27. July, 2021

What are Title Tags, and do they help with SEO? [+13 writing tips]

Author avatar
Martin Petrov
Marketing @ Morningscore.io

Page title, title tag, meta title – call it what you will. While it is a seemingly small detail, it can significantly influence your organic rankings in Google. Contrary to meta descriptions, page titles are one of the important factors that Google uses to rank you among the Search Results. If you’re looking to learn what page titles are, you’ve come to the right place. Here, we’ll also look at how the title tag can help you get higher up in Google and how you create the most incentivizing title tag possible.

A page title is an HTML element marked with the <title> tag and placed in the <head> section of the code. In SEO, title tags are the clickable headings shown in Google’s Search Results and browser tabs. Title tags are important for usability and SEO and must be short, precise, and descriptive.

what are title tags and how do they help seo

Your <title> tags are not the same HTML elements as your <h1> tags. While <h1> tags are shown on the page as the heading of your content, title tags are part of the meta tags hidden on the actual page. As such, your title tag and your h1 tag do not have to be the same.

However, that doesn’t mean you need to edit your website’s code because most modern CMS platforms have plenty of plugins for that. Not comfortable working with your website’s code? You can easily add or edit your title tags with a plugin like Yoast SEO in WordPress.

How do title tags affect SEO?

The page title is an integral part of your Onpage SEO. In the Search Results, it is shown above your meta description and under your URL. If you want to stand a chance against your SEO competitors, it is critical to optimize your page titles for both search engines and end-users.

Title tags are important for SEO because search engines use them to understand the contents of the page. Title tags also influence the user’s decision to click on your page in the Search Results. Great page titles promote the contents of the page and incentivize users to click on them.

On the one hand, you can look at title tags as your little promotional space in Google’s Search Results. Here, your goal is to create an incentivizing and relevant “offer” for the end-user that essentially gives them a good reason to click on your page.

Consequently, being one of the highest HTML elements by hierarchy, search engines use page titles as a strong signal to derive meaning about the page’s contents.

A page’s title can make or break the SEO performance of a page. Underoptimized page titles that search engines do not understand or those that don’t resonate with the user get demoted in the Search Results. In contrast, well-optimized page titles help search engines correctly classify and rank the content while simultaneously providing value to the end-user.

What makes a title tag good? Three examples of great page titles

Anyone can write a page title. However, crafting great SEO headlines is an in-depth skill that requires understanding your target audience, having experience with copywriting, and knowing the best practices from SEO. Additionally, you rarely write the perfect page title from the first try, and you typically need several iterations until you create just the right one.

The most important factor for a page title is matching the Search Intent of the end-user. Good page title tags contain a maximum of 70 characters, unique and relevant content, close variants of the target keyword, and a Call-To-Action. Thus, good title tags incentivize the user to click on them.

Now, I’m a strong advocate of learning from examples – so let’s briefly look at three great examples of title tags. We’re also going to break them down, looking at what exactly makes them effective from the factors we mentioned above.

Title tag example #1 – Informational searches

When creating a title tag for an informational search, you can provide the user with a good reason to click by addressing a “hidden meaning” or a problem the searcher has in mind. For example, take a look at the top result for the query “which plants are carnivorous.”

title tag example 1 informational query which plants are carnivorous

In that particular example above, we can see the author has achieved just that. Because the website owner understands their target audience, they know people searching for this query are interested in owning a carnivorous plant at home. As such, their unique take on the article is “how to care for them.” Ultimately, this bet (and effort in understanding your users) has paid off, as they rank well for that keyword.

Title tag example #2 – Inspirational searches

For search queries seeking inspiration, a great way to stand out and get more clicks is to show the number of examples in your article. Alternatively, you can showcase the names of famous designers that are the source of inspiration, which you’re featuring in the post. Here, let’s look at an example of the keyword “interior design examples.”

title tag example 2 inspiration interior design examples

As you can see in the example above, this is precisely what’s happening in the current Search Results. Seven of the 8 title tags shown in the image above contain a number.

