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Page Titles Are An Important Ranking Signal
SEO Page Title Tag Best Practices for Google in 2016
Ranking in Google in 2016 is about SO MUCH more than just optimising one element of a page. The Page Title Tag (or more accurately the HTML Title Element) is still, however, arguably the most important on-page SEO factor to address on any web page.
Keywords in page titles can HELP your pages rank higher in Google results pages (SERPs). The page title is also often used by Google as the title of a search snippet link in search engine results pages. Keywords in page titles often end up as links to your web page.
As arguably an important ranking element, it is very important NOT to keyword stuff this element across multiple pages, using boiler-plate techniques.
Page Titles: Example Use
<title>What Is The Best Title Tag For Google?</title>
Note also that the text link Google DISPLAYS as your page snippet title can change dynamically. A search snippet title is very much QUERY DEPENDENT in 2016. If you want to almost ensure a page title will display in full in google.co.uk on a desktop machine – stick to about 55 characters in length max – although if you do that – you are missing out on some longer tail ranking benefit. I go into all this in detail below.
The same page might have at least a few variations displayed in Google, all dependent on words typed by the user, and this process starts as soon as a page is published:
….and over time links and other data soon give Google even more options to change that search snippet title. I go into these options below, but you can in most instances prevent Google from changing your title tag if you are succinct and a little more careful when creating it, so Google is not compelled to modify it:
Note that desktop and mobile versions of Google are different too.
It was a surprise the first time I saw that Google displays longer title tags in MOBILE view than it does in DESKTOP view (in Google.co.uk, at least):
What Is The Perfect Page Title Tag?
There is no one-size -fits -all formula to creating the perfect title tag as the perfect title tag is perfectly relevant to the words that are on a specific page. An effective page title is created with how people search for things on the page in mind.
It’s difficult for me to describe an abstract but basically it does all come down to keywords and keyword phrases taken from text on the page (naturally) and expected popular/valuable search phrases (based on data available):
Different kinds of pages require different kinds of title tags. For certain pages, the perfect page title might change over time to guarantee diversity in anchor text to the page, as the title ends up often used as anchor text in backlinks from other sites. For some pages – a more permanent page title might suffice.
The perfect page title for the page is usually going to be very page dependant and eventually user query dependent.
I will point out I optimise for raw search engine traffic performance before I optimise for display performance.
There is a big difference.
I will use a long title if it suits the page content. Vice versa, I will use a short title if that instead suits the page.
I rarely try and be sensational with my titles. My titles are functional. And longer than some best practices. I very rarely trim my titles to meet a recommendation lay down by any third party.
I’ll often post a functional title and then revisit it after I publish it once I observe how it is performing against competing pages, or have made an error or have new inspiration to modify it.
I expect my page titles to change over time for I too am always testing and optimising.
For me, a perfect title tag in Google is going to be dependent on a number of competing factors;
- A page title that is highly relevant to the page it refers to will maximise usability, search engine ranking performance and user experience ratings as Google measures these. It will probably be displayed in a web browser’s window title bar, bookmarks and in clickable search snippet links used by Google, Bing & other search engines. The title element is the “crown” of a web page with important keyword phrase featuring AT LEAST ONCE within it.
- Most modern search engines have traditionally placed a lot of importance in the words contained within this HTML element. A good page title is made up of keyword phrases of value and high search volumes.
- The last time I looked Google displayed as many characters as it can fit into “a block element that’s 512px wide and doesn’t exceed 1 line of text”. So – THERE BECAME NO AMOUNT OF CHARACTERS any SEO could lay down as exact best practice to GUARANTEE a title will display, in full in Google, at least, as the search snippet title. Ultimately – only the characters and words you use will determine if your entire page title will be seen in a Google search snippet. Recently Google displayed 70 characters in a title – but that changed in 2011/2012.
- If you want to *ENSURE* your FULL title tag shows in the desktop UK version of Google SERPs, stick to a shorter title of about 55 characters but that does not mean your title tag MUST end at 55 characters and remember your mobile visitors see a longer title (in the UK, in March 2015 at least). What you see displayed in SERPs depends on the characters you use. In 2016 – I just expect what Google displays to change – so I don’t obsess about what Google is doing in terms of display. See the tests later on in this article.
