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Title Tags - Best Practices


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#1 SEOigloo

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Posted 23 January 2007 - 10:02 PM

Good Evening Everybody,
I have just finished reading Rand Fishkin's post on Title Tags:
http://www.seomoz.or...ail.php?ID=1649.

It's a great review of the importance of these and best practices, but a couple of questions came to mind while reading this that I'd appreciate Cre8asite feedback on.

Rand says:

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.



In other words, put your business name or brand name in the title tag. Now, this took us aback. I specifically remember hearing (where, I can no longer remember) that you shouldn't put your company name in a title tag, apart from on the homepage. Where I heard this, I can't remember, but we're talking about some years ago. When did the thinking on this change? I can certainly see WHY it changed. But, when?

Could it be this old advice was meant for new businesses who don't have a recognized brand and were being advised to use their title tags purely for the keywords of their products/services? In a way, such advice doesn't make a lot of sense...as how would you ever build a brand without starting somewhere? On the other hand, it makes a bit of sense in that if you are selling toasters and the name of your web business is Shop at Joe's, none of the words in your business name are keywords. Of course, they become keywords once your business establishes a brand, but starting out, they aren't. Does that make sense?

Maybe I'm finding Rand's advice on this too general. In some cases, perhaps it doesn't make sense to have a business name in your title tag on every page. Comments?

The second point I'll quote from is as follows:

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.


My favorite Matt Cutts post ever seemed to indicate just the opposite of this:
http://www.mattcutts...ders-will-love/

Matt appears to be indicating that you get more 'juice' out of making the title different from your H1 or content phrases. Obviously, each use of the keyword phrase deals with the same subject, but saying it in different ways (perhaps with plurals, or using conjunctions or prepositions in the phrase) may actually work harder for you in terms of shooting for the long tail. Please, what are your thoughts on this?

My third query stems from people in the discussion following Rand's post indicating that title tags are good because they help human visitors know where they are on the site. I have to say, I have yet to meet a client who had ever even NOTICED the title tag. I never noticed it myself before getting into SEO. We use breadcrumb navigation toward the goal of helping visitors gain a sense of where they are at in the site...I really don't know if average folks ever look up in that far lefthand corner to gain information about anything. The eye tracking studies I've seen seem to indicate people look at the main body of the screen (kind of to the left side), but not up in the corner.

This is obviously a completely different issue than title tags being vital for whether people click on your listing in the SERPs. In that case, the title tag plays a pivotal role in people deciding whether to visit you or your competition. But as far as title tags orienting humans within a site...I really doubt this.

Please, what do you think?
Kind Regards,
Miriam

#2 A.N.Onym

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Posted 23 January 2007 - 10:34 PM

I believe in this post or another, Rand did mention that he is different with Ammon on title tags.

Rand was saying that you should put company name in the beginning of the title tag and Ammon was saying (like we all know now) to put it at the end the tag.

I don't think putting your company name in all title tags should help. Will it make sense? I'd put it only where it makes sense - your homepage will show up for your company name anyway.

#3 BillSlawski

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Posted 23 January 2007 - 10:40 PM

There wasn't a change, Miriam. Including the brand or not including the brand in a title element is more a matter of opinion than of best practices. It's something that Rand advocates, but it's not an industry wide standard, or necessarily something that you should agree with without giving it some thought and understanding alternatives.

Branding in Titles

Some great suggestions in the article, but I'm not a believer in using a company name in every title element on a site. Some pages are fine for that, such as the front page, a contact page, an "about us" page.

But, on many of the pages of a site, I'd much rather use the title element as a description of the content that appears on that page.

The most important place the words in a title element appear are as links to the page from outside of the site itself. Those may be links in search results from one of the search engines, or anchor text from someone who used the page title as a link to the page.

If a brand is already well known, there may be a benefit to having the brand in the title, because people who know and respect the brand may click through to the site. But, if using it there reduces the amount of text that you can use to create a persuasive enticement to get people to visit your page, if it limits your ability to accurately and succinctly describe what appears upon the page, if it keeps you from putting phrases that people will search for and expect to see on the page, then identifying the brand becomes less valuable.

If the brand isn't well known, then it might not be a good idea to include the brand name in the title element. Using title elements in an attempt to build a brand is likely not the most effective way to do so. If the NoName Electronics Store sells Sony and Panasonic and RCA and other well known and respected brand products, it might be better to use the Sony or Panasonic or RCA names in the page titles to product pages that offer those products, instead of the NoName Electronics Store brand.

So, branding is something that you could take advantage of in title elements, but it's probably not the place to attempt to build a brand - there are better ways to do that.

