NOTE: This post was originally published on SERP Co on October 28, 2019. SERP Co has since undergone a website redevelopment/rebranding.
Title Tags: One of the top 3 on-page SEO factors that can catapult your search engine rankings for your target keywords.
When used correctly, a well-optimized page title tag can be the difference between 1st-page rankings with high click-throughs and 2nd-page rankings with no traffic—like an SEO ghost town.
Continue reading to learn more about the importance of title tags, and how to optimize them for SEO.
Table of Contents
- What Is a Title Tag?
- What Is the Difference Between the Title Tag and H1 Tag?
- Why Are Title Tags Important for SEO?
- Best Practice
- Final Thoughts
What Is a Title Tag?
The title tag is an HTML element that lets search engines know what a webpage is about. It’s also referred to as the following:
- Page title
- SEO title
- Meta title
- SEO meta title
Your page title is normally displayed on search engine results pages (SERPs) in big blue font. This is what our homepage looks like:
You can also see it at the top of web browsers:
You can also see the page title on web browser bookmarks and social media shares. This is how our homepage title tags look like in HTML:
What Is the Difference Between the Title Tag and H1 Tag?
It’s a common misconception that the title tag and the H1 tag are the same things. This isn’t true: they’re two different HTML tags. The title tag is what’s shown on the SERP—it’s more important for SEO purposes.
The H1 tag is the heading on the actual webpage:
It’s easy to confuse these as the same thing. This is because, by default, WordPress uses the page title as the H1 on blog posts in almost every theme.
You can view the title tag and H1 tag of any webpage easily—here’s how. Right-click ‘View page source’ on the webpage:
The page HTML will come up:
Ctrl + F ‘Title’ for the title tag:
Ctrl + F ‘<h1’ for the H1 tag:
One Primary Keyword + Variations
The title tag is one of the most important places to feature a keyword. Google will be looking for one there—the search engine even recommends it. Putting a keyword in your title tags = better results. Independent research from Brian Dean supports this:
Image Source: Backlinko
Keyword in page title = higher SERP ranking. That said, avoid stuffing too many keywords in there—one primary is enough. Google has been very clear regarding this:
However, our independent research has shown that adding keyword variations can help. Often you will find that webpages don’t just rank for a primary keyword, but several variations.
This is what Ahrefs discovered: top pages on SERPs rank high for 1000+ different keyword variations:
Image Source: Ahrefs
Look to include 1-2 keyword variations in your page titles for maximum SEO benefit.
Takeaway: One primary keyword + variations.
Front-load Your Keyword
Front-loading your keyword means featuring a keyword at the start, or towards the beginning of your title tags. Like this:
Image Source: Gotch SEO
Doing this appears to improve SERP ranking. Enter something into Google and notice the results: the top-ranking pages usually have the keyword frontloaded. Here’s an example:
Google seems to put more emphasis on words featured earlier in page titles.
Takeaway: Place the primary keyword at the beginning of the title tag or close to it.
Shorter Title Length
When it comes to title tag length, shorter ones generally perform better. It’s easier for people to read and easier for Google to understand. When you provide a superior user experience and make it easier for Google to rank your content, you get better results.
Research from Matthew Barby supports this: webpages with shorter page title lengths ranked higher on SERPs:
Image Source: Matthew Barby
“The chart above shows that the title length and Google ranking are intertwined. Shorter titles correlate with higher rankings on Google.
This makes a lot of sense to me for two main reasons:
Longer titles end up being cut off in the search results which means a key part of the phrase could be lost, making it less desirable to the user.
Shorter titles tend to get to the point quicker and enable the user to very quickly determine if the result will fulfill their initial need.”
Shorter headlines have also been shown to have higher click-through rates. The better result isn’t just in the SERPs, either. Research from HubSpot showed that 11-14 character headlines get more social media shares:
If your page title is too long, the excess will be cut-off; it’ll look like this:
Notice the … The cut-off point is around 60 characters according to Moz. However, this varies depending on what device is being used. Research of over 2600 viral headlines showed that after 62 characters, search engines cut off the rest.
You want to have as short as possible title length—given you say what you need to. Make sure you get your primary keyword in there and also any additional variations that contextually fit. Title modifiers/superlatives as well: keep reading to find out what these are.
Takeaway: Keep title length short—under 60 characters.
Use Numbers (Odd Not Even)
Having numbers in your title tags can have profound user experience benefits. It’s a psychological thing: the human brain finds numbers easy to understand—they’re specific and measurable.
A study of headline preferences from Conductor confirms this. Take a look at this graph:
It’s no wonder so many headlines feature numbers. Buzzfeed popularized numbered headlines—dubbed ‘listicles.’
It’s also important to note that, for some strange reason, odd numbers perform better. Hubspot’s study of 150,000 headlines showed a 20% higher click-through rate for odd-numbered headlines.
Remember, Google uses user experience signals to better rank content. A headline with an odd number is going to get more clicks—Google will see that and reward you. It’s not a ‘make or break’ thing if it doesn’t make sense to use an odd number… But if possible, use one.
Takeaway: Feature odd numbers in the page title for a click-through rate boost.
Add Title Modifiers/Superlatives
Title modifiers are phrases that are typically added to search queries, such as the year, or ‘best.’ This is typically done by search users because they want ultra-specific results. Here’s a list of some title modifiers you can use:
Title modifiers are a great way to get some extra long-tail keyword traffic. It’s a fantastic strategy to combine with long-tail keyword variations in your page title. Backlinko’s Brian Dean highly recommends the use of title modifiers:
It’s a simple trick to broaden your content to a much wider net of search queries.
Takeaway: Add title modifiers for an extra long-tail keyword traffic boost.
Write For Search Intent (Not Search Queries)
When creating your page title, you must write it for search intent, not search query. Search intent is what someone is looking for when they use Google. This does not always exactly match what they enter into the search bar.
Search intent generally falls under one of these 3 categories:
- Informational – Information on something
- Commercial – Buying something
- Navigational – Directions to somewhere
There are more categories, but it’s best to keep it simple here. You need to ask yourself: ‘what is the purpose of my content? What am I offering to search users?’ When you answer that, you’ll know what to put in your title tags.
If you’re doing things right, your content, keywords, and title tags should match your search intent. Targeting search intent is important because people will click the SERP result that best matches what they’re looking for.
Google boosts content on SERPs that get more clicks. This is considered a user experience signal—observations that greatly influence SEO.
Search intent = Better user experience (click-through rate, bounce rate, dwell time, pogo-sticking, etc.) Better user experience = Better SERP results.
The easiest way to ensure your targeting search intent is to analyze the top-ranking results of your primary keyword.
Takeaway: Target search intent for user experience benefits.
Optimizing your page title is a simple and essential way to boost your SEO. Utilize the best practice in this post and you should start ranking higher and getting more traffic.
To learn more about SEO, continue reading the guides in our learning hub, and join our mastermind community group here: SERP University.