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Title Tag Optimization: A Comprehensive Guide to Writing Effective Titles for SEO

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Title Tag Optimization: A Comprehensive Guide to Writing Effective Titles for SEO

Tips for writing better title tags for SEO. Writing effective title tags can have a tremendous impact on your site’s search engine ranking, and is the backbone of every effective Search Engine Optimization campaign. Learn how such factors as title length, keyword usage methodologies, duplication of content, and repetition can impact your search engine rankings.

For a blog about SEO, its been quite a while since I’ve written a post about the topic of Search Engine Optimization. Well, that’s about to change. Over my next few posts we’re going to be hitting proper SEO techniques hard!

We’ll be starting with a comprehensive guide to optimizing your site’s title tags. Writing good title tags is one of the most important aspects of SEO, and is the backbone of any solid Search Engine Optimization program. But before we get into tactics involved with writing good title tags, lets first identify where it is on your site and where it will show up in search engines.

What is a Title Tag? Where Can You Find It?

The title tag is the text that appears on your browser’s title bar. A title is required in every HTML and XHTML document.

You can find your title tag in your site’s source code:

<title>Columbus SEO Expert + Search Engine Optimization Tips + Agent SEO</title>

You can find your title in your site’s browser window:

Agent SEO's Title in the Browser Window

See your title in your the search results:

Agent SEO's Title in Search Results

Okay, now we know what and where you title is. Let’s get on to tips on how to compose it effectively for SEO.

1. Homepage vs. Internal Pages

Okay, here comes a baseball reference. Think of your homepage as your clean-up hitter and your site’s internal pages as the rest of the lineup. Your cleanup hitter (i.e. homepage) should be the page that gives you the most production and should have the most power. Your site’s internal pages should be built in support of your homepage, should act as a supplement to your homepage’s optimization efforts, should get into far more detail about your site, but should be able to stand on their own two feet in terms of ranking abilities.

Your homepage typically wields the most ranking power and should be used to target the most top-level generalized keywords. Your site’s internal pages typically wield less power (especially the deeper they are in the site), but can be much more targeted in terms of keyword focus and conversion opportunities (i.e. long-tailed keywords).

2. Length

The length of your title tags is a very important matter. If you’re familiar with search results, you’ll notice that search engines typically only display so much of your webpage’s title before it cuts them off with an ellipsis (…).

Based on my research and experience, here are the average character space lengths allowed in titles before the cutoff, along with the max length I’ve seen:

  • Google: average if 66 character spaces, max of 70
  • Bing: average if 65 character spaces, max of 71

What I’ve see is that if your title tag is over 70 characters, the search engines will find an appropriate place to cut it off. If it’s right at around 70, then they’ll typically allow the full title to show.

The moral of the story is that you need to maximize the space available to you in the title tag – for now that’s about the first 65-70 character spaces. This means that you should try to focus on only 2-3 keyword phrases per page as that is probably all you’ll be able to fit within reason.

Stay away from title tags that are too short (shorter than 50 character spaces) as those waste valuable space, and try to stay away from writing titles that are too long (anything over 80 is too long) as there is a diminishing return after the title gets cut off – not to mention that nobody typically reads after the cutoff point and it might look like spam to a search engine (if you use it to stuff keywords).

3. Keyword Use

This one is a no-brainer. Use your target keywords in your title tag. For example, if your website’s main purpose is to sell an “Apple,” then you’re going to want to mention that in your title tags.

Before doing that, you’ll need to conduct extensive keyword research to determine which keywords are best for your site.

4. Keyword Relevance & On-Page Correlation

Search engines are all about relevance – meaning they are in the business of displaying the most relevant results for any given search query. In order to meet that criteria, you’re going to have to ensure that the keywords that you’re using in your site’s title tags are relevant to the content on the page.

For example, let’s say you have an internal page on your site about “D’Arcy Spice Apples.” Which of the following title tags would you consider to be more relevant?

Apples – Agent SEO


D’Arcy Spice Applies – Yellowish-Green Apples – Agent SEO

If you’re thinking like a search engine, then you’d probably guess that the second title is more relevant to the term “D’Arcy Spice Apples.” You’d be right!

In addition, having title tags that are highly correlated with on-page content is good for both usability and click-through rates. If a user is searching specifically for D’Arcy Spice Apples, then they’ll be more likely to click on a title that says as much. Also, if they’re looking for D’Arcy Spice Apples and they land on a page that is about something different, that could be a turn off which will lead to more bounces and poor user engagement/conversion.

5. Keyword Placement & Prioritization

Keywords at the front of a title tag tend to have more weight and ranking power than those at the back of a title tag – or those that are past the cut-off point. Therefore, you should place your most important keywords should be at the beginning of the title.

