On The Page Factors: Title Tag Optimization

There has been a lively debate at work over the past few weeks about the changes to title tags – the most important of all HTML tags. Changes in Google’s algorithm, whether perceived or real, has led many search engine optimizers to look more closely at their title tags and how they are being displayed.

With the ever-changing landscape of the search engines, organic real estate is becoming more and more scarce. This makes it very important that you optimize your meta tags to get seen in the most search results and ultimately have someone click on your site.

Changes Google may have made to title tags:

One of the debated changes include how Google looks in to character count for title tags. It was generally believed that 70 characters was the limit for being displayed in Google. However, since organic listings have declined recently, it appears that Google may display according to pixel width. Looking at many examples, it looks like the acceptable range for pixel width is 500 pixels. And not all that surprisingly is still around 70 characters.

Another change that has appeared to have happened was the segregation of your title tag. Many SEO’ers use certain characters to break their title tags into sections. I prefer using bars (|) to separate my title tags – they look more aesthetically pleasing. An example would be <title>Dallas Medical Assistant | Medical Diploma | School</title>. It is believed by some that Google is not looking at the title tag as a whole, but breaks it down by the bars. So Google would read the title tags as <title>Dallas Medical Assistant</title>,<title>Medical Diploma</title>,<title>School</title>. Looking into it further, there seemed to be some truth to this as Google recognizes the entire title tag in a broad search, but not in an exact title search. So what does that mean? Well, I’m not even 100% sure, but I have subsequently changed by tags from bars to hyphens now in case there is something to this.

The last thing you want to look at when optimizing your title tags is not only character length or pixel width, but also word count. It is widely known that Google puts more emphasis on the words at the beginning of title than it does to the words at the end. But, if you have more than 12 word in your title tag, Google will drop those from the title and count them as text. So from the 13th word on will have no affect on your title tags. So if you have any titles that are longer than 12 words, even if they are in that 70 character limit will not count towards your title tag.

How to optimize title tags:

To do this, you need to perform a title tag audit. This will help you know what your title tags are and what is actually being displayed. To help with this process, you can begin by logging into Google Webmaster Tools. Go to the Dashboard and click on Optimization. Under HTML improvement, you can choose to download into a spreadsheet. If you don’t have Webmaster Tools, you can just do a site lookup in Google (site:example.com) This method will allow you to see exactly how those meta tags are being displayed. If you notice that any of your tags have an ellipses (…) mark it down as needed to re-optimize.

Now that you have your list of meta tags that you need to change, you can use your favorite keyword suggestion tool like Google AdWords and find a list of keywords. I like to throw them in a spreadsheet and put on a len function to count characters for me. Or you can use word and use character count.

Now you have your title tags ready to go. Last step that you might have to take would be to update your xml sitemap (especially if your adding or subtracting pages) and submit it to Google Webmaster Tools. This will let your site be crawled faster by Google.

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