Title tags are small but mighty. While they’re usually only 50 to 60 characters long, they play a crucial role in search engine optimization.
Do you approach writing the title tags on your website as one more pesky digital marketing task to check off your list before publishing SEO content? Then you’re missing out on a significant opportunity to attract more organic traffic by boosting your website’s SEO.
What Are Title Tags?
A title tag is an HTML tag that lets you assign a descriptive name to a web page. Also known as a meta title or page title, title tags are used to identify a page in external locations like search engine results pages (SERPs), social media posts, and browser bars.
Every page on your website should have a distinct title tag.
Why Are Title Tags Important?
A well-crafted title tag is important for:
- Ranking in search engines.
Google and other search engines use title tags to understand the content of a page. Title tags work with relevant keywords to help search engines match the page to user queries, and by extension, can improve search rankings.
- Driving clicks.
An effective title tag entices readers to click through to a page from an organic search or a social media link. It’s an opportunity to capture attention and make the case that your content is useful, interesting, and exactly what the user is looking for.
- Helping users keep track of the page.
The title of a page also appears in browser tabs and bookmarks so users can find your page and return to it easily.
Title Tags vs. H1 Tags
What is a title tag, and how is it different from an h1 tag?
- Title tags identify web pages. They display in off-site locations, like SERPs and browser bars.
- H1 tags identify the content on a web page. They display on the page as the title of the content that follows.
Both are HTML elements. An h1 tag is one of six heading tags used to organize and present information on a web page.
Learn more about how to optimize h1 tags for search.
Some marketers wonder if they can or should use the same text for a title tag and h1 tag. While there’s nothing inherently wrong about doing that, I recommend making them different to support the unique purpose of each.
(Those functional waters might be getting muddy, but I’ll discuss why Google might rewrite your original title below.)
Let’s look at an example to illustrate how these two elements function differently.
In this article about small business marketing published by The Balance, the h1 on the page is: “Marketing Basics for a Small Business.”
By comparison, the title tag that appears in SERPs for this page is slightly different: “Learn Marketing Basics for a Small Business.” The title is written as an imperative, using “learn” as a call-to-action to visit the page.
Where Do Title Tags Appear?
SEO titles are displayed externally, in browser bars or bookmarks, and as the link in search engine results and social media posts.
Search Engine Result Pages (SERP)
One of the most important reasons to optimize a title tag is to influence how your search snippet appears on a search engine result page. In Google, title tags display as the clickable headline between the page’s URL and the meta description.
This might be changing.
There’s no guarantee that the title tag you write will be displayed in SERPs.
People often have several tabs open in a browser window at one time. The address bar tells you the URL of the page you’re currently viewing, but other open pages appear in tabs above the address bar. The name on the browser tab is taken from the SEO title tag and helps users find your page again.
Page titles are also the default name of a page when it’s bookmarked. A descriptive title tag that includes your brand name makes it easier for users to skim through their bookmarks and locate your page to return to later.
Social Media Posts
When you post a web link on a social media platform such as Facebook and Twitter, the platform’s publishing system usually turns the URL into a clickable image block with a title and description. The title is usually taken from the page’s <title> tag.
Our Twitter post linking to an article about h1 tag SEO, for example, displays with its page title, “H1 Tag SEO – How to Optimize Your Headers for Search.”
Sometimes, external websites will link to your page using the title tag as anchor text — one more reason you want your page title to describe the contents of the page clearly.
How to Write Titles for SEO in 5 Steps
There’s some flexibility in how you write a title tag, but most follow this format:
- Article Title/Product Name | Brand Name
Keep in mind that a great title tag summarizes the page content for both search engines and users.
SEO Tips for Writing Title Tags
1. Incorporate Your Target Keywords
Google uses the title tag to determine the content of the page and whether it matches a user’s query. Include your primary keyword or a long-tail keyword variation as early as possible in the title. If your business relies on local customers, your city or state should be included in the title.
Be careful not to stuff keywords into your page title for the sake of SEO. It sounds unnatural to both Google and humans, who can both have a negative reaction to spammy titles. In other words, don’t write a title like this one: “Best cheap affordable iPhone cell phone covers.”
2. Be Concise & Descriptive
Readers should be able to skim a title tag in SERPs and immediately know if it’s worth reading your meta description to decide if they’ll click through to your page.
