Nearly all experts in search engine marketing agree the most important element of an individual webpage is the title given to the page. This is the information that appears at the very top of the browser window when a webpage loads and within the underlying code (e.g., HTML code) that is enclosed in the element.
From a search engine’s point of view, page title is the first indication of the contents of the page. While many factors on and off the page affect how a search engine interprets the page, the page title is the leading indicator. Additionally, page title is the key information returned when search engines list results to a keyword search.
With this in mind we consider the following key concerns related to page title:
Keywords: Place Keywords in Title
The title should contain keywords relating to the page and, in particular, to keywords most likely entered in search engines by those who are potential visitors to a site. In most cases keywords should be in the form of a string of words or a phrase rather than single words. Keyword phrases hold a higher potential for bringing qualified customers to a site since the more detailed a person is in entering a phrase, the more likely they are to be truly interested in the topic of their search. For example, a search engine user entering the keywords “techniques for branding consumer products” is likely to be more interested in that topic than someone who simply enters the search term “branding.”
When it comes to placing keywords in the page title, a major mistake of many websites is to use terminology that may be familiar to employees of the website (e.g., industry lingo, acronyms) but do not match the search terms users enter when searching. An example that we learned at KnowThis.com proves this point. When we first launched the site in 1998 we referred to a major Topic Area as “Marketing Research” mainly because this is how most marketing textbooks refer to research in marketing. However, around 1999, Overture (now owned by Yahoo) released a keyword selector tool that allowed website marketers to see how many times keywords were entered into their search engine during a previous month. We were surprised to see searchers are much more likely to use the phrase “market research” ” as part of the search string. In fact, we tried this comparison again recently and found that search engine users are 12 times more likely to enter a keyword search using the phrase “market research” than the phrase “marketing research.” The point here is that while it may be fine to include industry terminology, the page title should also reflect terms used by the average customer.
One last point, while placing keywords in the page title is necessary, it is wise not to go overboard by using the same keyword phrase multiple times in the same page title. Instead, include in the page title two or three different phrases that describe what the page is about. Otherwise search engines may believe the site is attempting to trick the search engine (i.e., spam) which may result in the website being penalized by search engines.
Length: Understand the Length of Page Titles
Many sites appear to believe it is important for the name of the site (or company name) to appear on every page of their website, no matter how long the name may be. While communication theory would suggest this is a good way for people to learn who you are, since they are repeatedly being exposed to the name, from a search engine perspective using the site name in all page titles is squandering potential opportunity. The opportunity lies in the search traffic that may not come to your page because the keywords, while appearing in the title, are past the point at which some search engines will index. To see this, do a Google search and examine the results. If a site’s title is too long Google will display repeated dots (…) at the end. Without the keywords visible in the viewable title, search engines may not associate the keywords with the site and if the page is listed users will not see the keywords highlighted in response to their search. For example, if a site’s title includes the phrase “Techniques for Sales Lead Generation” but only “Techniques for Sales” is viewable the site may not benefit from searches that are directly related to what the page is about, namely techniques for generating sales leads.
While a long page title results in lost opportunity because keywords may not be viewable, opportunity can also be lost when a page title does not take advantage of the full title that search engines will recognize. To take full advantage of what search engines will see, the marketer should spend time to insure the page title utilizes the full space available and contains important keywords that best reflect the page and user search strings.
This discussion raises an obvious question: How long should the title be? Well, it depends on the search engine. With Google the current total characters it will show in the title of a site is about 67 which includes blank spaces. For titles extending past 67 characters Google will cut the remainder and, in fact, will cut the title at the end of the last full word. MSN search has a similar size limits, though it gives a few more characters while Yahoo appears to be the most generous by displaying over 100 characters. The basic rule to follow for a site trying to appeal to all search engines is to make sure the most important keywords are within the first 67 characters.
This brings us back to the point regarding companies placing their name on all page titles. How much of the valued page title space is the company name consuming? The longer it is the less opportunity exists for placing important keywords in the page title. For situations where the company name is long but company execs want the company name on all pages, the website marketer should consider: 1) shortening or abbreviating the name on inside pages, or 2) adding the name to the end of the page title instead of the beginning as in “Keyword Phrase, Keyword Phrase : Company Name”.
By the way, an easy way to figure out the length of a page title is to copy and paste it into a word processor that contains a word count feature. In fact, a word processor is probably the best place to create page titles since it also provides spell checking ability.
Phrasing: Title Reflects Page Content but Ease Up on Grammar Rules
As we already discussed the page title should give search engines and, of course, site visitors a good idea of the content of the page and be built with a strong leaning toward the most likely search keywords. (We will see in a later article that the keywords should also appear in the content of the webpage.) With a limited number of characters available to describe the page, grammar and sentence structure are much less important when it comes to the page title compared to its importance within the content of the page.
Writing page titles with such grammar-correct words as “the”, “and”, “is” etc., may take up valuable character space that could be filled with more valuable keywords. In addition using separator such as a dash ” – ” may also be a space waster since it really is taking up three character spaces with blank spaces required on either side, compared to a comma “, ” which takes up only two spaces. However, with all this said I still argue that titles should “read right” and not be just a collection of keywords.
Individuality: Different Name for Each Page
Many sites fail to recognize that search engines do not always direct customers through a website’s front door (i.e., main page). Instead visitors may enter the site through a page the search engine believes is the best match for someone’s keyword search. Consequently, nearly all pages of a website should be considered its own unique place on the web. This mean basic webpage design characteristics, including what we discussed regarding page title, should apply to every important page on the site.