Our Blog

01 Apr 2014

It’s Time to Rethink Title Tag Strategy (Again)

Time-to-Rethink-The-Title-Tag
Google recently changed the way search results are displayed and more big changes are imminent. The long-standing guidelines with respect to title length and strategy now have to be reevaluated (again).

We actually shouldn’t complain. Title tags have very rarely required dramatic shift in strategy. However, this update is essentially cutting down the visible character limit in Google search results by approximately 15%… which is a big deal.

If you’re new to SEO, here is a brief (and very informal) summary of title strategy through the years.

Title Tag Strategy Pre-2005 to Present

Pre 2005: Many sites succeeded by placing as many exact match keywords (regardless of title length) in the title tag element, even though this meant visible title characters were ‘cut off’ in search results. Title spam was often king.

Pre 2005 Example Title (97 characters):
Men’s Running Shoes, Nike Running Shoes, New Balance Running Shoes, All Terrain Running Shoes, Best Running Shoes

Pre-2011: Six years later, over-optimized titles still largely dominated search results and exact match domains ruled a significant percentage of page one search results, although many EMD sites and smaller sites made good use of their ‘brand mention’ in the title. Also the use of the vertical bar “|” for brand separation was still kind of cool (just because you wanted to show your friends you could use that function on your keyboard).

Example Pre-2011 Title (64 characters):
Men’s Running Shoes from Nike, New Balance, Reebok & More | Sports Authority

evolution-of-man-computer1

Before 2014 (and after 2011): Google Panda now demanded tight control of content including title text. Neither intentional nor unintentional near-duplicate titles could rank easily. Concise and semantic title tags with 1-2 primary keywords and catchy, semantic titles helped rankings and click-through rates. Vertical bars are no longer cool.

Before 2014 Example Title (66 characters):
Men’s Running Shoes for Every Type of Terrain, Order Online – Sports Authority

After March 2014: Google rolled out new SERP layout complete with larger text and additional CSS font treatment. You can no longer hold to the time-tested guideline of 65-70 characters. Title length is now determined by 512 pixels (or roughly hewn down to 55 characters).

Example Title (<55 characters):
Men’s Running Shoes for All Terrain – Sports Authority

No More 65-70 Character Titles?

Nope. They are likely gone forever but don’t fret young Padawan. We still have 512 pixels to work with. That’s correct, the most accurate measurement for title length is now approximately 512 pixels meaning exact character count is no longer valid. ALL CAPS requires more space just as wide letters.

How Do I Calculate 512 Pixel Characters for My Titles?

- Screaming Frog
MOZ title preview tool

rethink-title-tag-strategy-SF1

Screaming Frog pixel width calculator

tag-guidelines-preview-tool

The MOZ title preview tool

What if I Don’t Want to Calculate Pixel Dimensions?

A rough estimate of 55 characters will suffice for most titles in your site. Remember, the page can still benefit from having keyword relevance but it just won’t display in search results.

What About My Brand Name in the Title?

If it makes sense for the page, go for it. But please say your brand isn’t including a super-long exact match phrase (like “Denver-Accident-Attorney.com”). What if your domain is super long and close to exact match? Consider abbreviating your brand or turning it into an acronym (DAA would be a feasible acronym for a brand in a title).

Conclusion

Even though our precious title tag characters received a dramatic cut in SERP visibility, you can still make your titles effective by trimming out any excess info, shortening or strategically placing brand mentions and writing even more-effective meta descriptions.

As has always been the case, your title tag strategy will require thoughtful and sometimes careful planning to ensure titles conveyed the most relevant messaging. One or two primary keywords should be included only because they are always relevant for users.

 

3 Comments

  • Joey Barker Apr 02, 2014

    Great post, Art! So, interesting…do you think the changes will come before I can finish my 2014 SERP Madness Bracket? :)

  • Christopher Skyi Apr 02, 2014

    Benjamin Spiegel,, Director of Search Operations at Catalyst, is running an interesting experiment on title tag construction. Given that we now only have 60 characters, he urging Catalyst clients to ‘do (much) more with less:’

    “If Google no longer considers meta tags and titles as a ranking factor, and organic search is truly all about semantic relevance, context, and signals, why do we still have the search teams (often SEO technicians) write meta tags and titles? Is a technical SEO person really the best one to craft them?”

    “With the latest updates from Google we have finally and officially moved away from a keyword-centric approach to focus more on context. I realized that at this juncture in search marketing, the meta copy should be crafted with ad copy principles in mind.”

    Ben goes on to report the results of applying ad copy principles to meta data, and they’ve been so encouraging that he’s directed his account teams to consult w/their clients’ direct mail/copy teams for recommendations on writing “advertorial short copy” into meta data and to start using these proven tactics to tie this into social short content (such as tweets) as well.

    You still have to factor in keywords, queries and search considerations when constructing title tags and page descriptions, but copywriting principles have to be added into the mix if you want to improve the bottom line. See Writing for Search: “Where Meta Tags Meet David Ogilvy:”

    http://www.clickz.com/clickz/column/2330373/writing-for-search-where-meta-tags-meet-david-ogilvy

  • Oscar Apr 03, 2014

    Good post Art. After this update by Google, it’s nice that you mentioned screaming frog now shows the estimated dimensions for the Title tag. Google is really pushing it hard in regulating a lot of stuff lately.