For example, if on your homepage you wish to target the keyword “green apples” as your most important target keyword and “red apples” as your 2nd most important keyword, then it might make sense to write a title similar to this:

Green Apples – Red Apples – Agent SEO

If you’re really targeting the keyword “Green Apples,” then it wouldn’t make sense to write a title like this:

Red Apples – Agent SEO – Green Apples

Pretty self explanatory. But this is the easy part. You’ll see that there are far more dynamics that go into writing an effective title tag out than just listing keywords in order of importance. Please remember, its about maximizing the space!

6. Keyword Repetition vs. Combinations

While simply repeating keywords over and over again may have worked with SEO 2004, that is simply not necessary today. There is no need to be repetitious in your keyword usage within the title tag. Instead, try to think of ways you can combine phrases so as to give you more room to add other relevant phrases to the title tag.

For example, this keyword phrase is 25 character spaces long:

Green Apples – Red Apples

This one is only 18 character spaces long:

Green & Red Apples

That’s a difference of 7 character spaces, and you’ve still targeted both keywords. I know 7 may not seem like a lot, but when you only have 70 to work with every little bit counts. Remember, search engines are smart so they can match and map keywords together to determine relevance. Use that to your advantage in order to maximize your space.

7. Keyword Proximity

Okay, here’s where it gets tricky. I will flat out tell you that nothing beats a good old exact-match phrase in your title tag in terms of relevance. For example, if somebody is searching for “Green Apples, ” a title tag that says “Green Apples” should win out of one that says “Green & Red Apples” if all things are equal.

The issue is keyword proximity. Keyword strings that appear closer together are better than having to rely on a search engine’s ability to match them together. Consider the following sentence…

The boy jumped over the red fence carrying an apple.

In a round-a-bout way, the above sentence could be considered somewhat relevant to the term red apple. A search engine would loosly be able to distinguish this. But is it more relevant to the term “Red Apple” than a sentence that says…

The boy ate a red apple.

I think not.

The issue here that you must find is balance. If you only want to target the keywords “Green Apple” and “Red Apple” then writing a title tag like the one below makes more sense:

Green Apple – Red Apple – Agent SEO

However, if you have a need to target more keywords, then you’ll need to work in combinations rather than exact-match phrases by necessity.

Green & Red Apples – Planting Orchards – Agent SEO

Hopefully that helped demystify the issue a bit.

8. Use of Brand Name

I have a couple of opinions on brand names.

  • Brand names help create trust. Therefore, it is important to use them in your site’s title tags. For example, Nike’s click-through rate is probably a bit higher than that of a blog talking about Nike shoes simply due to the brand trust factor alone.
  • However, unless your brand has a very important keyword in it, put it at the end of all title tags. Remember, important keywords need to go towards the front of all title tags, so putting your brand name at the front of every tag inadvertently steals weight from your target keywords.

9. Unique Titles on Every Page

Your title tags for ever webpage should be unique and different. Why? Well, since Google only displays a max of two results from one site in the SERPs, then having multiple pages with the same title may make it difficult for them to determine which one is more deserving of being ranked. In this case, they may choose to rank none at all.

Think of it like reading a book. If you’re skimming the table of contents and see that all the chapters have the same name, how will you be able to quickly jump to a highly-specific point in that book with any confidence? You won’t. You’ll just put it back down, and so will a search engine.

Duplicate title tags can cause the appearance of duplicate content, which may cause some pages to get stuck under a search engine’s filters – which is the opposite of what you want. This can be done by accident, negligence, or on purpose. Either way, its something that should be corrected.

Every webpage and every title has to be able to stand on its own two feet in terms of ranking in search engines. Its perfectly okay to have title tags that are very similar, but having duplicates really hinders their individual ability to be highly relevant to the site’s on-page content, and thus for any search queries.

10. Avoid “Stop-Words” if Possible

Stop-Words” are words that are extremely common (pronouns, prepositions, etc) that most search engines skip over in order to save disk space, or to speed up indexing. They have no inherent value to a search engine.

Some of the stop-words: a, about, an, as, are, but, be, or, and, and there are many others.

Try to avoid using them if at all possible. The best example I can think of was a client a while back whose homepage title started with, “The official website of the…”. This was pretty bad, and a tremendous waste of space in terms of optimization of target keywords.

11. Use of Special Symbols

This one is up to you. I’d say using dashes (-), the (&) symbol is okay. Hell, I even use plus signs in my titles (thinking about changing that). However, I’d stay away from using other symbols that may just serve to waste space such as the (©), (®), or (™) symbol.

Here is a full list of HTML Accent Entity codes that I refer to often.


