We all know that the title tag is the single most influential piece of content on any given page when it comes to SEO. Even so, it’s not uncommon for people to harbor misconceptions about title tags and their relationship with rankings, and I often come across people who have been doing this for a very long time who are still discovering new things about them. Here are 12 common things I come across that people don’t realize about title tags.
1. Google (and most other search engines) don’t currently have specific character limits
Since they are truncated by pixel count, and even pixel count can vary depending on device. Generally, the pixel count is 600 pixels. If you keep your title length under 60 characters, your full title should display properly approximately 90% of the time.
2. Keywords included in your title tags after the cutoff point still count towards rankings.
This has been tested many times. While you should generally aim to keep your titles under the maximum length to encourage click through, and most SEOs agree that keywords included closer to the beginning of the title have a stronger influence, keywords included after the cutoff point are still factored into rankings, far more than virtually anything else on the page. This is not a license to stuff your title full of keywords, however, which could get you penalized or algorithmically demoted.
3. Keyword mixing in your title tags can have positive and negative impacts, depending on how you do it.
It’s generally a bad idea to include a list of keyword variations with the same meaning within your title tag, since these are obviously spammy, discourage clicks, and can get you penalized. Similarly, reusing your site’s most important keywords in every title tag is ill advised, even if it doesn’t result in a penalty, because it dilutes the authority of the pages on your site that genuinely target those phrases. Natural keyword mixing involving multiple concepts that will be approached synergistically within the content, however, is a good idea because it helps you capture traffic for long tail searches.
4. Your title tag doesn’t necessarily need to include your brand name, and certainly shouldn’t start with it on every page.
Your homepage should almost certainly include your brand name, but even then it should rarely be the only piece of information in the tag. Including your brand name at the end of every title tag on your site is a widely employed practice and certainly will not hurt you, but it is not strictly necessary if your goal is to rank for your own brand name, except on your homepage. Generally, the best way to include your brand name is at the end, separated from the main title by a pipe “|” symbol to act as a separator.
5. Title tags serve a purpose outside of search engines.
They were originally developed primarily to set titles within browser windows, and they likewise act as titles for various other kinds of scrapers and applications.
6. There is some debate about whether you should use the ampersand “&” symbol or the word “and” within your title tags.
Generally speaking, this is a question of style and title tag length. Under most circumstances, the search engines will interpret these the same way. However, Google does seem to recognize that “&” may have a distinct meaning from “and” if it is incorporated into a brand name. If the ampersand is included in your brand name, use the ampersand symbol. Otherwise, do whatever makes the most sense for your style and for the length of your title tag.
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7. The title tag does not need to match your target keyword exactly, and it is probably better if it doesn’t.
While you should certainly work your target keywords, or some variation on them, into the title tag, if all you do is include the keywords in your title tag, they will not stand out from competitors in the search results, and your click through rates will suffer. This has an obvious negative impact on search referral traffic, but the low click through rate may also have an impact on the rankings themselves, which will drive your search traffic down even further. Focus on creating enticing titles that include a variation of your target keywords.
8. While variations of keywords such as plurals and other grammatical corrections have virtually no impact on search results, synonyms often can return different search results since they may have different connotations.
While this is the case less often than it was in the past, don’t expect synonyms to rank for your target keyword in every circumstance. This is different from saying you shouldn’t use synonyms, since doing so may help you rank for queries that others aren’t targeting as often. The only way to know for sure how much of an impact synonyms will have on the particular types of queries you are targeting is to run a search and see how similar the results are. Also, a word of caution: do not include a list of keyword synonyms within your title tags.
9. Your title tag doesn’t need to match your H1 tag and in fact we sometimes recommend against this.
The H1 tag is your primary heading on the page and can serve as a greeting to the user. The title tag is a call to action from the search results pages and a label for your browser windows. These do not need to be identical and in many cases it makes more sense if they are not the same. As a broad recommendation, it typically makes sense to use the same title tag and H1 tag for a blog post, news story, or magazine article. For landing pages and resources, it often makes sense to use the H1 as a greeting and the title tag as a call to action. Leveraging non-identical title tags and H1 tags can also allow you to target a wider range of keywords in a natural fashion, as long as you are doing so in a way that makes sense from the UX perspective.
10. The content of your title tag doesn’t necessarily need to match the content of your URL directly.
While they should ideally be related, it is often a good idea to include a URL with a shorter, more focused name that can be easily typed into a browser. Many SEOs recommend using only your primary target keyword within the URL. None of this is to say that URLs that exactly match your title tag will necessarily work against you, and I would not recommend rewriting all of your title tags based on these recommendations. Correlative studies suggest that URL content is far less impactful than the title tag or the H1 tag.
11. While punchy titles may be more likely to get clicked on, you do not necessarily need to fear long titles from a pure SEO perspective.
Correlations between title length and rankings are very small, adding keywords to your title tag can improve your rankings for long tail, and there is no indication that doing so actually dilutes the power of your keywords. You certainly should not inflate title length in an unnatural way, and pithy titles are bound to capture attention, but fear of excessive length is a snippet concern, not a ranking one.
12. Google does not always display the title tag exactly as you intended.
In some cases Google may modify the title. If so, this is often to adjust a long title to include the keywords that the user was searching for. This isn’t always a bad thing, but under some circumstances it may result in awkward looking titles. If this is the case, generally the easiest way to solve the problem is to shorten the title.
Hopefully I’ve helped some of you learn something new about title tags. While these are some of the most common things I discover people haven’t yet learned about title tags, this list is by no means exhaustive. Feel free to include other tidbits in the comments below.