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
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?
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).
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.