When I entered in the search term “weight training for women,” Google returns the following titles:
- Strength Training for Beginners | A Complete Guide
- 4-Week Weight Training Plan for Women – Shape Magazine
- 7 Best Strength Training Exercises for Women (Video)
These well-crafted tags tell you exactly what you can expect on the other side of the link. Readers can pick a link depending on whether they want a few exercises, a month-long fitness plan, or general knowledge about strength training.
3. Place Brand Names at the End of the Tag
While your title tag should lead with a keyword, it should end with a brand name. Use a separator such as a hyphen or vertical slash (|) to make the title tag easier to read. Not all businesses put their name in a title tag, but it helps users identify the domain they’re going to click through to, which is especially helpful in shared social posts or bookmarks. Well-known businesses can leverage their brand by using it in a title, and new businesses can build brand awareness the same way.
4. Check the Length of the Title
Google displays a maximum of 600 pixels for each title in SERPs, so your title should ideally fall between 50 and 60 characters. Keep in mind that wider characters take up more pixels. Titles longer than 600 pixels will be truncated with an ellipsis. Find helpful tools below for my recommendations for free and paid SEO title checkers.
5. Optimize Your Title for Click-Throughs
Your title tag needs to use the space available in SERPs to convince readers your content is valuable. You’ve got just a handful of words to work with, so make the title as compelling as you can.
- Let people know whether you’re providing a deep dive or a quick overview of a topic. Use phrases such as “A Complete Guide to…” or “4 Easy Steps to…“
- Show that your SEO content answers a question with words like “why,” “how,” and “when.” For example, “Where to Find the Best Bagels in San Francisco.”
- Highlight selling features such as “best selection,” “free shipping,” or “free trial.”
- Use a call-to-action for readers looking to accomplish a task. For example, “Shop Handcrafted Wooden Toys” or “Find a Dentist in Palm Springs.”
- Add a date to a title tag to show the content on a page is recently updated, and users will get fresh information, like “Best Meditation Apps for 2022.”
- Call out content such as infographics or videos, using brackets for readability. For example: “How to Write a Cover Letter (with Downloadable Template).”
Pro tip: Long-tail keywords can help Google match your content to the right search intent.
For example, for a blog post with a target keyword of “title tag,” you might use “How to Write Title Tags” in your title tag field, so your content lands in Google search results for users looking for the actionable “how-to” instructions your page’s content provides.
Remember, Google is sophisticated enough to understand what a user is looking for. In a search for “best U.S. national parks,” the page titles returned include words other than “best.”
- America’s 20 Most Popular National Parks, Ranked – Thrillist
- The Top 25 National Parks in America – Travel + Leisure
- 25 Top-Rated National Parks in the USA | PlanetWare
Common Title Mistakes in for On-Page SEO
It’s easy to miss something when creating title tags. So, along with the SEO tips listed above, here are common pitfalls to be wary of:
- The title tag isn’t descriptive.
“Home Page” might seem like a sensible title, but it doesn’t tell readers what your business is about. A lawn care company might choose to name their a home “Professional Landscaping Services in Seattle.”
- The title tag isn’t relevant.
Search engines will reward a good title tag that accurately reflects the content. “Buying a New Home” doesn’t precisely represent a page that’s about finding a mortgage. In this example, there’s a missed opportunity to rank for a more relevant keyword with a title like “How to Find a Mortgage for Your New Home.”
- The same title tag is used on multiple pages.
Every page on a website needs a different title to target specific keywords and indicate to search engines that the content on each is unique. Duplicate titles are confusing for everyone, while unique titles make it easier to differentiate the pages. An ecommerce store that’s selling home decor, for example, should avoid using the same words to name five product pages, such as “floral wall art.” A more specific title such as “Framed Yellow Poppies Canvas Wall Art” is more effective.
- The title tag is outdated.
Regularly vet your title tags to make sure they’re current. If you added “2021” to a title tag last year to show the content is up-to-date, that title is going to look stale in 2022.
One of my favorite SEO tips for titles: If you make appreciable updates to time-sensitive content every year, you’ll keep a long-standing URL perennially fresh. Since the average age of top-ranking pages is three-years-old, keeping an evergreen URL with frequently updated content is a win/win.
Why Is Google Rewriting My Original Title?
Although you’ve crafted what you think is a good title tag for SEO, you might see that your search snippet displays something different.
Google explains how it generates SERP titles by saying,
Google uses a number of different sources to automatically determine the title link, but you can indicate your preferences by following our guidelines for writing descriptive <title> elements.”Google Search Central
It goes on to say that while it uses the page title element as a suggestion, it also considers:
- H1 and other heading tags
- Prominent content that’s highlighted through style treatments
- Anchor text on the page
- Anchor text from backlinks
It’s generally thought that Google rewrites title tags that fall short of adhering to best practices, and there’s a formula you can follow to prevent search engines from rewriting your title tag.