- Google is all about ‘user experience’ and ‘visitor satisfaction’ in 2016 so it’s worth remembering that usability studies have shown that a good page title length is about seven or eight words long and fewer than 64 total characters. Longer titles are less scan able in bookmark lists, and might not display correctly in many browsers (and of course probably will be truncated in SERPs).
- Google will INDEX perhaps 1000s of characters in a title… but I don’t think no one knows exactly how many characters or words Google will count AS a TITLE when determining relevance for ranking purposes. It is a very hard thing to try to isolate accurately with all the testing and obfuscation Google uses to hide it’s ‘secret sauce’. I have had ranking success with longer titles – much longer titles. Google certainly reads ALL the words in your page title (unless you are spamming it silly, of course).
- You can probably include up to 12 words that will be counted as part of a page title, and consider using your important keywords in the first 8 words. The rest of your page title will be counted as normal text on the page.
- NOTE, in 2016, the HTML title element you choose for your page, may not be what Google chooses to include in your SERP snippet. The search snippet title and description is very much QUERY dependant these days. Google often chooses what it thinks is the most relevant title for your search snippet, and it can use information from your page, or in links to that page, to create a very different SERP snippet title.
- When optimising a title, you are looking to rank for as many terms as possible, without keyword stuffing your title. Often, the best bet is to optimise for a particular phrase (or phrases) – and take a more long-tail approach. Note that too many page titles and not enough actual page text per page could lead to Google Panda or other ‘user experience‘ performance issues. A highly relevant unique page title is no longer enough to float a page with thin content. Google cares WAY too much about the page text content these days to let a good title hold up a thin page on most sites.
- Some page titles do better with a call to action – a call to action which reflects exactly a searcher’s intent (e.g. to learn something, or buy something, or hire something. THINK CAREFULLY before autogenerating keyword phrase footprints across a site. Remember this is your hook in search engines, if Google chooses to use your page title in its search snippet, and there is a lot of competing pages out there in 2016.
- The perfect title tag on a page is unique to other pages on the site. In light of Google Panda, an algorithm that looks for a ‘quality’ in sites, you REALLY need to make your page titles UNIQUE (ESPECIALLY RELEVANT TO OTHER PAGES ON YOUR SITE), and minimise any duplication, especially on larger sites.
- I like to make sure my keywords feature as early as possible in a title tag but the important thing is to have important keywords and key phrases in your page title tag SOMEWHERE.
- For me, when SEO is more important than branding, the company name goes at the end of the tag, and I use a variety of dividers to separate as no one way performs best. If you have a recognisable brand – then there is an argument for putting this at the front of titles – although Google often will change your title dynamically – sometimes putting your brand at the front of your snippet link title itself. I often leave out branding. There is no one size fits all approach as the strategy will depend on the type of page you are working with.
- Note that Google is pretty good these days at removing any special characters you have in your page title – and I would be wary of trying to make your title or Meta Description STAND OUT using special characters. That is not what Google wants, evidently, and they do give you a further chance to make your search snippet stand out with RICH SNIPPETS and SCHEMA mark-up.
- I like to think I write titles for search engines AND humans.
- Know that Google tweaks everything regularly – why not what the perfect title keys off? So MIX it up…
- Don’t obsess. Natural is probably better, and will only get better as engines evolve. I optimise for key-phrases, rather than just keywords.
- I prefer mixed case page titles as I find them more scan able than titles with ALL CAPS or all lowercase.
- Generally speaking, the more domain trust/authority your SITE has in Google, the easier it is for a new page to rank for something. So bear that in mind. There is only so much you can do with your page titles – your websites rankings in Google are a LOT more to do with OFFSITE factors than ONSITE ones – negative and positive.
- Click satisfaction (whatever that is) is something that is likely measured by Google when ranking pages (Bing say they use it too), so it is really worth considering whether you are best optimising your page titles for user click-through satisfaction or optimising for more search engine rankings (the latter being risky in 2016).
- I would think keyword stuffing your page titles could be one area that Google could look at.
- Remember….think ‘keyword phrase‘ rather than ‘keyword‘, ‘keyword‘ ,’keyword‘… think Long Tail.
- Google will select the best title it wants for your search snippet – and it will take that information from multiple sources, NOT just your page title element. A small title is often appended with more information about the domain. Sometimes, if Google is confident in the BRAND name, it will replace it with that (often adding it to the beginning of your title with a colon, or sometimes appending the end of your snippet title with the actual domain address the page belongs to).
