The meta title element: info, uses and best practice

The meta title element: info, uses and best practice

The meta title element (aka the title tag) is one of several document head elements specified in HTML web pages. This article describes how to write a strong meta title and explains how this is used by web browsers, search engine robots and web visitors.

We will then look at some tips for writing a good title and some practices to avoid.

About the title element

The title element is an HTML tag which is placed in the head of the HTML document. As a head element, the title element must be placed between the opening and closing head tags, as follows:

<head> <title>your chosen title</title> </head>

If you are using a content management system like Wordpress to create your webpages, your title will be automatically generated based on the title of your page or post. However, it is often advisable to edit the default title element so that it is optimised to entice users and search engines.

Why is the title tag important?

First, every HTML document has to have a title element. Any document not containing this element will not validate as HTML.

Aside from this technical necessity, the title tag is one of the most visible elements of any webpage both to visitors and search engine robots.

Second, the title element is displayed as the clickable blue/purple link on he search engine results pages (SERPs). It therefore plays a huge part in whether a visitor will be interested enough to visit your webpage. See the shaded yellow area on the image below.

Meta title example

Third, the title element is crawled by search engine robots/spiders to gain an idea of what your webpage is about. A well written title element will help the search engines to rank you for the keywords you are targeting.

Finally, the title element is often, but not always, pulled through as headline text when your webpage is shared as a social media post.

Best practice when writing title tags

Since your title element plays such a big role in making your webpage visible, it is worth spending some time on it.

A study by SEO specialists Moz provided evidence that search engines weighted keywords at the beginning of a title more than those towards the end. So, wherever possible, you should aim to place the keywords you really want to rank for right towards the beginning of the title element.

Less important keywords can appear further along the title with your brand name, if relevant, last of all.

As well as ensuring your title is appealing to readers while containing important keywords, you should also aim to stay within the recommended title length. Although 50-60 characters is a good guide, bear in mind that characters vary in width and even titles of fewer than 50 words are sometimes truncated and replaced by ellipses (...) in SERPs.

If you are not happy with the way your content management system creates titles, you may be able to specify your own. This is good practice if you write a blog since the title element should ideally differ from the title of your post (which will be between H1 tags anyway).

The Yoast plug-in, available for free for Wordpress-based websites, allows you to write your own title for every page and displays the outcome in a preview.

Or you could direct your CMS to display your titles in a certain way using code-based templates. This is very efficient for e-commerce sites where it would be impractical to manually write titles for all products.

As an example, you could instruct every product page title to be displayed as:

[product name] - [category] / [brand name]

Finally, it is worth noting that search engines will not always follow the script and may sometimes use different information to populate the title tag.

For example, if your webpage is ranking well for search terms you are not targeting, search engines may pull relevant keywords from elsewhere in the document. This is fine if you are also ranking well for your target keywords. If not, you should consider rewriting your title or your webpage so that the two more closely match.

How not to write a title tag

If you want to remain on the right side of the search engines, avoid the practice of keyword stuffing. Also known as over-optimisation, this is where you add a long list of keywords and keyword variations in your title (and other areas of your webpage document) in the mistaken belief that you will rank well for all of them.

Not only is this likely to get your website penalised by the search engines, it also looks ugly to readers. It is also unnecessary since search engine algorithms are smart enough now to understand when a webpage is broadly relevant to a search term.

Another practice to avoid is putting your brand name (or other generic text) at the beginning of your title element. Search engines are likely to mark such webpages down as duplicate content, harming their rankings.

It should also go without saying that page titles such as 'Home Page' and 'About' will not help your cause whatsoever.

For help with optimising your meta tags and content, or to find out how we build good SEO practice into all of our websites, please contact Eyes Down today.

Topics: Copywriting, Search engine optimisation (SEO)

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