahoo! is the only engine which displays these characters in titles, and may soon stop.
 

&#9608; █
&#9617; ░
&#9618; ▒
&#9619; ▓
&#9632; ■
&#9644; ▬
&#9650; ▲
&#9658; ►
&#9660; ▼
&#9668; ◄
&#9675; ○
&#9688; ◘
&#9689; ◙
&#9786; ☺
&#9787; ☻
&#9788; ☼
&#9792; ♀
&#9794; ♂
&#9824; ♠
&#9827; ♣
&#9829; ♥
&#9830; ♦
&#9834; ♪
&#9835; ♫

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