- Beware of repeating keywords unnecessarily, keyword stuffing or using bolierplate text to create your titles. Any duplication that is perceived by Googlebot as manipulation is easily down-ranked by algorithms.
Spammy Title Tags
When you write a page title, you have a chance right at the beginning of the page to tell Google (and other search engines) if this is a spam site or a quality site – such as – have you repeated the keyword 4 times or only once?
I think title tags, like everything else, should probably be as simple as possible, with the keyword once and perhaps a related term if possible.
I always aim to keep my HTML page title elements relatively simple, and looking as human-generated and unique, as possible, although it is easy to end up stuffing keywords in there.
Spammy title tags can also look real ugly. Your audience might not like ugly title tags, whereas another audience might not care.
As I said, page titles are ‘arguably the most important on-page SEO factor to address on any web page’ other than primary content, and as such, they may be used by Google against you if the detect an intent to rank higher by low-quality means.
Optimising your titles was traditionally the first place to go to to improve your rank in Google, so it is quite reasonable that Google would use this against you, if it wanted to. Yes – keyword stuffing works and might bring you traffic in the short term – but it may be that over time the benefit you get for this is pegged back, and wider site ‘quality signals’ are impacted, leading to less traffic than you would have got if you didn’t keyword stuff your titles.
That doesn’t mean you can’t have long titles. It just means don’t use the CMS and boilerplate methods to generate them. If you do employ long titles, make sure it is not just repeating the same words over and over again, and the title is uniquely relevant to that page.
For now – I would stick to very concise titles on pages and leave all boiler plating out. If it is machine generated, keep it very simple (and that advice probably fits for most of us).
Pay close attention to what Google says in 2016 about how to optimise your title tag:
make sure every page on your site has a title specified in the <title> tag
Page titles should be descriptive and concise
Avoid keyword stuffing
Avoid repeated or boilerplate titles
Brand your titles, but concisely (I generally wouldn’t bother with branding on most pages on your site – Shaun)
If you are doing anything other than the above to drive more organic traffic to a page using the age-old tactic of page title optimisation, you might run smack bang into the Google Quality Algorithm.
Dynamic Titles In Google SERP Snippet
Google works VERY differently since the days I started publishing results on such SEO tests. I kept some of the information below on this page to show how SEO learned what Google seemed to like, and how you tested such a thing, in case anyone is interested in the future.
With DYNAMIC page titles – Google is free to ignore the page title you use – and will choose the best title for your search snippet, based on what it thinks, is the most relevant text, to a search query.
It is now VERY COMMON for Google to create its own search snippet title, all but effectively ignoring the title you specified for the page.
I witnessed this tested for months if not for over a year (usually to help repair malformed titles or pages with the same title ‘tag’ as some call it, for instance), but it became very widespread, even for well formed pages too.
Example (from 2012):
Dynamic snippet titles seem to key off various signals – from anchor text pointing to the page in question, or from the page title itself, or from Headers (h1-h6) – all based on what the searcher actually typed in.
I see a lot of folk asking in forums why their snippet title is different from their page title, and it’s probably that you just now can’t ever guarantee what title Google will pick to match to a phrase (unless you control the linking of course – more of that below).
SEO are used to very dynamic DESCRIPTIONS in the snippet. Google is MUCH more confident at stretching that dynamism to the snippet title these days, and not just using this to ‘repair’ malformed or very unhelpful titles.
Perhaps EVEN more of a reason to mix up the anchor text pointing to a page, and creating unique page titles that are different from H1 headers etc….Note – There are other reasons your page title is wrong in Google (see below).
How Google, Yahoo & Bing Handle Title Snippet If Title Is ‘Malformed’
Google during 2015
I demonstrated a long time ago Google will use the next available Header, be it a H1, H2, H3, H4, H5 or H6.
Today, in 2016, Google is happy to label a page like this ‘untitled’ rather than put that much work into making sense of this specific page:
Google during 2012:
This SERP screenshot from 2012 is an example of Google using a H6 to form the snippet title.
I intend to change this back to a H2 to see if it picks it up again….
It’s worth pointing out that Google will even handle this particular word VERY DIFFERENTLY on a different site with more domain authority and/or better kind of page than my test page.
… so the point is to expect Google to modify your page titles in your SERP snippet – at some point.
