Why HTML Page Titles Are More Important than You Think

How to Create One That Works

How many characters should be in a title tag? Where should you place keywords? And other questions about title tags.
Harvey Ramer
Harvey Ramer
5 min read (1171 words) Subscribe Now!

The most important part of your web page is almost invisible. Diminutive yet powerful, your HTML title tag is visible only on your browser tab. Though the browser tab may seem small, the title it holds determines who will see your web page in the search engine results pages and whether they will visit your website. But since the HTML title tag is out of sight, many business owners squander its power; they miss a golden opportunity to grow their marketing influence.

What Does a Title Tag Do?

For Visitors

Your title tag should describe the content your users can expect if they visit your website. Ideally, it makes an implicit promise and creates an open story loop they can resolve by clicking through to your website.

Your website visitors don’t care that you optimized your website for search engine results, and they shouldn’t. The primary goal of your title tag must be to inform people and move them to action. Write for the people who will visit your website! But secondarily, it should be appealing to search engine crawlers so that they move your page above competitors in the search results.

For Search Engines

For the benefit of search engine crawlers, research the websites of your competitors and those in related niches. What keywords do they use to describe themselves? Always put the most relevant keywords toward the beginning of the page title. Google tells web developers to use descriptive and concise titles, avoid keyword stuffing, and avoid repeated boilerplate content in title tags.[1] What works best for humans will work best for Google.

Title tags do more than influence search results ranking and clickthrough rates,[2] they also inform search engines of the function of your page and help them decide what pages to feature when someone searches for your brand name. The additional links Google shows in your search results are called title links. These links help searchers locate the most relevant page of your website with less effort.[1:1] To make the most of title links, follow the conventions of your industry and keep those page titles uncluttered with fluff and branding.

Your title tags can serve your business when they are short, to the point, relevant, and engaging to users. They entice visitors from search engine results and improve the rank of your page. Take some time to optimize them for better results.

What a Title Tag Is Not

The visible heading of your web page sometimes contains the text of your title tag, but it is not your title tag. The title tag is part of the invisible metadata of an HTML document, along with meta tags like keywords[3] and description. Together with the meta description tag, it is a signal Google uses to decide the topic and quality of your web page.

How to Create a Winning Title Tag

For Your Home Page

There are some exceptions to the general title tag rules for home pages. If your brand message is short and compelling, Google recommends using it as part of your home page title tag. But don’t take that recommendation as a license to include touchy-feely fluff in your other title tags.

Your home page is also the only place you should include a business name at the start of the title tag. Do this with caution, however, because it uses valuable real estate. I recommend using your business name only if you have a brand name people are searching for directly. Otherwise, focus on the product or service you are selling. Use the words your customers will bring to mind when they are looking to buy.

Rules for All Title Tags

Keep them short: Though Google does not specify any length for a title tag, it only displays about 58 English characters on average in its search results pages. Capitalized letters and some characters take more space than others, so you can use sentence case rather than headline capitalization to get Google to display a few more characters if needed.

Put important keywords first: Search engines expect the first few words of your title tag to contain your most relevant keywords. The position of keywords is a ranking factor. The more closely the searcher’s input matches the first few words of your title, the more likely your website will rise above others.

A note about search results rankings: I am speaking here as if relevance was the only ranking factor, but it is one among many. Chief among ranking factors is the number of incoming links your content has received from other websites. Title relevance and keywords are likely more of a tiebreaker than a game changer.

Feel free to use sentences: If the most descriptive title for your page is a sentence, feel free to use one. Google does not explicitly forbid long titles, though it only shows the first few words. And Google dynamically generates page titles for you when it feels it can do a better job. These dynamic titles may match the context of the searcher’s query, so at least in some cases, long sentence title tags can help your results. But if you want to control what Google shows, keep them short, relevant, and keyword-rich.

Say it once: You don’t like it when people repeat themselves. For one thing, it’s redundant (and adds no new information)[4]. For another, it smacks of desperation. Write titles people will want to click, and don’t try to game the system by repeating keywords and variations. Search engine algorithms are as sophisticated as human readers. Say it clearly; say it once.

Keep them unique: Every page on your website should have a title that names the page accurately. If your page titles are duplicates, it sends a signal that the title does not hold much value. Search engines want accurate titles and no duplication.

Write well: Your page title is a headline, and while style matters less than being clear and concise, it can add appeal. Every title is a tiny ad that invites someone into your story. Consider using tools like the Headline Studio, Advanced Marketing Institute, and Hemingway App to evaluate the impact of your words.

Sometimes the small things matter most. In the case of the HTML title tag, this is true. Your titles can determine how your page ranks compared to your competitors, and they will influence the number of searchers who decide to investigate your offer.

Evaluate your title strategy. Pick a pattern for page titles you believe will work for your business, and deploy it consistently.

  1. Control your title links in search results ↩︎ ↩︎

  2. Clickthrough rate (CTR) is the number of clicks that your ad receives divided by the number of times your ad is shown: clicks ÷ impressions = CTR. Clickthrough rate (CTR): Definition. ↩︎

  3. Google does not use the keywords meta tag in web ranking ↩︎

  4. This is a joke and an example of redundancy. ↩︎

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