Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Best Practices for Title Tags

It's been a while since I provided some straightforward, back to basics style advice and there can be little doubt that the title tag is worthy of attention for beginners and experts alike.  And so I present...
How to Make the Best Title Tag Possible:
  1. Brand your traffic
    Use the title of your site or brand at the beginning or end of every title tag to help searchers know where they're going and to increase return visits. If you're struggling to find justification for this component, think of all the ad studies showing that consumers are willing to pay more for a "brand name" product than an off-brand or store brand item of the same type - apply this logic to the SERPs and you'll find that users will go further down the rankings to click on a "trusted" brand.
  2. Limit length to 65 characters (including spaces) or less
    There's no reason to cut off the last word and have it replaced with a "..." Note that the engines have fluctuated recently and Google, in particular, is now supporting up to 70 characters in some cases.
  3. Incorporate keyword phrases
    This one may seem obvious, but it's critical that whatever your keyword research shows as being the most valuable for capturing searches gets prominently included in your title tag. It doesn't have to be the first words, but it should be the semantic and logical center of attention.
  4. Target longer phrases if they're relevant
    When choosing what keywords to include in a title tag, I often like to use as many as are completely relevant to the page at hand, while remaining accurate and descriptive. Thus, it can be much more valuable to have a title tag like "SkiDudes | Downhill Skiing Equipment & Accessories" rather than simply "SkiDudes | Skiing Equipment" - including those additional terms that are both relevant to the page and receive significant search traffic can bolster your page's value. However, if you have a separate landing page for "Skiing accessories" than for "equipment," then you shouldn't include one term in the other's title - you'll be cannibalizing your rankings by forcing the engines to choose which page on your site is more relevant.
  5. Use a divider
    When splitting up the brand from the descriptive, I like to use the "|" symbol (aka the pipe bar). Others choose the arrow ">" or hyphen "-" and both work well. At times, however, I've found it useful to use the arrow or hyphen inside a title tag, as with a title like "SEOmoz | Articles > Keyword Research - A Beginner's Guide" hence my love of the pipe bar.
  6. Focus on clickthrough & conversion rates
    The title tag is exceptionally similar to the title you might write for paid search ads, only it's harder to measure and improve because the stats aren't provided for you as easily. However, if you've got a market that is relatively stable in search volume week-to-week, you can do some testing with your title tags and improve the clickthrough. Watch your analytics and, if it makes sense, buy search ads on the page as well - even if it's just for a week or two, it can make a huge difference in the long run. A word of warning, though - be wary that you don't focus entirely on CTR. Remember to continue measuring conversion rates. As MindValley Labs showed us, a lower CTR can sometimes be the better choice due to a higher conversion rate.
  7. Target searcher intent
    When you're writing titles for web pages, keep in mind the search terms your audience employed to reach your site. If the intent is browsing or research-based, a more descriptive title tag is appropriate. If you're reasonably sure the intent is a purchase, download or other action, make it clear in your title that this function can be performed at your site, i.e. "SkiDudes | View Snowboard Sizing Chart" or "SkiDudes | Buy Discount Snoqualmie Pass Lift Tickets"
  8. Be consistent
    Once you've determined a good formula for your pages in a given section or area of your site, stick to that regimen - you'll find that as you become a trusted and successful "brand" in the SERPs, users will seek out your pages on a subject area and have expectations that you'll want to fulfill.
  9. Repeat in the headline
    Re-using the title tag of each page as the H1 header tag can be valuable from both a keyword targeting standpoint and a user experience improvement. Users who go to a page from the SERPs will have the expectation of finding the title they clicked - deliver and you've fulfilled that obligation. Users will be more likely to stay on a page they're reasonably certain fits their intended goal or query.
Any other suggestions that you'd like to include? Disagreements? Valuable links I should point to?

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