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When a user makes a search query in Google, their first impression of a website is the title tag. An effective title tag will make it more likely that a searcher can find the most relevant content more quickly and with less frustration. In other words, Google can use title tags to promote a good user experience.
Unfortunately for Google, many websites ignore or under-utilize their title tags. To combat this, Google started looking for "clues" around these un-optimized pages to make inferences about what a good title tag would be.
Now, instead of serving up a listing with a title tag that says "Home"—something that is pretty useless to a searcher— Google enabled itself to show something that is more relevant.
User-Friendly Title Tags
Google changes their ranking algorithm constantly. In fact, the algorithm changes an estimated 500-600 times per year. But the one thing that remains a constant in every single update is that they are made in the interest of making the web a more user-friendly place.
Think about this for a moment: Google Panda cracks down on sites with thin, poorly-written content. Penguin cracks down on sites that are over-optimized. The freshness update rewards sites that provide insightful, regularly updated content. Even technical updates—like pushing for faster site load times— are meant to benefit the end user. And it is this very reason why, through all of the change, title tags are still considered an important ranking factor.
Title Tag Optimization
Nowadays, and much to the chagrin of webmasters, Google also started serving up their own version of title tags—even if the page title was already optimized.
Although Google has the ultimate say on what shows up for your site’s title tags, there are things you can do to ensure your title tags show up the way you want:
- Be descriptive and concise. Keep your title tags to 65 characters or less.
- Avoid keyword stuffing. Keyword stuffing comes across as spammy to web users. Include keywords ONLY where applicable. If it seems like you’re stretching to add a keyword, you’re violating this rule.
- Make title tags unique. If you have duplicate title tags, it can be more difficult for the search engines to determine which page should be given priority in the rankings for a specific keyword. Duplicate title tags also make it more confusing for a visitor to know which page is most relevant to their search query.
- Check your source code. If you have multiple <title> tags in your source code, you’re confusing Google. Make sure you only have one <title> and one </title> tag on each page of your site. Additionally, make sure you don’t have any typos around the <title> and </title> tags. One missing letter or carat can cause big problems.
Your Title Tags, Your Way
There is no way to force Google to show title tags the way you want. But if you follow the rules above, your title tags will be more user-friendly, which increases the likelihood that they will appear as you intend.
Have you paid as much attention to your title tags as you should be? Have you tried any different approaches that have helped? Leave a comment and let us know!