Repeating the Content of the Title Element in the <h1>

There can be some value in doing this - when people click on a link that uses the words of the title element in the heading, they know that they are in the right place, and their confidence about the site remains strong - the page appears to be about what the link said it was about.

But, if you vary that text, as long as you can retain that confidence in your visitor, you're fine from that perspective. So, a very similar heading may be just as good as an exact copy.

If a page is vying in a competitive niche, for a competitive keyword phrase, there may be some value to repeating that keyword phrase in both your title element and your main heading for the content of the page. That doesn't necessarily mean that they have to be exact duplicates.

Title as Breadcrumbs

I'm not sure that people really pay much attention to the title appearing at the top of the browser window. If you decide to use breadcrumbs, and use the titles for pages in those, then yes it can effectively describe the site, and the context of the page using that kind of navigation.

Also consider using page titles in a sitemap, where you use a page title as the text for the link in the sitemap. If you look at a page of page titles, can you get a sense of what the different parts of the site are, and the overall structure of the site?

One of the important lessons from thinking of page titles as an index to the site is that, if they accurately describe the contents of a page, and the page is well structured, if you create a sitemap for the site, then you know what the site is about.

#4 Guest_joedolson_*

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Posted 23 January 2007 - 10:47 PM

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.


I think the "no-no" interpretation of this came from the idea that a repetitive occurrence of your business name, especially at the front of a title tag, made search results look too similar - making it difficult for potential visitors to spot which page they really wanted. I think this would still be a problem with longer business names, but there's value in having your business name or brand present for a lot of reasons.

The return visits issue, I think, comes primarily from brand reinforcement (they're more likely to remember where they got the information if they see it more frequently) and use of bookmarks - since bookmarks default to using the title tag as a reference, it can be helpful to have the business name present.

I do always include the name of the site or brand in a site's title tags - but I ALWAYS place it at the end, since I consider it to be generally more useful in that position, for various reasons.

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.


Not sure I agree with this either - but having them pretty similar is probably still desirable. It should be clear that each unique title specifically pertains to that page, so your header reflects that clearly by using the same kinds of text. I wouldn't be inclined to make them the same, myself. Still, it would depend on context - on an article page, I'm inclined to use the title of the article, the section (category, "Articles", depends on context), and the name of the site - and I'll then use the title of the article again for the principle heading. So I do use it twice in that context - but for a more general content page, say, the "pricing" page, I'm much more likely to use different texts for the heading and for the title.

No one rule is going to work for all situations...

Maybe I'm finding Rand's advice on this too general. In some cases, perhaps it doesn't make sense to have a business name in your title tag on every page. Comments?


That's probably pretty spot on - Rand's advice is good, but it is very general. It's not intended to apply to every possible use-case scenario. Every rule has exceptions, and it's definitely important to consider your own site and your site's needs when deciding how to use the tag.

My third query stems from people in the discussion following Rand's post indicating that title tags are good because they help human visitors know where they are on the site. I have to say, I have yet to meet a client who had ever even NOTICED the title tag


I don't think that many users make any use at all of the title tag for navigating a site. I do, however, think that people use them for navigating their own browser or their own computer - if I have numerous windows/tabs open, I depend on the title tags to tell me which document I've opened is in which page. It can be very annoying to have five articles from one site open but have them indistinguishable becuase they all use the same start to their title tags. These days, enough sites have fav icons that I can use those to navigate between sites - but picking which tab is a specific page really depends on title tag information.

I really don't think people look up in that corner very often, but they do see the same text when it's used in other contexts - tool tips on windows or tabs, bookmark shortcuts, etc. They aren't necessarily conscious of what that information is or where it's coming from - but I think people use it.

Good thoughts!

#5 iamlost

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Posted 23 January 2007 - 11:44 PM

The <title> is what the SEs bold and link from.
The <title> is what the searcher uses for initial judgement.

A <title> must match enough of the searchers requirements that:
1. they click from that information alone.
2. their interest is sufficiently caught they will read the description and give your listing a second chance at a click.

Never pass an opportunity for branding. So always include your brand/domain (if your brand and your domain differ you may dilute the effect). Do not be sure you do not notice the <title> at the top of the browser window; subliminal advertising works.

You should always be consistent: in <title> structure as in navigation layout; do not confuse the visitor. The order is less important than consistency. If unsure, run A/B testing.

People tend to read phrases or sentences so:
widget.com > widget models > new widgets
may be ignored in favour of a 'friendlier' tone <title> lower in the SERPs.
The latest widgetry versions for 2007 now available from widgets.com

The <title> is not navigation (that boring breadcrumb version). It is the title for the brand and that page (or that page and the brand).

