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Title Tag SEO: Optimizing Titles For Better Ranking

Avatar for John Locke

John Locke is a SEO consultant from Sacramento, CA. He helps manufacturing businesses rank higher through his web agency, Lockedown SEO.

What is the title tag and why does it matter for SEO?

The title tag is the headline that appears in a search result.

Also, the title tag appears in your browser tab when you are viewing that page.

The title tag is meant to be a concise representation of what a web page is about.

In search results, the title tag is the first thing that people look at to determine whether they will click on a search result.

Title tag in SERP

There are many reasons why you should pay close attention to what the title tag is for each page of your website.

Search Engine Results: First Interaction with Your Brand

In many cases, the first time your customers interact with your brand is in the search results.

Like a good newspaper headline, a good title tag tells the story of what a web page is about, and entices people to click through and learn more.

When customers are looking for a specific service in their city (for example, Sacramento SEO services), they want to know if you can solve their problem, and who you are.

A well crafted title tag can help tell that story, and get people to click through to your site. Click through rate is one metric Google uses to judge if a specific search result should be higher or lower in the rankings.

Customers should find the information that matches the title tag on the page they have clicked through to. Make sure the page title accurately describes what people will find on that page.

Title Tag Structure

In HTML, this is what your title tag looks like:

    <title>Your Page Title Goes Here | Your Brand Name</title>

What’s the Best Way to Write Title Tags?

Once you’ve done your keyword research, include your targeted search phrase in the title tag.

The ideal title tag structure is to put the primary keyword phrase near the beginning, followed by the secondary keyword phrase, and then the brand name.

Primary Keyword – Secondary Keyword Phrase | Brand Name

What’s the Perfect Length for a Title Tag?

The ideal length of a title tag is between 50 and 60 characters. Google currently displays the first 600 pixels of a title before cutting it off in search results.

How many characters will display depends on what characters you use.

Wider characters, such as capitalized letters or the letter W take up more pixel room than skinnier characters, like the letter I.

What Happens When My Title Tag Is Too Long?

If your title tag exceeds 600 pixels on desktop, Google will truncate the extra space and add an ellipsis to the end.

Here’s what it looks like when the title tag is to long and it gets cut off.

Title tag is too long and gets cut off

If your primary keyword phrase is long, use this title tag structure instead.

Primary Keyword Phrase | Brand Name

If you’re using Yoast SEO on your WordPress site, it will show you a preview of what your title tag will look like in Google. Below is a screenshot of the Yoast module when you are editing a post.

Title tag in Yoast SEO

How Do I Edit Title Tags in Yoast SEO?

Yoast SEO will automatically pull in your page title and create a title tag. The default setting for a page title in Yoast is Page title | Site Name.

If you want to create a title tag that is different than the name of your page, follow these instructions.

  • 1. While editing a page, scroll down to the Yoast SEO widget.
  • 2. Click the Edit snippet button.
  • 3. Fill out the SEO title field. When the title length bar turns green, you have an optimal length title.
  • 4. If the title length bar turns orange, the title is either too long or too short.
  • 5. Save the page as a Draft, Publish it, or Update it.

Edit title tags in Yoast SEO

Remember that there are two buttons for the title preview in Yoast SEO: one for mobile, and one for desktop.

For mobile users, Google is currently displaying most overly-long title tags without cutting them off. On desktop, Google is enforcing the 600 pixel title limit and adding an ellipsis for the title overrun.

If you want to change the title tag default variables, Yoast has a guide on how to do that on their site.

How Many Words Does Google Actually Look at in the Title Tag?

Because businesses used to keyword stuff title tags in the early 2000s, search engines only look at about the first seven to eight words in a title tag.

Google will index title tags hundreds of characters long. However, it is unlikely that they look at anything beyond the first 64 characters or first eight words with any significance towards the search result.

Can I reuse the same title tags on multiple pages? What happens if I repeat them?

Duplicate title tags are something you should avoid, as well as duplicate meta descriptions.

Google looks at unique page content as a quality factor. Reusing title tags on multiple pages has been shown to have a negative influence on page rank and SEO.

Where does the title tag show up in search results and social media?

All major social media platforms now use open graph data to pull page information into a social media post.

When you paste a web address into Facebook, Twitter, or LinkedIn, those platforms can grab information form the page. This information includes the title tag, meta description, and featured image. That information is usually then formatted as a card-style link to the original article.

Title tags: Open Graph data in social media

In the screenshot above, you can see the title tag and featured image being pulled in by LinkedIn, simply by inputting the URL of the page.

What does a good title tag look like?

Well-written title tags have a few things in common.

They contain keywords that people search for.

You can rank number one for a given search term, but if no one searches for it, that won’t bring traffic to your site. You can use a tool like Keyword Finder to find out how many searches a term gets each month.

Great title tags put the keyword information near the beginning of the tag.

People glance at search results, and the titles that jump out at people and describe what they are looking for get clicked. Remember the formula: Primary keyword phrase first, secondary keyword phrase and brand name second. If you are trying to rank for a local market, include the city information in the title tag.

Title tags should be about 600px wide, and no more than about 65 characters in length.

High quality title tags are not keyword stuffed.

