SEO is not always straightforward and easy to figure out. In many ways, SEO is more of an art than a science. While we know the things Google, Bing and Yahoo do not want us to do while optimizing websites and building links, the correct tactics are not always black and white. As SEOs and webmasters, we have to experiment and test everything we do to determine what is actually helping our clients and our websites.
There is no holy grail of SEO tactics that will work across all types of verticals or business segments, but there are nuances needed for any website. Some major elements every website needs are things like Page Titles, Meta Descriptions, Sitemaps, and clean URLs and, as of now, a mobile-friendly version of the website. Many of these elements have clear best practices, which make them a bit easier than other aspects like pagination and canonical tags. While these are a standard for all websites, there is also a range of how these are handled based on the type of site you are working on. The most important basic SEO factor for any website is the Page Title / Title Tag / SEO Title (these are used interchangeably, depending who you talk to or what you are reading).
The Basics of a Page Title
If you own or run a website, you should be using custom Page Titles for every page of that site. These titles should be unique for each page, and the general best practice is to keep them under 60 characters long and under 512 pixels wide. A good rule of thumb is to stay under 55 or 56 characters and 90-95% of your titles will display well in the SERP. One easy way to check this is by checking your length in a tool like Letter Count or SEO mofo.
Why does this matter? Many people do not realize where the page title lives on a website or why they are important to the search engines. Page Titles can be seen on a website on the top of a browser window or tab at the top of your screen.
The reason a Page Title is important for the search engines is twofold. It tells them what the page is about and it helps them clarify a level of relevancy for a topic or keyword a searcher may be looking for. It is displayed in the SERP (Search Engine Results Page) and is highlighted in bold text.
The example above shows a snippet from the Google SERP for the term “Title Tag”. The Moz website ranks number one for that term and it clearly should as that is the Page Title for the page that is ranking. Not that this is the sole reason why it is ranking, as there are many other factors. If they did not have this for the Page Title, they would most likely not rank for it.
The main point is that this is pretty much the number one element for a web page to rank. If you do not have a unique title for a page that includes the keyword you want to rank for, you will never rank for that page. Having a Page Title that is not unique or keyword relevant is not only hurting your site, but it is also not helping your site at all.
Why does a unique title matter? It is important because Google, Bing or Yahoo can’t rank your site for a term if you have the same Page Title and keywords in the Page Title for multiple pages of your site. How does it know which is more important? It is like trying to start a fire with a magnifying glass but moving it around to three different pieces of paper and not focusing on one. It will never work, and you are creating your own competition and problems.
If you create a title that is too long the SERP will display a portion of your title with an ellipsis after the main segment of text. This is a missed opportunity if the viewer cannot see something that is important in the text, such as mentioning free shipping or some other call to action.
Different types of websites can use Page Titles differently while still using the best practices for length and uniqueness. For example, a blog about building furniture could use a Page Title like “How to Build a Desk” and would hopefully rank for someone looking for that topic. It is more of a question than just a keyword, but confirms the purpose of the page. An ecommerce website that sells tents may offer some type of promotion that would help get their listing clicked on in the SERP. For example, Rock/Creek adds the text “Free Shipping Over $49” to the keyword they are targeting for each of their pages.
This type of verbiage in a Page Title can help attract clicks to your website over another ranked site and ultimately drive new sales.
While Page Titles are a basic principle of SEO, they can also be a constantly changing area of focus in order to keep up-to-date with competition, changes in products, the year of an event, or any number of other reasons. These tweaks can take a week or two to show in the SERP, but may be what is needed to move up the ranks. Most importantly, in many CMS systems it is a super easy technique and item to tweak! So be an artist and test different styles and forms of your Page Titles, and try new techniques. Adapt to what your competitors are doing and track your results. Finally, realize this is just one step of the SEO equation that needs your attention; so don’t think this will bring you to page 1 of Google by itself.
If you need more information on improving your website or how you are doing in the search results, please contact us today. We will utilize best practices and an innovative approach in making your digital campaigns a success.