While many SEO strategists get caught up in detailed backlink profile analysis and elaborate link building strategies, it is often the simple things that carry the most weight and determine whether our websites will reach the first page of the Search Results.
While Google looks to scrutinize signs of artificial SEO, it’s important to update how we write our content and titles in order to stay in Google’s favor. It is now the time of natural links and natural content.
Analyzing backlink profiles is about the least natural thing you can do, so rather than worrying about things like this, it may be better to look at optimizing on-page factors first and see where that gets you.
The Perfect SEO Title Tag
The page title is one of the biggest ranking factors when it comes to SEO. Therefore, getting this right is essential. However this is not always as easy as one might initially think; there are numerous points to consider when constructing your title including the words used, the order they are used in, and the title length.
Different people have their own methods for title tags, and the perfect title tag may never be achieved; a perfect title tag for SEO must achieve the right balance between search engine and user satisfaction and so knowing this perfect title may be near impossible. Therefore we can only speculate and follow certain rules which give us a high probability of a high performance title tag.
The Words Used
It is self-evident that the page title should contain words that relate to the page it is the title of. If you are not following this basic principle then your page has little chance of ranking at all.
Once you have decided on your keywords, which should have been picked based on careful keyword research, you can think about the one or two keyphrases you’d particularly like to rank for. These can then be used in the title tag. However, nowadays, simply using generic keyphrases may not be enough.
Google appears to be becoming particularly attached to trust signals, and branding provides one such trust signal. Therefore although including your brand name in the title tag may reduce space for keywords, it is perhaps wiser to sacrifice a keyword or two for the trust signal that the brand name provides.
The Word Positioning
It has long been considered that words at the beginning of title tags carry the most weight; another reason why long title tags are ineffective; the 100th word is unlikely to carry any weight at all. Therefore it is common practice to position important keywords at the start of your title tags.
However, a relatively new development appears to have transpired as Google rewrites page titles in order to position brand name at the front of the title (you can read about it here as well). Google have rewritten titles for years in order to produce titles that are most relevant to the words that the searcher used. However, more recently they appear to be testing a new system with brand emphasis in the title.
If Google goes through the trouble of rewriting titles in order to position branding at the front then we may want to rethink whether generic keywords are still given as much weight.
In light of Google’s battle against spam and poor quality websites, it makes sense that branding will become more and more important. Positioning your brand name at the start of titles (rather than at the end as commonly suggested) may be the new, wiser choice.
The Title Length
The optimal length for your page title is perhaps debatable. The temptation is to create longer titles in order to fit in more keywords. However longer titles tend to look spammy; something which Google disapproves of, and if they also produce low click through rates then this is bad news for your rankings.
Title lengths have been heavily tested and it is generally thought good practice to keep them under 70 characters. Having said this, going over this limit by a little is unlikely to harm your rankings.
A test over at SEOmoz even provided some evidence that a super-long title tag stuffed with keywords can increase rankings. However it is important to note that this was only for a specific set of conditions, and when tested for other websites, the rankings did indeed fall.
In order to be safe, it is probably best to keep your landing page title tags under 70 characters long. Stuffing in extra keywords at the end is certainly not something that agrees well with Google’s new fight against spam and artificial SEO.
Keeping Page Titles Up to Date
While a large amount has been written about page titles, when it comes to SEO, best practices are always changing. Google continues to update its algorithms in its search for quality content, and it’s important we follow suit by updating our own websites for a continually evolving SEO.
Even a title length of 70 characters is perhaps too long now; Google may truncate titles after 65 characters while also using the title width to determine truncation.
It’s worth bearing in mind that Amazon have used a similar title format to that which Google have begun rewriting tags to. This includes brand name followed by colon followed by keywords. Amazon may well have tried and tested this method to great success and it seems Google thinks it’s worth doing as well.
The Final Word
Titles are perhaps becoming shorter and although 70 characters has long been the recommended limit, shortening to a maximum of ~65 characters may be worthwhile.
Keywords have always been seen as having great importance in title tags, however we now need to think about sacrificing space for branding, not only for user satisfaction but for Google as well. One of the most common recommended practices includes positioning important keyword at the beginning of titles, and this is still widely recommended today.
However, I’d suggest bearing in mind the new Google and having a think about whether kicking off with your brand name may not only make your titles stand out to users but to Google’s watchful eyes as well.