The title tag or to be more accurate the title element (it’s an HTML element, not a meta tag, but most webmasters think it’s a meta tag like the meta description tag) is what you see at the top of web browsers like Google Chrome and Firefox.
If you are using Google Chrome or Firefox to view this SEO tutorial look at it’s browser tab and you will see this webpages title tag, it’s: “Title Tag SEO”.
Google and other search engines use a webpages title tag as a major ranking signal making title tag SEO a very important part of any webmasters SEO strategy.
I set this webpages title tag to “Title Tag SEO” because I want Google etc… to rank this webpage for SERPs related to “Title Tag SEO”: SEO isn’t difficult to understand.
Title Tag HTML
Title tag HTML code is quite basic, you have an opening <title> element and a closing </title> element and whatever is put between them for a specific webpage is that webpages title tag.
If you view the HTML source of this webpage on a Desktop computer (with Google Chrome/Firefox, “Right Click” anywhere on the webpage avoiding images and select “View Page Source” and the HTML source code loads in a new browser tab) and quite close to the top you will find this title tag HTML code:
<title>Title Tag SEO</title>
That’s all the title tag is.
Below is a screenshot of this websites home page title tag in Google Chrome including the HTML source code.
You can see in the screenshot the home pages title tag is simply SEO Gold.
It’s a little difficult to ‘read’ the HTML code for this site because for SEO reasons I minify the HTML code (via a WordPress SEO plugin): minifying the HTML source code means removing the extra spaces (white space), tabs, HTML comments and carriage returns so the HTML code is all on one line taking up as little space as possible (means the HTML file is smaller and loads a little faster, but the code is harder to read).
I’m working on my very old Classic Literature site (working on an SEO update) and have the minification turned off, below is a screenshot of the title tags HTML source code, much easier to read.
To build a webpage from scratch you might start with HTML code like this, it’s about as basic as it gets.
<!DOCTYPE HTML PUBLIC “-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.01 Transitional//EN" “http://www.w3.org/TR/html4/loose.dtd"> <html> <head> <title>Title Tag Here</title> </head> <body> Content code here </body> </html>
WordPress Title Tags
Most websites in 2018 will be built using Content Management Systems (CMS) like WordPress, not by manually creating HTML webpages.
This site (and the classic literature site mentioned earlier) runs under WordPress and the average webmaster will never touch the core HTML code or create the HTML code behind the title tag, they will simply add some text to the CMS (create a WordPress Post for example and give it a Title) and the CMS (WordPress) will do the heavy lifting creating the title tags HTML code etc…
This webpages title tag is Title Tag SEO and by default WordPress created it via the WordPress Posts title and any WordPress theme/plugin title tag features, see screenshot below.
For this website I have any theme/plugin title tag relevant features to ONLY use the title of a WordPress Post as the title tag.
There are WordPress SEO Theme and SEO Plugins features which add all sorts of stuff to a WordPress Posts Title tag, from the Site Name to the name of Categories and Tags!!!
The Yoast WordPress SEO Plugin for example by default adds the site name to the end of the title tags, if I used such a feature (I don’t use or like the Yoast plugin) this webpages title tag HTML code would be something like this:
<title>Title Tag SEO - SEO Gold</title>
The Wrong Title Tags
If you believe your webspages are creating the wrong title tags the easiest way to know for sure what is output as a title tag is load different sections of the site (Home Page, Categories, Tags, Posts etc…) in a browser like Google Chrome and hover over the browser tab (the title tag pops up, see earlier screenshots) and/or view the HTML source code and literally search through the HTML code (should be close to the top) to see what’s between the opening and closing title HTML elements.
If the title tag output isn’t what you expect it to be, check how your title tags are generated and modify accordingly.
Now you know what a title tag is and how it’s generated let’s discus how to search engine optimize title tags.
How to Search Engine Optimize a Title Tag
There’s no one right way to optimize a particular webpages title tag, sometimes a short title tag (like this articles title tag) is best, other times a much longer title makes sense.
First thing to decide is branded or unbranded title tags?
Unless you are a regular visitor to my website I can bet the farm you’ve never heard of the brand “SEO Gold”. SEO Gold isn’t a well know brand name, very few people are searching in Google for SEO Gold, so there’s little to gain optimizing a webpage like this one to include the brand name SEO Gold.
I registered the seo-gold.com domain way back in 2004 and traded under the name SEO Gold Services or SEO Gold for short. There’s a city in Australia called Gold Coast (6th largest Australian city) and there’s quite a number of businesses with names related to SEO Gold Coast.
Most of the SEO Gold Coast businesses look like web design businesses who also offer SEO services. When I registered the SEO Gold domain (2004) I don’t recall noticing any SEO companies with websites from the Gold Coast.
Basically there’s little to gain having this title tag:
<title>Title Tag SEO - SEO Gold</title>
No one is searching Google for “SEO Gold Title Tag SEO” or “Title Tags SEO Gold” and the Google users searching for SEO Gold Coast SERPs are highly unlikely to be looking for my SEO service: they are presumably looking for a local SEO company near the Gold Coast city, the traffic won’t convert – I’m in the UK, couldn’t be much further away if I tried.
This sites home page is already ranked in the top 1 or 2 in Google for the SEO Gold SERP and it generates a trickle of traffic, I only need the home page to target the brand name.
Google Appends the Brand Name to it’s SERPs Titles
Google also automatically appends the brand name (with the format “ – SEO Gold“) to this domains SERPs when there is space (when title tags are short).
Since there’s not a lot of search engine traffic related to SEO Gold SERPs and Google appends the brand name to the end of title tags when there’s space, there’s no compelling reason to include it as part of most webpages title tags.