That’s not entirely true.
The fact is that Google reserves the right to choose another element to use for the title of a web page in SERPs based on its evaluation of what creates the best user experience. Period. Full stop.
We don’t always know what triggers the change.
From my observations, Google seems to be experimenting with pulling titles from other areas of a site. So, if you see that your page titles aren’t being pulled into your search snippets, I recommend you watch what’s happening in your industry. Glean what you can from any discernible patterns you see and experiment to land on your own set of best practices.
On the other hand, you might want to take a measured approach to how much time and energy you throw behind getting the exact title you want to display in search results. Because, in my opinion…
when Google generates a new title tag to improve the user experience, you’re likely to benefit from the assist.
As a safeguard, use your primary keyword in both your title tag and h1 so that the page appears in the right searches, including long-tail keywords to target intent. Then let Google tweak the tag as necessary to focus the title and attract users.
Helpful Tools to Check Your Titles
- Mangool’s Google Search Simulator – my personal preference
- Search Wilderness
- Capitalize My Title
Comprehensive SEO tools such as SEMrush and WordPress plugins like Yoast have built-in SEO title checkers as part of their optimization features.
If you’re ready to dive into optimizing title tags, you’ll want to begin with a comprehensive site audit.
My favorite tool is Screaming Frog’s SEO Spider to create an overview of how any meta tag is being used on your site. This tool makes it easy to find missing titles, duplicate title tags, and too-long tags, so you can incorporate these SEO tips and optimize them for search.
This tutorial steps through how to use Screaming Frog to audit your H1 tags. You can follow the same steps to audit other on-page SEO elements, like title tags.
Frequently Asked Questions About Title Tags
How Do I Write Title Tag HTML?
Most content management systems have form fields for entering title tags and meta descriptions. The system then generates the HTML title tag.
If you want to place the title tag directly into an HTML file, use <title> and </title> tags. For example:
<title>Optimized Title Goes Here | Your Company</title>
Make sure you place the title tag inside the HTML document header.
<head> <title>Optimized Title Goes Here | Your Company</title> </head>
How Long Should a Title Tag Be?
SEO specialists recommend you keep titles between 50 to 60 characters so the entire title tag displays in search results. The title tag length isn’t a hard or fast rule, though — in fact, it isn’t even Google’s rule. It’s an industry-standard practice.
An optimized title tag that fits in a search snippet without being truncated looks neater and more professional. Plus, it ensures users don’t miss important information at the end of a tag. However, Google’s search bots will still read the longer tags for SEO purposes even if the entire title tag isn’t displayed in SERPs. The tag can also be shorter than 50 characters if you’re confident it’s descriptive enough to be meaningful to search engines and users.
Can My H1 Tag and Title Tag Be the Same?
While there’s no ranking penalty to having your h1 tag and title tag match each other exactly, I don’t recommend matching the text in these two tags.
Why? Because while your h1 and title tags both provide important relevancy signals for SEO, the functions they serve for searchers and site visitors are very different. When you give them the same treatment, you’re missing an opportunity to optimize each fully for its intended purpose.
SEO Title Tags — Key Takeaways
You’ve now got the knowledge to compose effective meta tags for your titles. Here’s a quick recap of what you need to remember about writing titles to improve online visibility and click-throughs to your site.
- A title tag, also known as a page title, is part of the HTML code of a website.
- The title tells users and search engines what the webpage is about.
- Unlike h1 headers, which appear directly on a page, title tags appear in search results pages, browser tabs, bookmarks, and social media sharing.
- Use your main keyword and/or a long-tail version of it early in the title.
- If using a brand name, place it at the end of the title using a separator such as a hyphen or vertical slash.
- Title tags should be descriptive and compelling to encourage click-throughs.
- For optimal ranking, ensure the title accurately reflects the contents of the page.
- Aim for 50-60 characters, so the title doesn’t get cut off in a search engine results page.
- Use a tool to preview your title tags before publishing them.
- Audit your site to find missing titles, check title tag length, and add terms based on your keyword research.
Leverage the SEO Power of Page Titles
The title of your page may seem like a small part of SEO, but they have a big impact, especially when you consider there’s one on every page of your site. Victorious can perform an audit of your title tags and optimize them to boost your ranking and click-throughs to help you meet your digital marketing goals. Schedule a free consultation with one of our SEO specialists and learn more.