Avoid spamming customers in the title tag (or anywhere on your site). Google understands word meanings and relationships much better than it did even five years ago. That leads us to the next bullet point.

Is the secret to page titles just answering questions that people ask?

In recent years, Google has made great effort to understand the intent behind searches. Google can, for the most part, tell when you are asking a question, even if you didn’t phrase your search as a question.

Answering questions may happen on the actual page of your site, but that trickles all the way down to your title tag in search results.

By using either questions, or the answers to questions your customers have as title tags, your business has a better chance of compelling users to click on search results.

Should I load my title tag down with keywords? Can that affect my ranking?

For many years, people have made the mistake of writing title tags (and pages) for search engines, not humans.

If you are still banking on ranking well by keyword stuffing your title tag and pages, stop immediately.

Search engines have become incredibly sophisticated, and rely ever-increasingly on user behavior for ranking signals. If users aren’t finding what they’re looking for on your page, you can actually hurt your search rank.

Instead of focusing on repeating keywords in your title tag, write a compelling title that describes what your customers are looking for.

Remember the formula we described earlier in this article: lead with the primary keyword. If there is room, add a secondary search phrase, and end with your brand name.

Google understands synonyms and words that mean similar things as your search phrase. There is no need to repeat close variations. This will not help you rank higher, or compel users to click your search result.

Your customers do not want to click on spammy-looking results.

Always write your page headlines and title tags for humans, not search engines.

How long does it take for Google to index your title tag change?

Google will not change the search preview for your page the instant you change the title and meta description.

The search engines have to re-crawl and re-index your page in order to display the new title and description in search results.

This usually takes a few days to a week. The more consistently you publish new pages to your site, the more often Google will crawl your site.

How does brand recognition planted title tag click through rate?

A strong brand is good for SEO in many ways.

When people have to choose between two otherwise equal search results, one generic, and one with a recognizable brand, they will usually click the branded result.

Effective content marketing builds your authority around a subject, and may make people more likely to click when they see your site in the results.

The ultimate goal is to have people search for answers with your brand name in the search query.

Needless to say, this level of SEO takes a lot of work to achieve.

Make your brand synonymous with the subject you are trying to rank for, and you will have a huge advantage over your competitors.

Why is Google replacing my title tag with something different?

Sometimes, Google will rewrite the title of a search result when it believes the page content is relevant to the search result, and the title does not reflect that.

Common occurrences where your title tag will be rewritten:

  • Your brand name is not in the title tag, but the Google algorithm thinks it should be there.
  • The provided title is too long, and it is rewritten for better relevancy.
  • The title tag doesn’t match the search query, but the page content does.

Can you stop Google from rewriting the title tag?

For the most part, no.

But what you can do is:

  • Answer searcher’s intent in the title as best as possible.
  • Avoid generic title tags.
  • Stay away from overly long page titles

We have algorithms designed to present the best possible result titles. This change will show a more succinct title for results where the current title is so long that it gets truncated. We’ll only do this when the new, shorter title is just as accurate as the old one.

— Google Webmaster Help

What’s good advice for title tags for a local business?

A good formula for a business trying to rank locally is to include your main city and service described on that page. This would be for local services pages, or your home page.

If you are close to a large city, it might be wise to try and rank for that city, instead of a suburb.

There are other factors that go into local SEO. Setting your Google Business Profile service area, including lots of localized content on your site, and
cleaning up local brand citations are just a few.

For each page on your site, think about what search phrase you want to focus on. Choose one search phrase for each page and focus on that one subject.

Don’t try to rank for five things on each page. Just focus your title tag and your page on one particular subject.

If you have multiple business locations, it is a good idea to set up landing pages for each location. On the other hand, if you have one location, refrain from setting up twenty similarly-worded landing pages for each neighborhood in your region. These are decreasing in effectiveness and can be considered doorway pages.

Does Title Case or Sentence Case Best for SEO in Title Tags?

Title case is when every word is capitalized. Sentence case is when only the first word is capitalized.

Google looks at the words on the web page the same, whether they are capitalized, lowercase, uppercase, or any other type of case.

When it comes to title tags, the important thing is to beat the average click-through-rate (CTR) for the average position.

If your page is at position 5 for a given search query, and the average CTR is 5%, you want to write your title in such a way that the click-through-rate is more than 5%. Title case is how most people write headlines and title tags, but writing title tags in sentence case won’t hurt your SEO.


Title tags are one of the most important components of on-page SEO. Writing a good title tag that includes your keyword phrase is a critical aspect of good SEO.

Avatar for John Locke

John Locke is a SEO consultant from Sacramento, CA. He helps manufacturing businesses rank higher through his web agency, Lockedown SEO.

2 comments on “Title Tag SEO: Optimizing Titles For Better Ranking

  1. Well, this post covers everything you need to know about optimizing Title tags. I have one question though.

    Is there a plugin for WordPress that will sort out Titles that are too long. I’m using Moz at the moment that says I have 65-page Titles too long or do I have to go in and shorten each page Title?

    1. Hi Joquim:

      As far a I know, there isn’t a plugin that will automatically shorten title tags that are longer than a certain number of characters. If you have thousands of pages to go through, you might have to use an outside tool to check for titles that are too long, then edit those directly from that list.


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