Therefore the vast majority of this websites titles tags use the simple format of:
<title>Title of the Article Which Targeting a Phrase or Two</title>
Conversely if SEO Gold was a huge brand name like Amazon, Flipkart, Tescos, Google, Coca Coal, Puma, Nike etc… brand names the majority of people already know OR I was building a brand presence for SEO Gold it makes sense to include the brand name at the end of title tags.
I don’t need a big brand presence: I’m a freelance SEO consultant working alone from a home office serving a small number of SEO clients (not looking to expand much or take on employees etc…). When I took on my first half a dozen SEO clients (over 15 years ago) my SEO site was on a free sub-folder provided by my ISP :-)
Before making an SEO decision (a business decision) always consider what you are trying to achieve.
Don’t forget about bookmarks.
Remember title tags are NOT only used by search engines, they are used as part of browser Bookmarks, if someone Bookmarks this webpage it’s saved with the title “Title Tag SEO” with no branding. If a webpage gets Bookmarked a lot and you want your brand name as part of it, you have to add it via he title tag.
Social media sites like Twitter and Facebook also use the title tags when content is shared, but this can be easily overwrote by using the social media networks own title meta tags, easy to brand on Twitter etc…
Short or Long Title Tags, Which is Best?
As mentioned earlier there is no one way to optimize a particular webpages title tags, this webpages title tag is short, just three words (all keywords), but if you browse through the articles posted on this site you will find many have quite long title tags.
These are the title tags from the SEO Tutorials category.
- SEO Copywriting Tip Avoid Keyword Stuffing
- SEO Lessons from Keyword Cannibalization
- Anchor Text of Internal Links SEO Test
- Linked Image ALT Text SEO Test
- SEO Myth : XML Sitemaps Boost Google Rankings
- SEO Myth : SEO is Dead
- SEO Analysis of the Amazon USA Website Title Tag
- Hyphenated Domain Names SEO Tutorial
- Http to Https Htaccess 301 Redirect Rules SEO Tutorial
- Nofollow SEO Tutorial
You can see they vary in length because they are targeting either one main SERP (like “Nofollow SEO Tutorial”) or multiple SERPs AND information added for users (like “SEO Analysis of the Amazon USA Website Title Tag”).
A good example is the Google Chrome Lighthouse Audit SEO Tool article. The title tag is targeting multiple Lighthouse (Lighthouse is a free SEO analysis tool provided by Google) relevant SERPs in just 40 characters.
Google will show more than 40 characters, the exact number of characters shown for a Google SERP is based on the characters used, it has to ALL fit on one line.
This can be anywhere from 50 fat characters to over 100 thin characters: if the characters are thin lowercase letters like iiiiii’s, more will be used by Google as the title of a SERP vs a title where the characters are fat uppercase letters like WWWWWWW’s. Yes, Google doesn’t count the characters any more: it used to.
As of March 24th 2018, searching Google for the entire title tag above and the Lighthouse article is ranked number 4. It’s below two of Google’s articles (they are going to be difficult to beat) and a Search Engine Land article (well known SEO brand).
If I added more keywords to this title tag it will ‘water down’ the title tag SEO benefit shared between the current 6 keywords which could result in my current SERPs dropping.
If I removed one or more keywords:
6 keywords – “Google Chrome Lighthouse Audit SEO Tool”
5 keywords – “Chrome Lighthouse Audit SEO Tool”
4 keywords – “Lighthouse Audit SEO Tool”
3 keywords – “Lighthouse Audit Tool”
3 keywords – “Lighthouse SEO Tool”
2 keywords – “Lighthouse Audit”
2 keywords – “Lighthouse SEO”
All the above would make valid title tags for that article.
Whichever keywords remained would gain more title tag SEO benefit, but the keywords removed would loose their title tag SEO benefit. With the “Lighthouse Audit” example the article would be far more likely to rank higher for that SERP, but far less likely for all the others.
It’s about balance and we all get the balance wrong over and over again. If a webpage is important consider changing the title tag (add/remove/change keywords) to test their impact: give a change at least 4 weeks before making conclusions unless it’s an absolute disastrous outcome.
Add to this the title tag on it’s own isn’t enough to rank a webpage for even a slightly competitive SERPs, title tags needs support from backlinks anchor text, usage in content etc…
In general if a webpage isn’t ranking for anything (no traffic from search engines) consider shortening the title tag to pass more SEO benefit to fewer keywords or even target an easier SERP.If this webpage doesn’t rank for the “Title Tag SEO” SERP I could target the “WordPress Title Tag SEO” SERP or “Title Tag SEO Tips”. A small amount of traffic from a long-tail keyphrase is better than no traffic.
Conversely if a webpage is ranked number 1 for a main SERP targeted consider adding a derivative or harder SERP with more traffic.
For example if this webpage became number 1 in Google for the “Title Tag SEO” SERP easily, but was 5th for the “Title Tag” SERP, there would be an argument to try the shorter title tag “Title Tag” to see if it pushed the ranking from 5th to higher. Be careful with risking current SERPs, you could loose the current SERP.
Another example if it were ranked number 1 for the “Title Tag SEO” SERP, but wasn’t even top 20 for the “Title Tag” SERP, changing to the shorter title tag (without doing much else) probably won’t result in more traffic: unlikely to hit top 3 for the “Title Tag” SERP. In this scenario it could be worth testing adding more keywords to the title: “Title Tag SEO Tutorial” or “Title Tag SEO Tips” to see if the webpage can maintain the “Title Tag SEO” SERP AND add more secondary SERPs. Only way to know is to test, test, test…
David Law : Freelance SEO Expert