Home. The word evokes feelings of warmth and comfort—a place to belong. It doesn’t necessarily bring to mind the Archdiocese of San Francisco. Yet that’s the page title the religious institution chose for its homepage.
By contrast, the page title for the green American Express card’s main page is far better: “American Express Green Charge Card—Travel, Shopping, Dining and Entertainment Rewards.”
While the page title for the Archdiocese of San Francisco could clearly use some work, the AmEx one isn’t perfect, either. This is the advice from Jeff Jones, senior product manager for Barrie, Ont.-based search engine optimization firm gShift Labs. AmEx, for instance, might want to move its branding to the end of the page title, he says.
“Titles are really simple, right?” he asks. “I mean, right off the bat, that’s your most important on-page factor.”
Below, Jones and Nick Roshon, natural search analyst for Scottsdale, Ariz.-based digital marketing agency iCrossing, advocate best practices for improving page titles and thereby aiding search marketing efforts.
1. Describe. “Think of a page title like the title of a book chapter,” Roshon says. “Your titles should be descriptive of the page’s content and communicate to users what the page is all about.”
But there’s no need to make the page title and content identical. “When writing a blog post or article, your page title does not have to match your article/post headline exactly; however, both should contain the keywords or phrases you are optimizing for,” he says. “If you are writing a post on ‘Tips for Writing SEO Friendly Page Titles,’ you will want to reuse those keywords you are targeting in the page title, such as: ‘SEO Optimized Page Titles|How to Write SEO Friendly Page Titles’ for your page title.
“Typically, you can be more aggressive with inserting the keywords in the page title than the article headline, as the article headline should focus more on grabbing the reader’s attention and convincing them to read the article once they’re already at your website, whereas the page title is simply trying to get users to visit your website in the first place,” Roshon continues. “It is very common for article headlines to be coded in an
tag, and words within an
tag are given greater importance by search engines. So having your keywords appear somewhere in the article headline will be beneficial to SEO.”
2. Keep it unique. If marketers create duplicate titles, “basically, you’re competing with yourself” for search ranking, Jones says. There’s already enough competition, so why add to it?
3. Put the most important words/phrases in front, in order of importance. “Google will only index up to 80 characters,” Roshon says. “So if you have multiple keywords you are targeting on a page and they can’t all fit within 80 characters, give some consideration to which keywords are most important to you and which keywords need the most help to rank better, and insert the keywords that best align with your objectives.”
For example, an iCrossing travel and hospitality client might use the following on a category level page featuring travel deals: “Vacation Packages, Hotel Deals & Last Minute Travel Deals | Brandname.com.” Roshon says the page title that comes in at 72 characters leaves out “some higher value keywords, like hotel specials, weekend getaways, vacation discounts, etc.,” in order to stay within that 80 character limit.
Next comes the keyword and keyphrase order. Roshon says: “The keywords that should come first should be your most competitive keywords that best describe the content of the page. In the above example, ‘Vacation Packages’ was determined to be the most important and competitive keyword, followed by ‘Hotel Deals.’ “
4. Keep it short. Roshon mentions above that Google indexes 80 characters. Jones says page titles that long will be truncated on the search engine results page (SERP). So both suggest that marketers consider short titles. “Google will only display up to 64 characters of your page title in the search engine results page,” Roshon says. Marketers should only add characters if they “have a compelling reason to do so,” he says.
For instance, Roshon cites, the travel and hospitality client’s page title may truncate as so: “Vacation Packages, Hotel Deals & Last Minute Travel Deals …” (As a sidenote, the AmEx page title truncates on the SERP this way: “American Express Green Charge Card—Travel, Shopping, Dining and …”)
5. Leave brand words at the end. Jones says marketers are always going to rank OK for their brand names and company names. Roshon agrees, but adds: “A notable exception would be if your brand name is competitive or you have reputation management issues. So be aware of any downsides of this tactic before implementing.”
6. Keep formatting consistent. “If you capitalize every word on one page, and separate keywords with a ‘|’ symbol, then be sure your other page titles also capitalize every word and use a ‘|’ to separate keyword phrases,” Roshon says. “Consider creating a style guide with preferred formatting and tone for page titles if multiple people are writing titles, or you have a lot of titles to write.”
7. Pay attention to the analytics. Search ranking is great, but what if no one clicks through? “While it’s tempting to stuff your title with as many keywords as possible, users may be turned off when they see your page title returned in the search results if it is too keyword-rich and spammy sounding,” Roshon says. “Having nicely formatted, well-presented page titles with your keywords gently and appropriately placed will provide both SEO benefits (better rankings) as well as increased visitors (users actually [wanting] to click on your high rankings).”