Title tag example #3 – Transactional searches

Lastly, for commercial keywords, featuring discounts, supply stock, return, warranty, etc., in your page titles can all prove to be effective. This is because you offer the user a clear and explicit Unique Selling Point, which you know resonates with them. Even if you opt-out of any discounts or special offers in the page titles, you can (and should) still feature some of your softer USPs. For this example, let’s look at the keyword “buy running shoes.”

title tag example 3 transactional buy running shoes

As seen in the image above, this website is using exactly those tactics, where their title tag features hard USPs like “up to 80% discount”. At the same time, their meta description focuses on softer USPs that make the user feel good, like “thousands of deals,” “sure to find something you’ll love,” and “at a bargain price.”

How to write the perfect page title tag?

A title tag’s main purpose is to get the user’s attention and ensure that your pages are better presented than your competitors’ pages. Doing this ensures that users find more value from your page than other pages, and as such, you will ultimately get the users’ clicks. Because your title tag’s content depends on your actual target keyword and its Search Intent, you need to create unique titles for each page.

Use these 13 tips to write more effective title tags:

  • Use your primary keyword in your title tag 
  • Use your brand name where possible
  • Write titles for people and not search engines
  • Avoid title tags shorter than 20 characters
  • Don’t write titles longer than 70 symbols
  • Use a CTA that provides a reason to click
  • Stand out from competitors with emojis
  • Use common abbreviations smartly to save space
  • Match the Search Intent to get the user’s click
  • Write titles that accurately represent your page
  • Only write unique page titles for every page
  • Never automatically generate page titles
  • Create a unique OpenGraph title for Social Media

Let’s break down each of these tips and examine how you can use them when creating title tags.

1. Use your primary keyword in your title tag

One of the most important things to do when writing alt tags is to incorporate your main keywords in them. That’s because your title tags are yet another factor that search engines use to understand the contents of your page. Similarly, keywords are also crucial to the users, as they communicate your page is relevant to their search query. As a result, featuring a keyword that matches what the user searched for will directly increase your click-through rate as the title is perceived as more relevant.

You want to add your main keywords as close to the beginning as possible in your title tags. Doing this will ensure that the user immediately recognizes the relevance of your page because our eyes scan websites in an F-shaped pattern. Similarly, doing so prevents any potential issues later if Google decides to change the length of title tags shown in the SERPs.

title tag writing tip use your primary keyword in your title tag

Take a look at this SERP, where the primary keyword is front-loaded in all of the 6 title tags on the first page.

2. Use your brand in your title tag where possible

If the length of your page title allows it, it’s always a good idea to feature your brand in the Search Results. That’s because using your brand in titles creates a positive feedback loop. Firstly, Google’s Search Results are a great tool for branding and can increase your brand awareness. Secondly, using an existing strong brand can increase your click-through rates, further improving your rankings.

For example, take Colgate’s blog.

title tag writing tip use your brand where possible colgate example

Because they have an existing strong brand, they have a clear incentive to add that to their page titles. As such, it generates awareness and authority with people who have never seen their brand – and brand evangelism among those who have previously used their products.

3. Write titles for people and not search engines

“Write for users, optimize for machines.” As with all other SEO disciplines, it is essential to create pages and write content for the user and not for the search engine itself. Write short and concise sentences that communicate a specific meaning without overusing your keyword.

Even if you manage to “trick” the search engine and get your page ranked high, this will only be temporary, as users will not resonate with or click on your results. Google measures those user signals, and in turn, it will soon after demote your page because users do not perceive it as relevant.

In contrast, you should use best practices from copywriting to write incentivizing title tags that get users excited and motivated about your page.

4. Avoid title tags shorter than 20 characters

Title tags shorter than 20 characters rarely communicate the point across and satisfy the user. In only 20 characters, it’s almost impossible to write something coherent that provides value to the user. As such, your short title tags can easily get overlooked by users who find your competitors’ titles more relevant because they showcase what to expect by clicking.

5. Don’t write titles longer than 70 symbols

Similarly, avoid writing title tags longer than 70 characters because Google cuts them off with an ellipsis. That’s especially important to remember if you have a long target keyword – as your value proposition can easily get lost. This can result in the user not finding much value in your result – because they literally cannot see the text that communicates it.

6. Use a CTA that provides a reason to click

It is vital to make your title tags actionable to get the user’s click. You can do that by explicitly adding a Call-To-Action – or by more subtly showcasing something of value. For example, if you offer “emergency road service,” you can subtly communicate your call-to-action with a copy like “Pickup in less than 30 min.” Similarly, an explicit call-to-action is something like “buy now” or “compare here.”

