Learn SEO Basics Part 3: How to Optimize Website Page Titles

Optimized website page titles are one of the most important SEO elements of a web page. Yet many people either ignore or don’t effectively optimize it. Here’s an in-depth explanation of an optimized page title and how to effectively write one.

For clarity, the page title is not the content title on your page. The website page title is the information displayed in the browser title bar.

Screen shot showing location of the website page title

The Page Title is shown in the top bar of the browser window.

Whatever text you place between the title tags within the section of your web page will be your page title. Think of it as a condensed summation reflecting the content presented on your page.

<title>Your Page Title Goes Here</title>

Why Optimize Website Page Titles are important to SEO (and Google)

The number one reason page titles are so important is because it’s used by search engines to identify the main topic of your page. So whatever text you place between the title tags is the same* text search engines display in their search results.

Page titles are an important part of our search results: they’re the first line of each result and they’re the actual links our searchers click to reach websites. Our advice to webmasters has always been to write unique, descriptive page titles (and meta descriptions for the snippets) to describe to searchers what the page is about. — Google Webmasters Blog

For example. Here’s the Google search results listing for our last SEO article, “The Truth About SEO Guarantees

Google Search Results Listing for Truth SEO Guarantees

Google search results listing showing Truth SEO Guarantees page title”

According to Google Webmaster Tools, here are samples of pages may display in Google search.

* How Google Picks Page Titles in Search Results

It should make perfect sense that Google would use your page title as the heading in their search results. Only that’s not always the case. Regardless of what you may think is the best title for your page, Google may pick a different title tag. Huh?

We use many signals to decide which title to show to users, primarily the <title> tag if the webmaster specified one. But for some pages, a single title might not be the best one to show for all queries, and so we have algorithms that generate alternative titles to make it easier for our users to recognize relevant pages.

That said, write the best page title you can. If you see Google displaying a different title for your search listing, use it as a clue that you may need to either rewrite your page title or refocus your content around the title Google thinks it should be.

Optimize Website Page Title Length

Google and Yahoo! are considered to be the top two search engines. Both display different title lengths in their search result pages.

  • Google displays page titles at less than 512px. That’s 55-60 characters (including punctuation and spaces)
    UPDATE: Google increased width of main search results column to 600 pixels. You now have 70 characters before Google will add the ellipses (…)
  • Yahoo! displays 116 characters (including spaces)

Given the difference between Google and Yahoo!, I recommend your title length should be no more than 66 characters * (including spaces) plus the name of your business or location (City) — I’ll discuss this in more detail shortly. Here’s why.

  1. Google is the top search engine and titles longer than 66 70 characters are truncated (any characters over 66 70 aren’t displayed) and searchers won’t be able to read the entire title in the search results listings.
  2. If your primary title is longer than 66 70 characters, you’re either trying to stuff your title tag with keywords or your content isn’t focused enough. Either way, go back and slim it down. You should be able to easily include 2-3 keyword phrases without exceeding 66 characters.
  3. Page titles of 70 characters or less are optimal for social sharing. You can read more about that here

* In March 2014, Google redesigned their SERP pages (increased font size of result titles). As a result, titles lost around 6 characters — more if the title used ALL CAPS. Although there’s no magic number, 57-58 characters seems to be the standard, the May 2016 redesign increased page title length to 70 characters.

Write Unique Website Page Titles

Every page on your website needs to have a unique page title. Google frowns upon duplicate page titles — as they should. The page title tells users what your page is about. If two (or more) web pages have the same page title, it’s difficult for users to know which page they want to read.

If you want a better optimized web page, make sure every page has a unique page title.

If you’re not using Google webmaster tools, I highly recommend it. It will help identify many issues with your site — including duplicate title tags.

Bottom line: if you’re not writing unique and descriptive page titles, it’s hurting your search rankings.

Using City and Business Names

As part of your page title, I recommend including your City Name or Business Name.

City Name Keyword

Although websites can have a global reach, prospects that have the greatest chance of becoming a customer live within a 50 mile radius of your business.

