[Updated 3 April, 2020]
This post is about:
- web page titles or headlines,
- other types of heading, and
- using title tags to maximise the visibility of your pages and posts in search results.
“Title” is a more generally used term on the web than “headline”, which tends to be a print term. On websites, the title also has special functions, associated with search visibility.
Why are page titles important?
The title on your page (whether in print or online) will be the most-read part of the content. 80% of readers don’t make it beyond the headline, so it pays to put time and effort into writing better headlines that will encourage your reader to delve into the rest of the page.
On the average, five times as many people read the headline as read the body copy. When you have written your headline, you have spent eighty cents out of your dollar.”
~ David Ogilvy, advertising doyen
Web page headings and title tags have special functions
On websites there are several things to consider when creating pages of content.
- It’s helpful for everyone including Google to organise your content logically using a hierarchy of heading tags.
- It’s ultra-important to get your title tags right, as these have a direct bearing on whether people are going to click through to your content from search results.
Different levels of heading
In html, each title on your page has a hierarchical tag from H1 on down to H4 or H5. Most web pages use H1-H3, and these are usually styled for a particular font, weight, and size. Google has commented that it doesn’t make any difference to page rankings how many main (H1) heading tags you have on a page or post. They also said that having a well laid out page with hierarchically organised content that helps users tell where the most important content is, does count. That’s typical of Google. Effectively they’re saying one thing, then qualifying it by referring to the need, above all else, for providing users with well-organised content that provides answers to their questions.
I recommend sticking to content organised around only one H1 level headline or title per page. This helps to focus the page content around one keyword “topic”, with variations in subheadings (H2, H3, and so forth) and in text content. On this page, the H1 title is “Tips for Writing (WordPress) Headlines & Title Tags”, with a hierarchy of H2 and H3 subheadings on the page, containing variations on the focus keyword (or keyphrase). I maintain it’s a good idea to have a hierarchical structure like this for your page, as content with a semantic arrangement is more attractive (“scannable”) and helpful for users. One rule of thumb I have found useful when creating page content is if I strike a place where I feel a new H1 header is warranted, then that’s probably an indication that a separate page is required. You will find differing views on this around the traps.
Keywords and titles
I recommend including the focus keyword for the page or a close variant in the H1 page title, and also in at least one other H2 or H3 level subheader. I’ve done this with this post. I always use the free Yoast SEO plugin on WordPress sites to manage the SEO aspects of creating title tags, page titles, and headings.
Remember that all your content should be mapped to keyword topics – one topic per page – for SEO purposes (which is the same thing as saying think about what would your users find most helpful). Aim to write an eight-word, unambiguous headline that includes the focus keyword for the content. The title might consist of a long-tail keyword that you’ve researched and found to be specific to your content. In all cases, try to get your keyword as near to the start of the title as possible.
A closer look at title tags
A title tag is part of the “snippet” that you can set up in the Yoast SEO plugin on WordPress sites. This lets search engines know what information you want to show online about a post or page. The main thing to remember is that the snippet is your opportunity to grab the attention of your prospects, and encourage them to click through from the title to your page.
Here’s a screenshot of a snippet for one of our pages, and how it was rendered in Google search results:
At that time, we scored the leading organic search result on page 1 of Google for the query “web content writer wellington”. the focus keyword for this page was “web content writing”. The result was achieved even with the variation from “writer” in the query to “writing” in the title tag, which shows up in the snippet as the clickable dark blue title. Google’s algorithm has become increasingly proficient at matching search intent with page results.
Our main keyword occurs at the beginning of the tag, followed by a secondary keyword, “seo wellington”. The main keyword is also reflected in the url, and both keywords are included in the meta-description, which is the 154-character blurb beneath the url. You can include more characters in the “meta”, but if you stick to 154 characters, the whole meta will usually be visible at first glance, for maximum impact with your audience.
If you get all the important information in your title tag within 60 characters, this will ensure that the important words will be seen. You can have more characters (like as many as 73) in the title tag, but there’s no guarantee that Google will display them all. Somewhere in the middle achieves the best results – between 15 and 40 characters.
