Learn SEO: How To Optimise Your Title Tag

So, you want to learn how to optimise your website for the search engines? Well, in this series of posts, (which I’m unimaginatively calling Learn SEO) I will be creating a complete SEO 101, giving you the basic knowledge you need to improve your website’s rankings. The series will focus only on proper white hat techniques, which will ensure your traffic will be long term and sustained and you will never have to worry about Pandas, Penguins or any other animal themed penalties that google may introduce in the future!

I’m going to be starting with the basics and getting a little more advanced as the series progresses, so today I will be talking about an aspect of on site optimisation which continues to be one of the most important on page SEO factors; the title tag.

What Is A Title Tag?

The first point I would like to make is one of semantics; the title tag is not a meta tag (although it is often mistakenly called one), which is why I am giving it a post of its own. It is a stand alone element which is placed in the head of a web document to provide information on the subject of the page. You can see the full definition from W3 here.

If you view the source of this page for example, you will see the following in the code at the top:-

<title>Learn SEO: How To Optimise Your Title Tag | Top 5 SEO</title>

How Does The Title Tag Influence SEO?

Well, firstly the title tag is still (probably) the biggest indicator to google about what a webpage is about. So, in the crudest sense if someone searched for ‘how to optimise your title tag’ our page would probably appear somewhere in the search results for that phrase, although the position it would appear depends on a whole host of other factors (we’ll be delving deeply into that later).

That particular phrase is going to generate an awful lot of results, but lets say the title tag and search phrase was more specific, say green and orange jumpers with yellow polkadots; a webpage with that phrase in the title would probably rank at #1 without any other optimisation.

So, does this mean you should put lots of keyphrases that you want to be found for in your web pages title tag?

Well, no. It used to mean that (back in 1998 when dinosaurs roamed the internet), but nowadays that will probably result in an over optimisation penalty (courtesy of google Penguin).

The best way to optimise a title tag these days is, in my opinion (and that of quite a few other respected SEOs), actually not to optimise it. Keep it succinct – the name of the post or product followed by a separator and then your brand name. For the separator you can use several characters, such as: –

: Brand Name (colon)
| Brand Name (pipe)
– Brand Name (dash)
:: Brand Name (double colon)

Whichever you think looks best. Personally I am a fan of the Pipe symbol (|)

Trust and branding is a key factor in how google ranks sites these days, which is why you should always include your brand name in the title tag.

If you must, you could add a hierarchy to the title tag with, for example, the name of the parent category. For a product this might look like:-

<title>Name Of Product | Category | Brand Name</title>

But my advice is to keep it as short and sweet as possible.

One thing to watch out for is that many free blogging and content management platforms, such as wordpress, will by default switch the title tag round and put your brand first, followed by the name of the page or product. Make sure you change this as it should always be name followed by brand, with one exception – the home page.

Home Page Title Optimisation

Your home page title tag is the one tag I would say that you should spend time to optimise, but again not in a spammy way. There are 2 things you can do here:-

1) use a strapline or phrase which brands your site, i.e. the title of the home page of this site: –

<title>Top 5 SEO | The Internet Made Easy</title>

2) use one or two relevant key phrases which you believe the site should rank for. These should always follow the name of your brand, i.e

<title>Top 5 SEO | Search Engine Optimisation And Internet Marketing</title>

I went for the first option for this site, but it’s up to you – just don’t go crazy with keywords!

Your title tag should be no more than 70 characters as anything above this will be truncated in the search results.

Which brings me on to the other key point about the title tag; it is what people will see in the search results (the blue bit that links to your page in google). As mentioned above, keep it simple (name of product or article + brand) and it will look clean in the results. In terms of articles, creating magentic titles that people just can’t help clicking is the holy grail, but that is a topic for another day.

Using your brand in the title means that people will start to recognise results from your site when they are searching, which will build trust and brand awareness not just with google, but with your readers or customers.

A quick recap: –

1) The title tag is one of the key indicators of a pages topic
2) It is used as the link in the search results
3) For product or article pages use the following format

<title>Product/Article Name | Brand Name</title>

4) For the home page use the following format

<title>Brand Name | Strap line/selected key phrases</title>

5) Don’t use more than 70 characters or the title tag will be truncated in the search results
6) Don’t stuff in keywords, you’ll get penalised!

So, that’s how to optimise your title tag for the search engines . If you need any clarification, have questions or want to add your own advice, drop me a comment below.

In my next post in the learn SEO series I’ll be looking at how to optimise your meta tags. To make sure you don’t miss it you can subscribe for email updates and join me on twitter.

Note: When I say Brand Name in this article I mean the name of your site (i.e. Top 5 SEO)

Also In Our Learn SEO Series

Learn SEO Part 2: Meta Descriptions & How To Optimise Them

About the Author

I'm a web developer, programmer, blogger and SEO expert from Glasgow, Scotland, with over 15 years experience in the industry. When I'm not writing about marketing and SEO you'll find me strumming the guitar in my band or listening to Revolver on repeat. Follow me on twitter, connect with me on google+ and add us on facebook to keep up with all the latest trends in SEO and online marketing.

Leave a Reply 4 comments

Eric - July 2, 2013 Reply

Cool post David. I always like picking up another ninja SEO tip! Thanks!

-Eric Out-

    David McSweeney - July 2, 2013 Reply

    cheers again Eric 🙂

Suresh - July 4, 2013 Reply

Great post David. I found this article quite informative. Most of the people don’t bother about title optimization. But, it helps to boost SEO rankings. Thanks for sharing.

Mohammad Reaz - August 4, 2013 Reply

Great post sir, we must need to optimize title tags for better results in search engine. I’m looking for a new post about heading tags. which heading tags is better h1, h2, h3 or ….?

Thank you.

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