What is a title tag?

When people refer to the title tag they often mean the title element. The title element defines the title of a page.

Example

Let’s take a look at the ContentKing homepage title. In a Google search engine result page (SERP) the title is shown as the line at the top, marked with a red square in the screenshot below:

Example of ContentKing homepage title

In the page source the title element is placed in the <HEAD>-section of the page and looks like this:

<title>Content Optimization and Monitoring service ContentKing</title>

Rule of thumb for title tag length

Use these rules of thumb when it comes to the title tag length:

  • Maximum length: 60 characters or 575 pixels
  • Minimum length: 30 characters or 285 pixels

These lengths are valid in most cases for most devices for search engines Google, Bing, Yahoo and DuckDuckGo. These lengths are however no guarantee that your title will be displayed. In the end, that’s up to the search engines to decide.

Synonyms for title tag

Often the title tag is also called page title, meta title or – because of its relevance to SEO – SEO title. For the sake of ease, we’ll call it title tag when we refer to the title element.

How do I write the perfect title tag?

The perfect title tag consists of the following elements:

  • Great readability
  • Relevant keywords
  • Call-to-action
  • Good length
  • Uniqueness

If you keep these components in mind, you’ll get the most out of your title tags. Before we dive into what makes for a great title tag, let’s take a minute and look at an example.

Example: Law Firm New York

One of the results I received from Google when searching for “law firm new york” is:

Example of Law Firm title

This title tag can be improved greatly. Our assessment of the title tag:

  • Readibility: the readability of the title is so-so. Having a dash (“-”) and pipe in the title tag decreases readability. On top of that, the title is truncated which hurts the readability as well.
  • Relevant keywords: the title tag is not very relevant – what does “Canada’s Top Business Law Firm” have to do with your search query? Besides, the keyword usage in the title tag is not good – the applicable keywords are at the end.
  • Call-to-action: in this case, the call-to-action requirement doesn’t really apply.
  • Length: the title tag is too long. Google truncated the title in the example above.

Wouldn’t the title tag below be much better? We even squeezed in “NYC” as a tertiary keyword.

Improved example of Law Firm title

Keep in mind: Write title tags primarily for users, not for search engines. Think about the most important search queries that apply to a page, and then write the title.

Great readability

Focus on the user when writing title tags: first and foremost the title should be easy to read.

  • Avoid title tags written in CAPITALS or lowercase only. Mix it and use uppercase letters to emphasize parts of the title tag.
  • Avoid repeating special characters such as dashes (“-”), pipes (“|”) or commas (“,”) in title tags.

Write a title tag that’s informative and scannable for the user.

Needless to say, a title tag such as the one below has a very poor readability:

Pink shoes & Blue shoes | Yellow shoes – Shoes for men & women | Shoes.com

Relevant keywords

First of all: don’t stuff your titles with keywords. Doing so will dilute keyword focus and you may end up not ranking for any of the keywords at all. Make choices.

Using the most important keywords at the start of your title tag signals to search engines that those are the most relevant keywords for the page in question.

Ideally, you use one or two keywords and write an appealing title. Think in terms of keyphrases instead of separate keywords. Are the most important keywords for your page Content optimization and Optimization service (in that order)? Then combine these keywords to the keyphrase Content optimization service… instead of Content optimization, optimization service….

Sometimes however it’s simply not possible to construct a keyphrase, and you need to fall back to a general title tag structure such as:

Example #1: Primary keyword, secondary keyword | Brand
Example #2: Primary keyword and secondary keyword - Brand

Include a Call-To-Action

Choose relevant keywords is important, but choosing the right words for the rest of the title is just as important. Carefully chosen words will activate a potential customer.

Examples:

  • Are you running a webshop? Include the words Buy or Order.
  • Are you running a consultancy firm? Include the word Hire in the title tag.
  • Is your website educational? Include the word Learn.
  • Is your page about a webinar or newsletter? Include the word Subscribe.

Think about words that will activate your target group and incorporate these words in the title.

Good length

There is no perfect title tag length. Title tag length is actually a very complex subject because you need to take into account different search engines, operating systems and devices. This section describes all you need to know about the title tag length.

Characters vs. Pixels

Regardless of the search engine, in each SERP there’s limited amount of space for the title. Bing, Yahoo and DuckDuckGo advise to use a maximum amount of characters. Google however advises to use a maximum amount of pixels. This makes sense considering this is way more accurate than characters. It takes into consideration that a character such as “W” takes up much more space than “!”.

Title tag length in Google

A listing in Google’s SERPs has a maximum width of 600 pixels. Taking into account some margin of error, we advise you to stick to a maximum length of 575 pixels. In general this translates into 60 characters.

In case your title is too short, Google may use one of your headings instead. In order to prevent this, make sure your title tag is at least 30 characters long.

In summary: title tag length for Google
  • Maximum amount: 60 characters or 575 pixels
  • Minimum amount: 30 characters or 285 pixels

Please note that Google’s tablet and mobile versions have a greater maximum width for the title tag, however it’s not (yet) possible to set specific title tags for different devices, so we recommend to stick to the maximum width for desktop to make sure the title tag adheres to Google’s constraints as much as possible.

Title tag length in Bing

Bing advises to use a maximum title tag length of 65 characters. Our own research has shown that titles with 65 characters are often cut-off in Bing, so we advise to keep it to a maximum of 60 characters when you’re optimizing for Bing specifically. In case your title is too short, Bing may use one of your headings instead. In order to prevent this, make sure your title tag is at least 25 characters long.

