What are title tags? And how should they look?
Search engine optimisation is often described as relating to the text on web pages, but this definition overlooks a crucial aspect of SEO. Every individual web page contains a title element that describes its contents. More commonly known as title tags, these small pieces of HTML code are the most valuable single factor in allowing web crawlers to identify the purpose of a particular page and rank it accordingly.
Title tags are discreetly contained within every web page’s meta tags. They are the digital equivalent of chapter headings in a book, providing a condensed summary of that document’s contents. For instance, when you type “blacknovadesigns.co.uk” into your web browser, the words “Web Hosting”, “Web Design” and “IT Services” appear beside the listings on search engine results pages. Load the page and the same words appear in the tab at the top of your web browser – they might even display next to the Bookmarks of any saved pages.
Title tags should ideally follow a particular format, with the | symbol used to distinguish between each section instead of commas or conventional punctuation for example:
<title>Main keyword | Secondary keyword | Company name</title>
The contents between the HTML tags should ideally use fewer than eight words or 60 characters (including spaces), which will enable the contents to display correctly on almost any desktop or mobile browser including the displayed results on a search engine. Effective use of title tags is advisable for a number of reasons:
- Search engine algorithms rely heavily on title tags to decide what results to associate a particular website with. For instance, John Lewis use the terms ‘iPad’, ‘TV’, ‘Furniture’ and ‘Fashion’ to illustrate their best-selling items or areas of expertise.
- It can achieve the Holy Grail of exact search term matches. If your business involves baking to order, having “custom cakes” or “bespoke baking” as keywords in your title tag will boost the site’s profile among anyone searching for these exact terms.
- This is the content that will often appear as anchor text for a link in an external website. Links are hugely valuable for SEO purposes in themselves, and effective anchor text can encourage readers to click the link and visit your site.
- Generic title tags will cause confusion between different sites, whereas descriptive and unique ones for each page will distinguish your brand from its competitors, as well as differentiating between pages on the same site.
Of course, there are numerous keywords that can be assigned to a particular service or product, but there’s only space in title tags for the most important ones. Choosing the correct tags is a fine art, and it’s important to consider the terms people searching for your products or services may be entering into a search engine. Although two keywords/phrases per tag is considered optimal, some SEO experts recommend companies with diverse offerings should squeeze in as many terms as possible and accept that an indeterminate number of them will be dropped from certain results.
Regardless of length, a few golden rules do apply. Always place the most important keywords first – they’re the first ones people will always see, and the highest priority when it comes to website ranking. Include your brand name at the end of a title tag unless the brand is relatively unknown, in which case it could go at the start before any keywords. And finally, keep the tags readable to humans rather than listing a jumble of keywords – many people notice title tags and use them to decide whether to visit that particular page.