Title Tags & SEO: 3 Golden Rules

It used to be conventional wisdom that title tags should be between 65 and 70 characters in length. Early this year Google began experimenting with a new search layout design that reduces the number of characters shown to lengths between 48 and 62 characters.

The title tag remains an important part of SEO for one basic reason – it is the overall label for the content of a page, and because the number of characters is limited,there isn’t much room to do that much with it.

Here are three golden rules of title tags.

Rule 1: Have One Distinct Page for Each Major User Need You Address

This is one of the most common mistakes that people make with their sites. Interested visitors to their site have many different types of needs and ways of thinking about their needs that relate to your product or service. For that reason, it is useful to create pages that address each of those major needs.

1st Golden Rule for Title Tags

Ideally, there are many stages in this process, such as getting your key team members together and brainstorming, polling users on their needs, studying competitive sites, and then supplementing that with keyword research. To simplify things for purposes of this column, let's explore this with an example using keyword research for a resume writing business.

To do this I pulled a keyword report from Wordtracker, and after some examination I noticed some patterns. Here are a few keywords that I pulled out of the top 75 keywords:

Resume Writing Title Tag Keyword Patterns

What you notice is three types of categories of keywords:

  1. Global: Keywords that define the whole space.
  2. Regional: For people looking for local help.
  3. Profession specific: Keywords related to the profession of the searcher.

These all represent opportunities to address specific prospective customer needs. Of course, you should only create specific pages if you fulfill the need. Don't go creating a bunch of location pages if you're an online service.

You also want to group these things logically. You don't want to create a page for every single variant of the search terms that you come across (more on that in the next rule).

Rule 2: Don't Overdo the Granularity

There are clear limits for how granular you should get. To illustrate the point, let's look more closely at the keyword data. In this chart I show all of the top variants of "global" terms that data returned to me by Wordtracker:

2nd Golden Rule for Title Tags

There are 23 terms show in this table, but in my original table I ignored all but four of them. I don't want separate pages for "resume writing services," "resume writing," "resume writing service," and "good resume writing." Creating all these different pages would offer a really poor user experience, and is also begging for Google's Panda algorithm to wreak havoc on your site.

I refer to the practice of creating all these pages with insignificant differences "thin slicing," and it is very important that you avoid doing it!

Rule 3: Don't Reuse Title Tags

When we run our crawler on a client's website, one of the most common problems we see is that many pages use the same title tag. This isn't a good thing.

Even if the page is different, it is still essentially duplicate content. The title tag is the title for the page! This is why Google and Bing place major weight on this in determining the relevancy of a page.

3rd Golden Rule for Title Tags

You may find cases where you have trouble coming up with different title tags. If you can't define a distinct title tag for a Web page, then why does that page exist?

You may be falling into thin slicing at this point, or you may have some other architecture problems where you are unnecessarily duplicating pages. This is one of the easiest things to detect in an SEO audit, and a really good thing to fix.

Summary

There are many other considerations in on page SEO, and in your site's information architecture, but title tags remain an important part of SEO, and are well worth some attention. You can use these three golden rules to give you some quick guidance on what to do with them, and for recognizing problems.