Note that sometimes Google will choose to display the site name as well as the title tag in the result for your Home page. It might look a bit awkward, but the upside is that it means Google is recognising your business name.
It always pays to keep a weather eye on how your pages are performing in search results. A variety of factors, including the efforts of competitors, and Google algorithm updates, can affect your rankings quite dramatically. You can always tweak your title tag and even the content as a whole to vary the keyword focus if market conditions, and/or user intent, change.
Titles displayed on social media
I often create posts on social media that link to pages and posts on websites. I’ve noticed that on LinkedIn, the post preview picks up the H1 title from the page rather than the title tag!
In the screenshot above, the preview originally displayed “Home” instead of the much more preferable “Leonie Snook … “. What you need to do is go into the Home page on the site and enter the title tag you want to display in the H1 headline. This might be the same as your SEO title tag, or it might be a variation. Then go into Appearance > Menus and re-set the menu tab title for the page to Home.
It’s a good idea to upload a Featured Image to your page sized 1200 x 630 pixels. This is the minimum recommended size for effectively showing preview images associated with the page you’re linking to from the post or tweet.
If you make changes to the title on-site and then want to see the new preview on LinkedIn, clear the cache on there by adding ?50 or a similar large number, or ?latest at the end of the url you post. LinkedIn provides further assistance with their Post Inspection tool.
Extra page title tips
Try starting with a number
According to marketing research, one of the best ways to start a title/title tag for a blog post is with a number, like: “9 Ways You Can Destroy Your Perfect Marriage”. Women are more disposed toward a headline beginning with a number than men.
Conversion rates (the proportion of visitors to your website who take a desired action) are much higher with headlines that begin with a number, especially an odd number.
Go to the dark side, and play it cool
To achieve the best impact with your title/title tag, it’s good to express some emotion, and negative words fare better than positive words. Strange, huh? “9 Ways You Can Ruin Your Perfect Marriage” fits the bill. But “9 Best and Surest Ways Ever to Save Your Perfect Marriage” overkills on the superlatives, is too positive, and a bit too long. You have to be careful with power words such as “new” and “free”, as the presence of these can actually have a negative impact on your rankings.
There’s an exception to every rule of course, and in this case the length of your title might need to change if you think no one will have the faintest idea who you are (i.e. your authority may be called in to question). A page title written for this situation should be much longer (16 to 18 words long) and more explanatory. Of course if you have a super-long title (and maybe that’s your focus keyphrase as well), you won’t be able to fit it all in your 60-character title tag, so come up with a shortened variant for the title tag. You can always use the longer version in the meta-description where you have more characters to play with. Also, people click more on shorter urls, so prune back and only include essential words in the url if you’ve got a long page title.
The most important words in your title are the first couple of words and also the last few. People seem to pay less attention to what happens in the middle.
Brackets and questions
Using brackets in headlines can substantially increase clicks to your page from search results. Like on this website I have a title tag: “Why Do I Need SEO (In Fact, What Is SEO)?” It’s doing alright on search.
Asking a question in your title and tag works as well: “Want to Know 9 Ways to Save Your Marriage? [New Info]” is an off-the-cuff example of a title tag that has the mysterious odd number in it, a question, and a “teaser” in brackets. Your uri might be /9-ways-save-marriage/, and your meta-description provides you with 154 characters of free advertising space. All good. There’s just one thing – your piece of content that this relates to must actually provide new information about how to save your marriage, otherwise people will “bounce off” your page, it will fall in the search results, and that will be that. “New” is one of those power words that should be used with caution and things can backfire quickly if your content isn’t “new” at all.
The aim overall is to maximise the rate at which people click through to your pages from search results by offering genuinely helpful information, not click bait.
Making use of curated content, brand storytelling, and case studies.
Some ways you can judge if your page content is valuable for your customers.
Get in touch if you’d like to discuss more about setting up title tags, page titles, and headlines so they catch the attention of customers and search engines. It’s a big area, and things are constantly evolving.