How I read Mr. Cutts was that there are benefits to repeating the <title> in different words in the <h1>. Word to Mr. Cutts: shush. Please.
So <title>:
The latest widgetry versions for 2007 now available from widgets.com
and <h1>:
The New Widget Models of 2007
There is no need to repeat the brand as that is available on page in the logo.

Now write a gripping meta 'description' paragraph to tie the bow on the actual page content.

Go run some searches and see which titles grab you and which you slide right past. Repeat for descriptions. SERP is important but your ad copy (<title> and description) make or break the actual click decision.

#6 rmccarley

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Posted 23 January 2007 - 11:52 PM

I like Amon's approach better (in theory, currently in testing). But only if brand-building is important to the project or the brand itself is strong enough to pull visitors. Even then Bill's point that it isn't always appropriate stands.

#7 SEOigloo

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Posted 24 January 2007 - 02:33 AM

Thank you, gentlemen.

I am glad, actually, to see difference of opinion on this. Rand's advice is always so sound, I felt a bit alarmed reading things I didn't exactly agree with. But, I think Joe is right in that the advice given in Rand's post is meant to be general.

I think the reason having the business name in all the title tags doesn't quite sit well with me is that it's almost as though you're nervous someone is going to outrank you for your own business name. It is the very fact that title tags do appear to pack such a punch that it somehow seems like wasted space to use up some of those 65 letters making sure you rank well for your business name. After all, if you're not #1 for Bob's Doughnut Shop, you've got some serious SEO issues to get cracking on. Assumedly, the repetiton of a business name throughout the main content of a website is going to pretty much assure that you rank #1 for your name if you're not doing something horribly wrong.

However, from reading all of your excellent comments I have become keenly aware that my mindset about title tags has been formed from working mostly with small businesses. We are aiming to rank well for their products, and trusting that loyal customers who like shopping with them will also be able to find them via the business name because it's all over the place on the site, anyway (if they haven't simply bookmarked it.) Perhaps in more competitive commercial industries on a higher level of commerce this special focus on branding becomes a whole different ball game that what I am used to, but that other SEOs think about daily.

Really wonderful replies to this. Thank you.
Miriam

#8 Mano70

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Posted 24 January 2007 - 03:18 AM

I do what I think suits the specific page or web site best, it may vary. But the only thing I stick to is dividers if I have to use them, I never use > but always | or - since I think it looks best, but also because I've read somewhere that they are preferred when it comes to speech readers. Whats your opinion on that?

#9 Guest_joedolson_*

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Posted 24 January 2007 - 01:10 PM

I never use > but always | or - since I think it looks best, but also because I've read somewhere that they are preferred when it comes to speech readers. Whats your opinion on that?


Screen readers will read symbols according to their meaning: therefore, a title with ">" will be read "is greater than," whereas "|" is generally called either "vertical line", "divider line", "vertical bar" or "pipe." The natural language semantic meaning of the pipe character is as a separator - the semantic meaning of the ">" is as a comparison operator. Therefore it's most logical to use a pipe as your separating character.

In a programming language or mathematical logic there may be other appropriate symbols - but for screen readers, you need to consider what a symbol will be read as and whether that reading will make sense in the context.

#10 Mano70

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Posted 24 January 2007 - 01:55 PM

Thanks, that was what I thought I had read somewhere, but unfortunately I didn't bookmark the URL.

#11 randfish

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Posted 25 January 2007 - 02:27 PM

Please don't take my advice as the end-all, be-all. I've been wrong before and I'm certain to be wrong again in the future. The guidelines I laid out in the blog should be helpful to a lot of folks, but that doesn't mean they'll always be the best solution for every site/situation. Testing (as I mentioned in the post) is critical to ensuring you're having the most possible success.

#12 Wit

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Posted 25 January 2007 - 02:46 PM

Ah but Rand, you should have said "Obey me or else........." LOL

Seriously. I'm convinced that your method is ace for lots of websites. If people recognise themselves in your "painted picture", they should definitely go for that approach....

#13 rmccarley

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Posted 25 January 2007 - 04:07 PM

Yea... He should have been like "Don't you know who I AM? I'm RAND Friggin' FISHKIN of sea-moss!"

That would have been awsome. :)

Sorry Rand... Just good to see you "out in public" again

#14 Adrian

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Posted 26 January 2007 - 06:44 AM

Generally I'd go with Ammon's approach, and is the approach I've written about previously on my blog.

However, I can see that when you already have a really well established brand, people scanning down the SERP's pages are going to be interested in seeing that. Someone like IGN in the computer games/consoles topic. If you do a search on something game related, and you see an IGN link, you might well click on it, because the sites pretty good, generally has good news, and lots of stuff like screenshtos and videos.

For those of us without that level of brand awarenes though, I think hints to the page content are more important than the brand.



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