Why SEO Starts with the Title

Friday’s SEO tips day, and I realize that I never really started with the basics here. So, at the risk of alienating the quick-studies, I’m going to touch on what’s widely agreed as the most important on-page element to a web site’s search engine optimization — the Title tag.

If you’re like most people, you hardly notice the title of the web page you’re viewing, at least until you’re trying to create a bookmark and are frustrated when you see “Widgets company: blue widgets: widgets that I’m looking at: specific attributes of the widget” trying to clog up your otherwise tidy bookmarks folder. Yet, this second-class piece of content is vital to a page’s search indexing and likelihood it gets clicked on in the SERPs.

Why? Because that’s the text of the link that appears in the search results. If your homepage tag reads, well, “home,” you’re in trouble. It’s also not great if your Title tag is something very vague, like “Brown and Sons” if your actual business is concrete pouring and excavation. “Cement, Concrete Pouring & Excavation, Hillsboro, North Carolina” is much preferable (albeit a bit of a mouthful). Chances are, on a page that has barely any other information at all, this page will be at the very top of the search results.

Google also sees the Title tag at the top of the hierarchy of information about what a page is about. They assume that this tag describes most succinctly the content of the site, and that heading elements (H1, H2, H3, etc) will support this topic, as will the content. Naming a page per the last example and then having a entire page about Frank & Johnny’s Pizza is likely to have some unintended and perhaps bizarre effects, as Google will assume that the page is about one or the other and rank you somewhere in between rather than at the top of anything.

By this same logic, it’s important to keep Title tags concise and focused. Pages that emphasize more than 4 or 5 terms are unlikely to get good rankings for any of them, especially if the phrases aren’t thematically related. You obviously want to include as much as possible on your home page, but if your goal is diverse keyword rankings, you’re better off custom-tailoring pages targeted for those key phrases rather than stuffing them all into the same page.

This all ties in to the idiom “content is king” and another favorite of mine — “less is more.” Keep your content focused, though don’t be afraid to “brand” your Title (Blue Cars in Maine – Joe’s Car Dealership). You should strive to keep your Title tags as short as possible, 6-8 words tops, but any text that extends beyond that limit simply isn’t calculated in the search engine equation (or at least, we don’t think it is… this week).

So, just to recap:

“Joe’s Pizza – Home”

would be better as

“Jacksonville, Mississippi Pizza Parlor & Restaurant – Joe’s Pizza”

while

“Candy bars chocolate bars snickers delicious candy yummy treats confections lollipops sugar store”

is not as good as

“Fine chocolate and Confections – Little Falls, Minnesota – Jim’s Candy Store”

and may even serve you well as

“Jim’s Little Falls Minnesota Chocolate & Candy Store”

Use keywords prudently, keep it short, describe effectively and make what you say count. Here’s to the haiku of SEO!