Please note that for Bing there are no different rules per device regarding the maximum lengths of the title tag.

Title tag length in Yahoo

Yahoo does not give much advice in their Help section about the minimum and maximum length of the title tag. Our own research has shown that the Yahoo SERP allows for a maximum width of 553 pixels. This roughly translates to 65-70 characters. However, we haven’t seen this full width being used, nor have we seen title tags with this many characters being displayed. In practice a significant amount of title tags above 50 characters are truncated so we advise you to stick to a maximum amount of 50 characters. In case your title is too short, Yahoo may use one of your headings instead. In order to prevent this, make sure your title tag is at least 25 characters long.

Please note that for Yahoo there are no different rules per device regarding the maximum lengths of the title tag.

Title tag length in DuckDuckGo

Although DuckDuckGo is not very informative about their advice on how to optimize pages for their search engine, our research has shown that when you stick to a maximum of 65 characters you should be safe. In case your title is too short, DuckDuckGo may use one of your headings instead. In order to prevent this, make sure your title tag is at least 25 characters long.

Unique title tags throughout a website

It’s vital that each page. Having duplicate title tags is confusing for both users and search engines because the title is an important differentiator. Especially search engines will have trouble picking the right page to rank for incorporated keywords, often only ranking and displaying one. Don’t rely on solutions such as the canonical URL to fix this for you.

Optimize, rinse and repeat

Coming up with perfect title tags is in fact really hard, therefore it’s important not to ponder too long about a specific title tag. Write the best one you can think of, publish it and see how it performs. Revisit your title tags periodically. You will get inspiration for better title tags.

Why are search engines not showing my title tag?

So your title tag is well readable, it contains relevant keywords and it’s not too long, and not too short. It’s unique throughout your website. And your favourite search engine decided not to show the title tag you manually set. Instead, they may show one of your H1-H6 headings, popular anchor text which is used to link to your page or even just a few keywords and your brand name (Some keywords here - Brandname).

Nowadays, listings are very much dependent on the search query. When search engines think they know better, they’ll ignore the title tag you filled in and come up with a different title, often less relevant and useful.

Why should you care about title tags?

Title tags are very important from a search engine optimization, user experience and social media point of view.

Search Engine Optimization

Looking at yearly industry surveys held amongst online marketers and specifically SEO specialists, the title tag has played and continues to play a vital role in search engine’s ranking algorithms. It is the number one on-page ranking factor. If you want to increase your rankings in the organic search results, care about your title tags.

User Experience

Title tags play a big role from a user experience point of view:

  • Titles are often shown in Search Engine Result Pages (SERPs) and heavily influence the click-through-rate (CTR – the percentage of people clicking on your listing) of a listing.
  • Browsers show the title tag in browser tabs and they use it as the name of bookmarks.

Titles heavily influences CTR

Since search engines will often use your title tags and meta description in the SERPs, having appealing title and meta description tags will increase the CTR for your listing.

Browsers’ usage of title tags

Browsers use title tags in browser tabs and when bookmarking pages. Take for instance the ContentKing homepage in Google Chrome:

Browsers’ usage of title tags

When bookmarking the ContentKing homepage in Google Chrome this looks like:

Screenshot of bookmarking the ContentKing homepage

Social Media

When OpenGraph, TwitterCards and Schema.org markup is missing, social media use the title tag as the headline when a URL is shared. Having a great headline when your page is shared on social media will improve the CTR to your website significantly. Although we advise you to fill in OpenGraph, TwitterCards and Schema.org markup for all pages, you should always have a back-up plan: the title tag.

Usage of the title tag on social media networks

Frequently asked questions about title tags

  1. Should I manually define all of my title tags?
  2. How do I force search engines to use my title tag?
  3. I updated my title tag, why are the search engines still showing the old one?
  4. Can search engines choose to use the title used in DMOZ or Yahoo Directory?

1. Should I manually define all of my title tags?

Ideally you manually write each title tag. For a website with a couple hundred pages this is still doable. However, when you’re running a webshop with thousands of products this becomes a tedious task and it’s not realistic anymore. In that case, it’s more practical to auto-generate title tags which can be manually overwritten if need be.

2. How do I force search engines to use my title tag?

Unfortunately, there’s no way to force search engines to use the title tag that you’ve defined. It’s up to the search engine to decide whether or not they deem your title tags relevant for a user’s search query.

However, you can of course adjust your title tags to make them more relevant for the search queries that you’re targeting when you see that search engines are not using your title tags.

3. I updated my title tag, why are the search engines still showing the old one?

Chances are search engines haven’t visited your page yet since you’ve made the changes. Search engines need a bit of time to re-visit your page and process the changes.

“But how long will this take?” you think. Well, that varies per page. Authoritative pages are visited more often than less authoritative pages. The time frame ranges from 2 minutes, a few days or more than a week. It really depends on your page.

4. Can search engines choose to use the title used in DMOZ or Yahoo Directory?

Yes, they certainly can. This is one of their fall-back plans when they deem your title tag isn’t good. There’s a way to tell search engines NOT to use the DMOZ and Yahoo Directory listing information for your title tag (and meta description). Be sure to set these tags up in your <HEAD>-section:

<meta name=”robots” content=”noodp” /> and <meta name=”robots” content=”noydir” />

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