Title Tags of Top Sites - Mastering Search

When it comes to on-site search engine optimization, few elements are more important than the title tag.

For those unfamiliar with the term "title tag," it describes the text that appears in the top line of a user's Web browser. It is also used by search engines as the actual title of a search listing.

If you run an SEO campaign, then you should be very interested in how title tags are currently used - and how they can be improved - on your site. If you run an SEO campaign and are a savvy SEO, you'll also notice how competitors use title tags on their Web properties.

Writing descriptive title tags is a vitally important aspect of optimizing a site to rank well with the search engines and getting clicked on by visitors on search results pages. A well-crafted title tag can stand on its own, generating interest from users who know nothing of your website or company, pulling them into the conversion funnel. That is the expectation an SEO department should set when making title tag modifications.

Any effort to modify title tags site-wide should not be entered into lightly. Among the considerations that should be made are the sales and marketing strategies of the Web enterprise or the business running the website. It is also imperative that the SEOs working on the behalf of a company benchmark the competition as well as those outside the industry to understand how the most popular websites leverage their title tags.

So, what do the title tags of the most popular sites have in common? Website Magazine examined the search results pages of both Bing and Google for the answer. While only one category is represented it is highly competitive in nature. The keyword phrases used were "grocery coupons" and "printable coupons".

Presence of Keywords

Experienced SEOs know plenty from years of title tag tweaks -such as to include at least one targeted keyword or phrase. That certainly makes sense, but you might be surprised at how few of them actually make the effort, opting instead for using generic terms that do not distinguish a page, much less excite users - particularly on long tail keyword phrases.

Still other SEOs realize the importance of using the title tag as an opportunity to achieve rankings through keyword association, as in the case of CouponMom.com below.

Prominence of Keywords

It is also relatively well known that, whenever possible, keywords should be used early in the title - it is most common to have the keyword or key phrase used in the first half of the full title. This helps search engines and the visitors they send identify the main subject of the page quickly, not to mention to ensure that page titles do not get cut off by search engines. See the Coupon- Mom.com image above as an example.

Brand Inclusion

You might also notice the inclusion of brand elements on a high percentage of competitive search results pages. Coupon- Cabin.com (image below), for example, even includes its name (without the dot com), and even Coupon Divas (image above) includes its registered trademark. If the brand is strong and provides clarity as to what a user might find, using brand elements should be considered for inclusion in title tags.

Special Character Omission

The verdict is out on the role that special characters may play in ranking and click-through rate (which many believe are inextricably connected). For now, it is best practice to avoid many special characters in page titles - doing so will put your site at least in line with the vast majority of Web properties.

It's compelling (and, some would argue, attractive) to include colons, hash marks, dollar signs and ampersands - but the top sites typically do not and you shouldn't, either. That being said, there may just be something to being different - as might be the case with wow-coupons.com (image above).

Length of Title Tag

Finally, but perhaps most importantly, understand that search engines have limits as to how many characters are used from the title tag and can display up to 70 characters. There is little in the way of statistical data about the role that title tag length may play in generating clicks (is longer or shorter better?), but focusing on readability and establishing expectations for users should be the primary objective anyway.

There is no silver bullet to title tag optimization. Simply take great care in selecting the right keywords and phrases, leaving out the unnecessary elements, and focusing near exclusively on readability and the value that visitors will find upon arriving at your site.