7. Stand out from competitors with emojis

Emojis are a great tool that you can freely use when creating page titles. That’s because they create contrast in the search results and help your page stand out from competing pages. However, keep them relevant and don’t just randomly use any emoji – as they can have double meanings.

Similarly, overusing emojis can make your brand look unprofessional and put some users off. Fortunately (in a way), Google doesn’t show all emojis but only a tiny subset of them. For example, dentists can use the “tooth” emoji. At the same time, hairdressers can take advantage of the “scissors” emoji – as they are most relevant in both cases, respectively.

8. Use common abbreviations smartly to save space

Because there’s only so much space you have available, it’s a good idea to use some abbreviations, shortenings, and numbers where it makes sense and possible. For example, you can shorten “without” or “versus” to “w/o” and “vs.” respectively if they are part of your value proposition.

However, keep in mind that it’s probably best not to shorten words that are part of your actual target keyword. Although Google’s BERT algorithm update understands search queries better, it can still be somewhat limited, especially when handling queries containing adverbs like “without.”

9. Match the Search Intent to get the user’s click

Users search because they have a need that has to be solved. Whether it’s a problem they need the solution to, a product they are looking for, or directions, they have a concrete outcome in mind of what they need to see.

Because Google recognizes that, it tries to answer that search query as close as possible to the outcome the user envisions in their mind. As such, for you to rank high on Google and maintain your rankings, you must understand the concept of Search Intent – and apply it in your title tags.

Your title tags are the strongest deciding factor when users search, as it’s the most prominent element from your page on the Search Result pages. Understanding your target audience and the nature of the search helps you bridge that gap and create unique page titles that satisfy the user’s needs.

10. Write titles that accurately represent your page

Getting the click is only one part of the equation – and you also have to keep the users on your page. If you oversell the contents of your page, you run the risk that users will quickly exit and never return. From there, things go downhill even further. You lose a potential customer, and the user’s digital behavior signals tell Google other pages are more relevant – as users stay around there for longer. It can also create a negative effect over the long term, as Google can decide to demote your content in the Search Results.

11. Always write unique title tags for every page

A part of thin content, duplicate content is a no-go in your page titles as it can confuse users and search engines. Because of that, you need to create unique page titles that match the unique content on the page, together with the Search Intent for that particular page.

12. Never automatically generate page titles

Most popular Content Management Systems have plugins that help you automatically generate page titles based on conditions like the name of the product and your brand name. While this can look incentivizing at first as it saves you time and effort, it’s usually a bad idea. Auto-generated tilted tags look and sound generic and uninspiring and can cost you clicks and rankings in the long term.

Because of that, you want to create a unique title tag for every important landing page, category, or even product page. This way, you can stand out from the competition and get the user’s click.

13. Create a unique OpenGraph title for Social Media

As we touched upon, often, when we create page titles, we aim to satisfy the user’s Search Intent as best as possible.

However, one overlooked factor is how your pages appear when shared on Social Media. By default, if the OpenGraph meta content isn’t specified, SoMe platforms take the general meta information present on the page. However, one thing to note is that people who see your shared link on SoMe aren’t in the same state of mind as those searching on Google.

Because of that, titles that are optimized for search aren’t necessarily well-optimized for Social Media. The solution? Make your titles exciting and engaging for SoMe by creating custom OpenGraph meta content. This way, you can create a unique title for social channels aiming to get even more traffic. In a platform like WordPress, you can easily do that with the plugin “Yoast SEO.”

Why is my title tag not showing up in Google?

According to a study by Portent, Google rewrites meta descriptions as much as 70% of the time. Following the logic and statistics, it is no surprise that some of your title tags also aren’t shown just as you wrote them. But what are the specific underlying reasons for your meta descriptions not showing?

Title tags are hints that Google decides to show or ignore. If your title tag doesn’t live up to Google’s standards, it won’t be shown in the SERPs. Similarly, Google excludes title tags containing low-quality, misleading, or irrelevant content that it believes doesn’t belong in the Search Results.

