Good Title Tags vs. Bad Title Tags

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Alyssa Scavetta
03.10.17

And why any of this still matters

I learned an important lesson the other day. A few months back, I had started to notice a trend among popular agency websites and bloggers I follow: the tagless title tag. The ones that say Brand | Home. That’s it. Nothing else to describe the company or brand and what they do, or what they might be ranking for.

It was interesting to see this trending and a huge break from articles I’ve previously read where experts say these things are still important, regardless of title tags’ priority being lowered in recent years (reason a, reason b, reason c, reason d -- the list goes on).

So I did the unthinkable. I tried it out on my own website. And while there was some turbulence, as any good troubleshooter would say, correlation does not equal causation. In this case it was the culmination of a few different content issues within my homepage, but it did get me wondering: what is the genetic makeup of a good title tag versus a bad title tag in 2017?

The Anatomy of a Bad Title Tag

Let’s start with the bad. I want to lay this out as plainly as possible because there are those, like me, that might see a trend and think it’s a worthwhile attempt at strong branding when it’s really just a bad attempt at SEO. Do not follow the trend -- keep researching!

According to SearchEngineWatch, a great example of a bad title tag looks like:

Best Burgers In London Bad Google Search

“The brand name and most important keywords are the opposite of where they should be. The headline itself also lacks any description or anything vaguely persuasive to make me want to click.”

The next one not only doesn’t answer my search of “half marathon training options”, but looks so confusing I honestly didn’t know what I was going to find after I clicked.

Half Marathon Training Austin Search

The example above was actually listed on page 5, and it’s easy to see how this happened. The brand name is in the middle of the title tag and the entire tag is so long it gets cut off by Google -- all of which are recipes for disaster.

To sum up why these two examples are so bad, it’s important to note a few key components that make a successful title tag:

  • Keyword matching

  • Tag length

  • Level of interest

Your title tags should always run between 50-60 characters to be displayed by Google properly in as many formats as possible. We definitely wouldn’t suggest keyword stuffing, by try to do some keyword research before building out your web pages, and do include the page title/most searched and related keywords within the tag. If your business is also largely locally-accessible, it’s important to include the city and state as well.

Unless you’re an internationally-recognized brand like Wendy’s or Dove, it’s also important that you make your brand name the end component, so that people who are looking for actionable content in their research can get to know what you’re about first, before ever hearing your company name.

What Good Title Tags Look Like

Kicking off the good list is Eater Austin with this search result:

Chinese Food Austin Search

It’s clear and concise. It puts the brand after the dash and leaves the point of interest in the front. It includes almost all of the most important keywords and without me having to add “near me” at the end of my search for good Chinese food.

This next one is extremely competitive and difficult to rank for, considering I just searched for “best exercises”.

Exercise All Time Search

But again, they keep the character limit at a steady 53 characters. They leave the brand name after the pipe, and while the title may seem a little click-baitey, it answers my broad search fairly dead-on.

Why Any of This Matters

Here’s the main point I promised I would get to.

This matters because Google still does things like bold keywords that matched your search terms within the search results. According to Kissmetrics, “Even if the keyword you use in the meta description doesn’t help in search rankings, it still might help in getting a searchers attention. When someone searches for a particular keyword or phrase, it will be bolded in search results wherever it appears. So if you are targeting that keyword, you will want it to stand out.”

Another reason is that social networks are still pulling your meta tags/imagery into their publishing systems. Which is great as this actively helps your users to be more engaged with your social posts rather than continue scrolling past.

Furthermore, according to Moz, “title tags are a major factor in helping search engines understand what your page is about, and they are the first impression many people have of your page.”

As Google continues to make algorithmic improvements that make search engines more user-friendly, it’s important to keep in mind that you should be doing the same thing with your content strategy. Everything you write, from website structure and schema markup to web pages and blog posts must be user-friendly. Because at the end of the day, you’re not writing for the search engine, but for the user on the other side of the screen.


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