Optimizing Titles Tags for WordPress. Part 1: What are Title Tags?

Written by 
Emory Rowland 
on 
03 December, 2013

One of the first things to think about when writing a blog post is not just the title of the post, but what the title tag element will end up being before you press “publish” in WordPress and broadcast your post to the world. Title tags are powerful in several ways. The title tag you choose for your post will have consequences and help influence user behavior and traffic from search engines and potentially anywhere your post is linked.

Tell me again what title tags are?

The title tag or element is part of the global structure of an HTML document aka a web page. It’s simply serves as the top-level description of a web page. It’s been around at least since HTML 2.0. W3C says that the title element should:

“identify the content of the document in a fairly wide context.”

Characteristics of title tags to know

Every HTML document requires a title tag

Just from the standpoint of HTML, you need to think about the title tag. If you run your web page code through a validator tool without a title, don’t be surprised when you see this error:

Missing title error

There should only be one title tag in an HTML document

The more the merrier doesn’t apply. Only one title tag should be used per page. If you accidentally include more than one in your blog theme somehow (yes, I’ve done it), you’ll get a similar HTML validation error as above.

The title tag should provide context

Being too general with title tags goes against the original intention. W3C again:

Since users often consult documents out of context, authors should provide context-rich titles. Thus, instead of a title such as “Introduction”, which doesn’t provide much contextual background, authors should supply a title such as “Introduction to Medieval Bee-Keeping” instead.

It’s entertaining to listen to SEO people debate how many characters the title tag should be. W3C states 64 characters. SEO industry professionals usually quote between 66 and 70 characters maximum.

  • “Title tag lengths should never be more than 67 characters!”
  • “I swear to you I’ve seen one in Google that was 70!”
  • “Yes, but the characters were probably smaller!”

The truth is that as with many concepts in SEO, there is no concrete rule. And if there were, Google would eventually break it. The idea to keep in mind about title tag length is that when you go over 66 characters, you risk truncating the title in search results. If the title is longer than Google can display, an elipsis will appear. But… not necessarily at the end.

Example of using Title

Interestingly, in the preceding example from the ClickHOST blog, Google truncates part of the title tag’s phrase BEFORE the last word, the brand name, apparently indicating the brand name’s precedence over the other words in the title. The full title tag in the HTML code is:

  • “Top 3 Onsite SEO Ranking Factors | A Search Marketer Weighs in | ClickHOST”

It’s a total of 74 characters, but Google has removed “Weighs in” and the bar “|” character and replaced them with the elipsis and dash “… | ” then left the brand name at the very end. Smart, Google.

Use title case

Capitalize the first letter of each important word when constructing title tags. This isn’t an absolute rule but more of a tradition and best practice for readability. You’d never want to scream with all caps or whisper with all lowercase letters. Of course, we’re talking about the text of the title tag itself and not the actual HTML code.

Difference in title tags and meta tags

W3C gives some insight into the hybrid nature of the title tag:

“The title is not part of the text of the document, but is a property of the whole document.”

This sounds like a meta tag, right? In the general sense you can say that the title tag is a meta tag because it acts like meta data, being data about data. However, it does display in browsers either in the bar or tabs and it lacks the “meta name” HTML attribute that other meta tags specify. Also, unlike the title tag, meta tags have no ranking power in themselves. If Google trusts your site, they accept your title tags and assign weight accordingly.

Where title tags appear in code

You can always spot the title tag between theandtags. If it it’s not there, we have a problem. If you’re viewing the source code, look for the title tag text to appear within the title tag container like this:

Where title tags appear in SERPs

Part of the purpose of title tags is to provide a title to search engines and sites that scrape web pages so they can display a snippet with a link to the page for their users. That means that what you’re putting in the title tag is actually being quietly broadcast to the world. Dizzain wants you to understand from their title tag displayed in search that they are a New York web design company offering custom design.

Dizzain.com search results

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