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Writing Better Web Page Titles

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One of the easiest things you can do to optimize a web page is to write a better title for it. Aside from writing great content, learning how to write better titles is the best thing you can do for your web page. I’ll start with the basics of a page title and then move into more advanced discussion.

What is a web page title?

If you look at the top of your browser window, above the address bar and the menus, you will see “Writing Better Titles”. That is the page title of this page.

The title of a web page is specified by the title element aka the <title> tag.

Here’s the code for this page’s title:
<title>Writing Better Web Page Titles</title>

Why is the page title important?

Page titles influence search engine rankings. Naturally, search engines rank pages with relevant titles higher than web pages without relevant titles. The basic idea is that you are helping the search engine understand your web page through the page title.

The page title is often used as the heading for your site listing in search engines. Not only does your web page need to rank well, but it needs to attract people to it. Search users will quickly overlook a web page with a lackluster or unrelated page title.

Page titles are the default label for browser bookmarks. One of the best ways to attract repeat visits is to have someone bookmark your web page. Almost every web browser assigns the page title as the label for the bookmarked web page. If your page title is not descriptive or missing, most people will not remember why they bookmarked your site in the first place.

Page titles are stored in browser history lists. Similar to bookmarks, browsers by default use page titles to label pages in the browser’s history. There are plenty of times I’ve wanted to find a page in my history but could never find it because the page had a non descriptive title.

RSS generators and content management systems use page titles to create headlines. For example, any site powered by WordPress (like mine) will generate RSS headlines from page titles by default.

Most people link to web pages using the page title for anchor text. This is important for two reasons. Search engines place high importance on relevant anchor text – so when someone links to your web page with the same anchor text as your page title, your ranking for words found in your page title will get boosted. The other reason is that your page title will be the call to action on someone else’s page. A weak page title makes for weak anchor text. Without a strong call to action, no one will want to leave the current page they are on.

Tips for Writing Better Page Titles

The most important thing to remember when writing web page titles is that web page titles are almost always read out of context. Normally there is nothing else except for the title to tell people what your site is about (especially with regards to a search engine listing).

Keep your titles short. Google cuts off its display of titles at around 64 characters. Although Yahoo and MSN display more characters, I’d recommend keeping it under 64 characters. Keep it short and precise.

Write descriptive titles. Avoid using word tricks and other ways to jazz up your title. Since web page titles may not be displayed with proper context, people will not have any contextual background to relate your title with. People want a clear description of the web pag before they commit to visiting. Don’t risk potential visitors by using a non descriptive title or worse, a teaser type title. Try and summarize your content in your web page title. (Bad title example: Guess why you are going to click here!)

Do not use the same title for all your web pages. This makes it hard to distinguish between pages. Why make it tougher on the search engines and your visitors? If you need to always include something in your titles, such as a company name or a web site title – place it at the end.

Focus your keywords at the front. Place the most relevant keywords at the front. Make sure those keywords are on topic, precise, and summarize your content. Search engines gauge word proximity, so always place the keywords that matter at the beginning and close together. Keywords phrases that are split up and too far apart won’t be considered as related.

Write in plain language. People skim over titles. So any high flown language or clever text will be disregarded. Speak to your readers the way you would like to be spoken to. Try and avoid too much search engine marketing speak – keep it simple and honest.

Avoid unclear titles with more than one meaning. Since titles typically lack context, ambiguous titles will generate untargeted traffic and waste your bandwidth. Be as descriptive as you need to. If your web page is about brown furry dogs, don’t just title your page “dog”. That title could mean anything. Title it “Brown Furry Dogs”.

Use a call to action. Remember that your title is the main draw to get people to click through to your site. Start of with your keyword(s) and then follow up with your call to action. Real important for search engine marketing. In a few words you should explain to your reader what they can gain from visiting your site. People should know instantly what they will be benefiting from the moment they click. Even informational sites can utilize this. For example: “Pepto Bismol – Learn how Bismuth Subsalicylate relieves your upset stomach.”

Avoid unneeded words. Some people like adding extra information in their title tags like article date, site section, or the URL. My advice is to remove anything that does not need to be there (for example: “Click here to head to My Page” could be reduced to “My Page”). If your page title is descriptive enough, there is no reason to add anything else.

Avoid keyword stuffing. Plenty of beginning SEOs like to stuff all their keywords into the title. Please don’t do this. Focus on a couple and create more pages for the keywords you still want to target. There is no reason to keyword spam.

Use separators instead of words like “and” or “also”. Search engines ignore widely used words like “and”, “a”, “the”…etc. These ignored words are called stop words. Instead of stop words, use separators like “-” or “|”. This will save you title space and allow you to put more information into your title if needed.

Use your own judgement.

These are a set of tips that can help you write better titles for your readers and for the search engines. Of course there are always exceptions, but hopefully this article provided you with some basic guidelines and gets you thinking on how you can improve your titles.

Michael Nguyen blogs regularly at Social Patterns and is a search
engine marketing expert for SEO Inc, a full-service search engine
optimization firm.

Writing Better Web Page Titles
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