12. Geo-Targeting

If you service a specific geo-area, then you’re probably going to need to mention it in your title tag in order to show up for a local search query such as “Green Apples Columbus Ohio.” I’d recommend something like:

Green Apples – Columbus OH – Agent SEO

Important note: Make sure that the use of a geo-term correlates with similar use within your site’s content or it won’t be as effective.

Anyhow, hope this helps you write better title tags. Let me know if you have any questions!

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Jacob Stoops

About the Author

is an SEO professional living in Columbus, Ohio and working for Rosetta Marketing. He's been working in the SEO industry since 2006, and has been blogging since 2009. Learn more about , a Columbus, Ohio SEO Expert.

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  • Anonymous

    Good article, but I would like to add one thing. For number 11, use of special symbols, it’s a little unclear if you’re saying to use those symbols to separate keywords or for what reason to use them. I’m just going to assumer that it’s to separate keywords so in that case the pipe line * | * is the best symbol to use. This is the best symbol to use for optimization purposes. Very good article over all.

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    • Anonymous

      Thanks for the comment Vlad. I would say that special symbols really have no SEO value except for the fact that they can take up precious space if used. I’d stay away from using things like trademarks, copyrights, etc in the title. As far as separators, I prefer the dash (-), but the pipe (|) is okay as well. These symbols don’t have SEO value.

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  • Sudarto

    I am pleased with your article that discusses the making of the title tag is very complete. I get a lot of insight from you about how to create a title tag that is accurate and true.nBut I still have questions about the repetition of the word. I am here sometimes still confused. How do I merge them. Examples of my title tag: Ergonomic Knee Chairs | Chairs balance Make Healthy Knee | Here is a repetition of the word chairs. Maybe you can provide the right solution if my title tag is still not right. Thank you for the information.

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    • Anonymous

      Thanks for your comment! In this situation, repetition makes a bit of sense. Where you want to avoid repetition is with similar things such as “Green Apple” and “Red Apple,” which I’d typically merge to say “Red & Green Apple.” In addition, repetition should be reviewed if there are more ways to say the same thing such as “cars” and “autos” – although Google is smart enough to be able to know that one means the other typically.nnIn your case, it looks as if the repetition makes complete sense. In other situations, avoiding repetition is simply a way to efficiently use the small amount that you’re given in the title tag to target keywords.

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  • Nick Stamoulis

    Great tips. Obviously, keywords play a huge role in on site optimization. That’s why it’s so important to do keyword research to really understand how your target audience is searching.

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    • Anonymous

      Agreed. Every SEO campaign should be only undertaken only after a solid amount of research has been completed.

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  • Anonymous

    Excellent and huge explanation and tips on title tag. I know that title tag is important for SERP, but never thought there is so much about it. Thanks for this information.nWeb Hosting Service

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    • Anonymous

      Yep, title tags are very important. Thanks for the comment!

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  • Matthew Berrier

    Awesome article. Very detailed. I like #10 and #12 in particular. With my company, I find a lot of value incorporating my city name into the title tag. #10 resonates with meas well. Cut out the clutter- keep it short and sweet. Thanks for the article! I’ve found the hardest part is finding a good way to research the keywords.n

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    • Anonymous

      Thanks for the comment. I agree, keyword research can sometimes be a bit painful, and often times I find myself questioning whether the search volume numbers being returned by Google (or other sources) is accurate or not.

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  • Glen McMillan

    Hello Jacob I did like your article but I must disagree with using the symbol “&” anywhere in the coding Google does not like that symbol, also an underscore is better than a dash. Eg when optimizing pages or photos your file name should read Search_engine_optimization.nnPhotos used on your website should be 72dpi and the file name on the photo should descibe the photos content world_wide_search_engine_marketing.jpgnnGlen McMillan

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    • Anonymous

      Hi Glen. Thanks for the comment. To be honest, I’ve never seen any problems with using the “&” symbol in my work. In addition, I’ve seen nothing that suggests and underscore as any better or worse than a dash when it comes to naming photos for SEO. I do agree that all photos for web should be 72dpi to keep the file sizes manageable.

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  • Metapilot SEO

    All good info. If all my clients put these things into practice, I’d be able to spend more time on the technical aspects of their SEO.

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  • Alberto B

    I’ve heard that the use of the separator (straight line: “|”) character may cause crawlers to incorrectly crawl your titles, is this true?

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    • Anonymous

      I’ve heard that before, but I have never experienced an issue with crawlability due to something like that. I honestly think search engines have moved past a trip-up like that in terms of intelligence. If you want crawlability issues, try Flash or AJAX as those still give search engines issues. In the end, nothing beats good old fashioned HTML text.

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