Bing during 2015:
Yahoo and Bing now much work the same (as Bing actually powers Yahoo search now) as they have done for years. Bing and Yahoo will display as many characters as possible in the title tag. I would expect these to change to a more similar approach to Google’s in the coming year(s).
This is a screenshot of Bing in 2016…
Bing during 2012:
Yahoo during 2015:
Yahoo in 2012:
NOTE – It’s worth pointing out that you CAN search Bing and Yahoo for the longest word coined in the English language – and that is the word in the ‘malformed’ Page Title Element I am using to test this. It’s far too big to display – and far too big to even search for at Google.
Does Google Penalise Keyword Stuffing of Title Tags?
Some time ago I showed if you had a long spammy page title Google would ‘forgive you’.
At one time the recent past Google seemed to count the first 8-12 words (while displaying 70 characters in a search snippet) and then just seem to count the rest of the words as part of page text but it would not obviously penalise you for a massive title.
I’ve only ever seen one obvious case of Google ‘maybe’ responding negatively to a very spammy title.
A company contacted me to ask:
I was looking to see why my site has not been getting any hits
I Looked at the home page title:
Company Name – xxxxxxx, telephone, health and safety, xxxxxxx, scanner, PC, fax, monitor, xxxxxx, keyboard, office equipment, cleaning, cleaning service‚ cleaning company, computer cleaning, xxxxxxxx cleaning, PC cleaning, dust control, telephone cleaning, computer xxxxxx cleaning, anti static, xxxxxx room, printer cleaning, xxxxxxx display unit, raised access xxxxxx, preventative maintenance, zinc dust, anti static mat‚ xxxxxxx room, anti static flooring, xxxxxxx room, computer cleaning equipment, keyboard cleaning, companyname uk
Google showed no title in the page title link in the SERPs:
There was H1s on the page (multiples too) – but perhaps if created correctly, Google would have used a H1 as the title tag. Unfortunately, the site in this example was using images as H1 Tags too.
So, this could have been more about sloppy code, than actual penalty.
Over the course of my career, I’ve not made many observations of Google really penalising for keyword stuffing relevant page title elements. However, this sort of abuse (keyword stuffing titles) may well be rolled into things like the May 2015 Google Quality Algorithm. I don’t know, for sure.
How Many Words In A Page Title Tag?
Way back in 2007 I tested how many keywords will Google read in the title tag / element using a simple test. And here’s some of the observations, which were quite surprising.
First – here’s the test title tag I tried to get Google to swallow. And it did. All of it. Even though it was a bit spammy;
HoboA HoboB HoboC HoboD HoboE HoboF HoboG HoboH HoboI HoboJ HoboK HoboL HoboM HoboN HoboO HoboP HoboQ HoboR HoboS HoboT HoboU HoboV HoboW HoboX HoboY Hob10 Hob20 Hob30 Hob40 Hob50 Hob60 Hob70 Hob80 Hob90 Hob11 Hob12 Hob13 Hob14 Hob15 Hob16 Hob17 Hob18 Hob19 Hob1a Hob1b Hob1c Hob1d Hob1e Hob1f Hob1g Hob1h
Using a keyword search – hoboA Hob1h – we were surprised to see Google returned our page. We also tested it using – Hob1g Hob1h – the keywords right at the end of the title – and again our page was returned.
So that’s 51 words, and 255 characters without spaces, 305 characters with spaces, at least! It seems clear Google will read a title length of just about any amount – hence why some SEO do use very long titles.
Update: Qwerty pointed out an interesting fact about the intitle: site operator in Google.
…..results as expected. But next in the sequence returns the following, unexpected result…..
So what does this tell us? Google seemed to stop at the 12th word on this page at least when returning results using the intitle: site operator. Another interesting observation. Thanks Qwerty.
I’m obviously not sure what benefit a title tag with this many keywords in it has for your page, with regard to keyword density / dilution, and “clickability” in the search engine results pages (SERPs).
50 plus words in a title is certainly not best practice.
How Many Characters will Google DISPLAY As A Page Title SERP Snippet?
Desktop Examples from Google.co.uk March 2015:
At one time Google showed a maximum of 70 characters in the title – but, as the examples above illustrate: in 2016 it is not possible to lay down an exact number of characters for page snippets in Google:
Google displays as many characters as it can fit into ”a block element that’s 512px wide and doesn’t exceed 1 line of text”. So – THERE IS NO AMOUNT OF CHARACTERS any SEO can lay down as exact best practice to GUARANTEE your title will display, in full in Google, at least.Ultimately – only the characters and words you use will determine if your entire page title will be seen in a Google search snippet.
