Title Tags and Search Engine Optimization

Those new to search engine optimization (SEO) ask lots of questions about the HTML title tag in their web pages and blog posts like:

We are going to answer all of these today. Click the links above to skip to the specific question you came looking for the answer to or read the whole article.

Where is the Title Tag in My Web Page Coding?

The title set of tags are located in the head section of your web page coding. The head section of your web page coding is defined with the opening and closing head tags as shown below:


The title set of tags look like:

<title>Title Tag Contents</title>

The above are basic examples of where to find your head section and title tags. Depending on how your site is built and run this section could be in a separate file which is included when the page is assembled and presented to the visitor. e.g. The head section of a site built using WordPress is in the header.php file of your theme. An ecommerce site might have this section in the main template that is used for the general layout of your web pages.

How is the Title Tags Used?

The contents of the title tags are used different ways:

  • The contents of your title tags are shown in the browser’s top bar. Look above. You will see the title of this article in the top bar of your browser (or in the tab if you are using tabbed browsing).
  • When you or someone else bookmarks your web page the title tag contents are used as the link to your article.
  • If a visitor still uses their browser’s own Favorites or Bookmarks, once they add your page to their Favorites the title of your page will be listed.
  • The search engines may use your chosen title tag for the page when displaying your page in the search results. Read on to find out why I said may.

How Should I Construct My Title Tags?

There are a few points to keep in mind when creating your title tags:

  • Unique Title Tags for Each Page

    Each page needs an unique set of title tags. This is something that some content management systems and ecommomerce software do not do. If the software running your site is not allowing you to have unique title tags for each page, complain or get one that does. WordPress, for example, by default uses the post/page title you fill in at the top of the editing screen.

  • Limit the Number of Characters Used in Your Title Tags

    You want your whole title to show when someone bookmarks your page in their browser Favorites, visits your site, bookmarks your page on social bookmarking sites and when the search engines show your page in the search results, don’t you? Well there is a limit to the number of characters your title tag can be to accommodate all these different senarios.

    The W3C (World Wide Consortium) which develops the standards for the web recommends you keep your title tag contents to 64 characters so the title will be displayed in browser Favorites and the top browser bar.

    The general consensus for your title to display properly (without it be truncated) in Google is was 66-70 characters. (see update below) You can see in the image below our Most Common Screen Resolution artile title doesn’t quite fit with Google’s layout to accommodate their page preview over on the right. Google has truncated the title based on the search I did to get the screenshot (web page mistakes).

    Update March 2014: Google changed the layout of their results pages to include larger text for page titles. Now, you have even less room to get your message across. According to Dr. Pete from Moz 49-57 characters works. Read his whole article here: New Title Tag Guidelines & Preview Tool. There still isn’t a magic number to use. The search engines are including your site name in some of the results, even if you do not include it in your title tag.

    Title tag results in Google search results

    If I had searched for common screen resolutions the title fits.

    Different title tag results in Google search results based on search

    The reason for these 2 different results will be discussed later in this article.

  • Use Proper Title Type Case in Your Title Tags

    Ok, this is a user experience thing more than a SEO thing. Use capitals in your title tag just as you would use capitals in the title of a paper you wrote in school. It looks more natural for the reader. All caps is definately a no no. All caps is considered yelling on the net.

  • Communicate What the Page Contains in the Title Tags

    Create a title tag that communicates what the page is about. Something that when the user bookmarks the page in their Favorites they will know by looking at the title what the page is about would be a good guideline. Will the user know what the page is about without reading the search description or social bookmarking description?

  • Use Some Keywords in the Title Tags

    Use some keywords the person searching for the information on your page would put in the search engine box. Notice I said some. 2 or 3 keyword phrases would be fine. A title tag full of a bunch of keywords just looks spammy and doesn’t really convey to the person looking through the search results what the page is about.

  • Make the Title Tag Contents Attention Getting

    Communicate what the page is about but also make the title tag attention getting. If you were searching for the information on the page would your chosen title tag make you want to click the link in the search results, on a social bookmarking site or if someone tweeted your link?

  • Special Characters and Title Tags

    Can you afford to use up your character limits with special characters? If something in the title is copyrighted, trademarked or registered then maybe you could add the appropriate symbol to the title tag contents but other symbols are really a waste of valuable character space.

  • No Boring Title Tags!

    Have you ever searched for something and in the results you see Home, About or Contact used at the search result link? That isn’t really very helpful. Think back to the person who bookmarks pages in the browser still. If they have a bunch of Pricing titles bookmarked, how are they going to know which one is you?

    A boring title is also a missed opportunity to incorporate some kind of title which includes a keyword or two that you could have been found for.

Why Are My Titles Not Used in the Search Results?

This really is a mystery to those new to search engine optimization. They made sure the title tag on each page is different, thought they constructed the perfect title tag contents and it’s not showing up in the search results!

The search engines decide what title to put in their search results for your page based on what the user searched for.

If you read this article from top to bottom this was demonstrated above under how the title tag is used.

Here they are again:

A search for web page mistakes had this result in Google:

Title tag results in Google search results

A search for most common resolutions had this result in Google:

Different title tag results in Google search results based on search

The title of the same article is different based on what is searched for.

Google specifically addresses this in their Changing a site title and description – Webmaster Tools Help article. There is a video on that page you can watch.

Bing also addresses the title tag in their Anatomy of a Bing caption.

Compose Better Title Tags for Better Search Results Placement

Compose your title tag contents so they are catchy, describe what the page is about, do not contain too many keywords or phrases and fit within the search results alloted space. Don’t get too upset if you composed the perfect title tags and they are not being used as intended in the actual search results. The title tag contents help the search engines (along with other search engine optimization techniques) determine what the page is about. If you are showing in the first 10 results for your chosen keyword phrase, be happy instead of upset that the search engines have a mind of their own.

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