Since people are more comfortable using local businesses, they tend to search locally. So for pages promoting products and services, including your city name in the title tag increases your chances for being found in local searches.

For example; if your business sold horse tack and supplies in Nashville, your page title might look like this.

[code]Horse Tack, Horse & Equine Supplies, Nashville[/code]

To help signify the importance of local, geo targeting, look at these local search statistics;

  • Local search now accounts for 13% of total core search. Up 16% from last year.
  • 68% of Local Customers Search Online.
  • 41% of those conducting a local search were searching for something in their home area.
  • Among those searching in their home area, 59% were searching for a restaurant or something entertainment-related, such as a theater, theme park or an attraction for sightseeing.
  • 41% were looking for information on local services including car rentals, dry cleaners and lawyers.
  • 52% said they searched specifically for a business phone number or address.
  • 77.1 million Americans accessing local content on mobile devices — up 34% from last year.

Here’s a real-life example.

The following screenshot shows search results for company slogan nashville with 5.66 million results. Not only did my website get a coveted, first position listing, it also occupied the number two and three positions. As an added bonus, there isn’t one competitive company listed on the first page.

Google search results page for company slogans nashville

Pages including city name dominating local search results

If you want to capture local prospects, include the name of your city/location in the title tag of pages promoting products or services.

And although adding the City keyword may exceed 66 characters and, most likely, won’t be displayed in Google, it can still help drive traffic to your site.

In the time since I incorporated this technique into my SEO marketing, leads from my local market have more than tripled!

Branding Page Titles With Your Business Name

Branding is an important part in growing a business. As such, adding your business name to your blog article page titles can help increase brand awareness.

Notice I said, “blog articles”.

As I mentioned earlier, when people search locally they’re looking to buy products and services. So adding your city name to your page title can help you be found through local search.

But when people are just looking for information, they don’t really care if it was written in Dallas or in Seattle. They simply want quality information from a trusted source. And that’s the main purpose of any site publishing articles — to share information.

And as you write more articles that are indexed by search engines, linked to by other websites, and shared through social networks, your site will build more brand awareness and trust.

As an example, the page title for every article posted by the New York Times includes their website address; NYTimes.com.

Business Name v. Website Address

I see many sites using their formal business name in their page titles instead of their websites URL. The biggest problem I have with this approach is that although it identifies the business, it does nothing else.

On the other hand, using a website URL has many advantages.

  1. A URL is unique and can’t be confused with another similarly named business.
  2. Using a URL acts as a call to action — giving the reader a specific place to go. Since the reader is already online, it’s easier to get them to go to your website.
  3. In many cases, a URL in the page titles are automatically converted into a link when shared on social media sites like Twitter. That gives you more inbound links to your website.

Whether you decide to use your brand name or website URL, make sure you don’t add it as the first part of your page title. That’s a big SEO mistake because more emphasis is placed on keywords appearing at the beginning of a page title.

The best practice is to place your brand name/URL at the end of your page title. It will give you the most benefit without taking away from your SEO efforts.

Important Tip

Unless everyone already knows who you are — and I mean everyone — don’t use your business name as the only text in your page titles. Doing so tells search engines that the main subject of every page is your company name. This will drastically hinder your rankings and ability for people to find your pages using any other search term. Remember, there are basically two types of people on the Internet; those who know you and those who don’t. The people who know you will know how to find your website, it’s the second group you’re trying to reach.

What We’ve Learned

  • Page title is the text displayed in the browser title bar.
  • The main content of your page title should 66 70 characters or less.
  • Every page title on your website should be unique.
  • Take advantage of local search by adding your location (City name) to page title promoting products and services.
  • You can increase brand awareness and links to your website by adding your website URL to the end of your page title on article pages.
  • Don’t use your business name as the primary title tag on every page.

If you missed the previous article, read about Basic SEO Guarantees.

In the next article in this Learn SEO series, I’ll show you how to optimize your webpage descriptions.

Please post your thoughts and comments below. Thanks!