As the search engine develops, nothing that we do as website owners is explicit with Google any longer. That is, the simpler algorithms in the past used most of your content as “a directive” and took it literally. Nowadays, any of the content that you feature on your page is merely a hint to Google. It is completely up to the algorithm to decide whether it should take your suggestions into account.

However, in most scenarios where Google decides to rewrite your title tag, it uses content already present on the page. Because of that, we always recommend that you feature headings containing variations of your main keyword throughout your page. Those could be long-tail keywords, synonyms, and LSI keywords. Doing this ensures that Google can show the most relevant and concise content you have already written instead of taking otherwise more random text from the page.

Your title tag is not relevant to the search query

The first and most common occurrence is when your title tags aren’t showing because they aren’t relevant to the search query. Google decides to modify or rewrite your title tag entirely to match the user’s search better in those scenarios.

Your title tag is too long or too short

Secondly, Google can decide not to show your title tags if the content in them is too long or too short. As we mentioned above, never write title tags below 20 characters. Doing this is mostly a waste of time since Google is very likely to append them. Similarly, we advise that you front-load your keywords in your title tags. Long title tags that feature the primary keyword towards the end are more likely to get rewritten because Google tries to match the user’s search as closely as possible.

Your title tag doesn’t accurately describe your page

The third common reason for modified title tags is that they are inaccurate or keyword-stuffed and would provide a bad User Experience to the user. Once again, as per our advice above, your page titles need to represent the page’s contents accurately. Doing this ensures that Google can semantically tie together your page title to your content. Thus, the odds of displaying your custom page title go up.

Google no longer simply maps the keywords on your page. The latest Natural Language Processing algorithms continuously strive to understand human language. As such, the search engine can draw a contextual map of your page and judge your title against that. As the algorithms are getting smarter, any page titles that do not accurately represent the page will eventually be modified.

The remaining two reasons for not seeing your custom title tags are most often caused by underlying technical issues with your website’s setup.

You have multiple title tags on your page

Most modern websites use a Content Management System such as WordPress that provides freedom with its many features and plugins. This is great – but as a trade-off, you often come across many technical issues, especially related to the compatibility of individual plugins. One of those technical issues is having multiple occasions of your page titles and meta descriptions in your title tags. In scenarios where this happens, Google can easily get confused about which content you want to be displayed.

The real issue at hand is that this technical problem can arise without your knowledge and potentially affect many pages at once. Fortunately, not everything is lost if this occurs, as Google will discover the fixes most often no later than a week after you’ve implemented them.

Because of that, we recommend that you regularly scan your website’s health and technical SEO performance to avoid such issues or catch them as early as possible. If you’re not an SEO professional, as a rule of thumb, you can schedule your site checker to run on the same day as your website backup to help you keep things organized.

Your title tag is missing from the page’s code

Lastly, Google also generates a title in cases where you haven’t specified one on the page. Most modern websites shouldn’t worry about this too much. Still, it is a good idea to occasionally review your pages and plugins, especially after updating your CMS version or plugins, as things can break.

How long should title tags be?

The length of your title tags matters because long page titles get shortened by Google and replaced with an ellipsis. In turn, this can result in your page ranking badly because it is not encouraging enough for users to click on it.

Your page title should be no longer than 580 pixels (roughly 60-70 characters) as Google shortens longer title tags. Title tags shortened by Google lack the main value proposition or call-to-action. As such, shortened titles can be less incentivizing to end-users and get fewer clicks.

Because every character from the alphabet has a different width in pixels, you can use the 70 character mark as a rule of thumb. However, remember that other elements like capital letters and emojis can also count as 1 character but use more pixels. From experience, we recommend using some free meta tag length checker. Such tools show you exactly how long your title is in pixels and where it gets cut off by Google. Two of our favorites are SERPSim & MetaTags.io.

Lastly, remember that Google is constantly experimenting with different lengths for title tags. Because of that, you want to upfront-load your title tags with your target keywords and most important information. Any additional details should come after that, as Google can potentially shorten titles in some future update.

Optimize your title tags and get better rankings and more traffic

Your page title tags are some of the most influential Onpage factors in your efforts with SEO – which only justifies the time and time and effort it requires. Optimized title tags get top placements in Google and ensure that the user decides to click on your page from the rest in the Search Results.

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