What is was pre-2012:
This is a common question and surprising how many people don’t know it. Google will display up to 70 characters maximum in a Page Title for Google. How many characters or words Google actually counts in terms of attributing it to the page title in the TITLE element is another story. Best practice – keep your page titles to under 70 characters and keep your important keywords in the first 55 characters or 8 words if you think like me there must be a limit on the number of characters in anchor text link. If your page title is over 70 characters, Google will truncate your page title when it displays it in the SERPs leaving you with a page title that doesn’t make any … ;) PS – here’s some test pages that illustrate Google displays 70 characters in the page title – and if it encounters 71 characters, it will consider the page title malformed and Google will use the next available H tag as the page title (although sometimes it will use incoming anchor text too).
Home Page Title Is Wrong/Different In Google Search Results
In short, Google will often make up its own snippet title for the page, if it thinks it can create a cleaner one, based on what it knows about the page from internal links, content, HTML mark-up and links from other sites to this page. I thought I would list some of the more obvious reasons your home page title seems wrong in Google search results:
- If you’re totally new to this, Google will look in your page <title></title> tags in the HEAD for your page title information, to display as the link to your page in search results (SERPs)
- If you’ve made changes recently to optimise your page title for search engines, it might very well be just that Google doesn’t know yet, because it’s not visited your page since you made the change. So give it time. Check the Google CACHE link under your listing in search engines to see which page Google is “supposedly” using for your page (it’s usually accurate).
- If this is clearly not the case, it might be because it is using Open Directory Project (ODP) data (the DMOZ directory) to replace your title with your directory listing data – that is, it’s using the link on that directory to replace your title because it thinks its more relevant to a specific query. If this is a possibility, add <meta name=”robots” content=”noodp” /> and <meta name=”robots” content=”noydir” /> – for the same issue in Yahoo – to your home page and once Google visits the page again, the problem should be resolved See – NOODP & also NOYDIR.
- If you are not in DMOZ or the Yahoo directory, it may well be your title element ‘My Title’ is malformed in someway – I’ve shown before how search engines can choose to use a Header ‘tag’ as a Page title, or ignore the page title completely if you’re a spammer in the making – so ensure your Page Title is properly marked up and starts with and ends with and is in the HEAD of your document – and there is only one.
- Another reason is you may be confusing Google in some way from getting to the correct page title, and/or from displaying it in results, using directives in your meta tags or Robots.txt. When Google knows about the page because other pages it CAN read link to your page with descriptive keywords, it might very well use these links on third party pages to determine what that page title should be if it decides to include the URI in its listings, and you CERTAINLY don’t want that. For questions about Robots.txt I go to Sebastian.
- Google uses many signals to help create a search snippet title these days, and will use elements or attributes of your page, or the information in links to your page, to create a snippet title, based on what a searcher typed in.
An intelligent, well formed page title, that is highly relevant to the page, and not duplicated on other pages of your site, is just about the most important single thing you can do to ‘SEO’ a page on your site – after you’ve got some text to put a title on, of course.
Your Page Title is still INCREDIBLY IMPORTANT
Having valuable keyword phrases in your page title is a must for Google to work out the topic of your page, but it’s also a great opportunity for a call to action.
I would be BE VERY WARY in 2016 of repeating keywords using boilerplate techniques throughout multiple pages on a site in an effort to improve SEO, to make them ‘unique’. If an example title tag is 50% similar to another title, or many other titles on your page – that might be not what Google would call ‘unique’.
There’s lots of opportunity to find if you experiment with more laser focused page title for search engines, or more engaging title for humans, however if you take one thing away from this article today – remember this:
A highly relevant unique page title is no longer enough to rely on if the page itself is ‘thin content’.
Google wants to rank long form, keyword rich text pages (with nice titles) these days – rather than the opposite of that, which is what it used to want to rank.
Single, unique, long form quality content pieces with a well thought out page title perform REALLY well in Google in 2016.
That’s better for users, better for Google’s bottom line and harder for spammers….perfect, for Google.
Check out our Character Counter Tool if you want to count some characters.
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