SEO 101: What’s a Title Tag?
Ian Lurie Jul 29 2009
I’m spending today trying not to spontaneously combust. Assuming I don’t vanish with a puff of smoke and a FOOMP, this will be a quick primer on title tags.
In case you don’t know: In web terms, the ‘title tag’ is a hidden bit of code on your page. It’s typically visible to the public in two places.
First, in the title bar of your web browser:
And second, as the headline of most search snippets on search results pages:
As the headline of a search snippet, the title tag is the ultimate arbiter of clickability. A good title tag will get your search ranking clicked. A bad one will likely drive away potential visitors.
But the title tag is also the #1 onpage search ranking factor. More on that, after I do a quick HTML dissection (ew):
The Bones and Guts and Stuff
If you click ‘View’ and then ‘Page Source’ in Firefox, or View >> Source in Internet Explorer, you’ll see what the title tag looks like when the skin’s off the skeleton:
That’s it – what all the fuss is about. See how the text matches the search snippet and title bar text, above?
Edit the stuff between ‘<title>’ and ‘</title>’ and you change what appears in the search engines, as well as the title bar.
Why You Should Care
Search engines rank pages, not web sites. At the top of the hierarchy that they use to do that ranking sits the title tag.
The title tag is the single most powerful ranking factor over which you have control. If you don’t optimize your title tags, don’t bother optimizing your site.
OK, that’s a little extreme, but launching an SEO campaign without title tag optimization is a bit like launching a sailboat without sails. You’re not going to get very far.
What You Should Do
Armed with this knowledge, you can now march down the hall to your web dude (or dudette) and request that:
- The target phrase go first in the title tag. If I’m optimizing for “Buckets”, then “Buckets: All shapes and colors at bucketorama” is good. “Bucketorama: All kinds of buckets” is bad.
- By default, your shopping cart software put the product name first in all title tags, then the category name, then the brand.
- Your content management system (CMS) and/or shopping cart software let you customize title tags product by product, as desired. The title tag must be independent of the page’s visible headline:
- Editing title tags on your site take less than 10 minutes per page (please lord).
- There’s a regular weekly time (minimum) scheduled for those edits.
That last item is really important: As your pages rise and fall in the rankings for different phrases, you’ll likely want to tweak your titles a bit, adding and removing words for better clickability or rankings. Don’t let someone tell you you can edit those tags ‘just this once’.
That’s it! Amazing how that one little tag can have such an impact…
If this was too elementary, let me know and I won’t write this kind of stuff. If it was helpful, let me know, too.
- Search Engines Are Structured Thinkers
- 10 SEO and Marketing-Friendly Title Tag Formulas
- Aggregation Aggravation, Part 3: Clickability
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Ian Lurie is CEO and founder of Portent Inc. He's recorded training for Lynda.com, writes regularly for the Portent Blog and has been published on AllThingsD, Forbes.com and TechCrunch. Ian speaks at conferences around the world, including SearchLove, MozCon, SIC and ad:Tech. Follow him on Twitter at portentint. He also just published a book about strategy for services businesses: One Trick Ponies Get Shot, available on Kindle. Read More