What are title tags? Do they matter when it comes to ranking on SERPs? How crucial of a ranking factor are they? These questions have come up quite a bit with different responses. Some say that title tags are incredibly vital for ranking success, but what’s the definitive answer? Here we will go through the importance of titles, how Google views titles, and provide some clarity on the aforementioned questions.
Ranking Factor Variability
Based on what has happened over the years, we have observed a key tendency in the Google algorithm. Google tends to change the weight of ranking factors constantly – that is, the elements that can get your page to rank higher on the search engine. This applies most heavily when Google notices that a site has somehow manipulated the algorithm.
Let’s say that we are looking at the first page of results from a Google search. We notice that the page shows a bunch of website pages that are not good matches for what we need. Now, as users, we might start thinking that we have used the wrong search term and simply try again. That’s not the way Google sees things.
Google wants to serve users with the results that they intend to get from doing a search. (See our post on user intent for more details on this.) When they see that certain pages are resulting in the searcher doing another related search, or clicking around to multiple websites they look to see how they can improve the SERP/algorithm to see what ranking factors need to be adjusted (this is a simplistic view of what Google looks to accomplish on a very complex topic).
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Poor SERP results can be an honest mistake on the part of Google, people, a bug if you will, or it can be intentional manipulation. Usually, it’s the latter, because Google doesn’t fool around. They really do test everything rigorously. So, when this happens to a degree where the quality of the search results is dropping, Google steps in. They devalue the ranking factor and/or take manual action, making it harder to rank even when you optimize for that factor. This, in turn, makes it harder to easily adjust things in your favor.
Devaluation has been applied to several factors, like domain names. Remember the days when having the keyword in your URL was a huge factor? (We do since we own SEOCompany.com and PPCManagement.com) That’s because Google used to place domain names at the top of the ranking factor list. Nowadays, domain name keywords matter a lot less. In fact, you may have a better chance of ranking by using your brand name because it plays better into searcher intent.
So, the question now is whether Google is going to devalue title tags in the same way. The Google search algorithm is always developing, and SEOs are always trying to find the edge. If history has anything to say about it, then the answer depends on what level of manipulation Google will tolerate in spammy title tags that get pages to rank higher than they really should.
Title Tags Formulation
Title tags are codes in HTML that, as the name suggests, inform the title of a page. This is what you see on SERPs and browser tabs. The HTML code for title tags is: <title>Your Title Goes Here</title>.
Immediately, it becomes apparent that optimizing the titles of your pages is important. Titles are the first thing that draws the attention of viewers. Not only that, but title tags also inform Google what your content is about and its relevance to a search query. Imagine if you were to go to a library and a lot of books were titled “Home Page” you would have no idea which book you’d want to actually read, whereas a book on “White Label SEO Services” is pretty clear on what you’ll be reading about. But how much optimizing should you do in your title tag?
You don’t want to create a title that’s too long. This is especially true if the inordinate length is due to you trying to jam all the keywords you think are relevant in there to try and manipulate the system. Google’s machine learning has evolved to the point where it can pick up on ranking manipulation tactics. If you’re doing this, you’re not going to help the user much, and you’re not going to end up ranking as a result. You may also find your pages placed lower on the search results than they actually deserve, as a kind of penalty for trying to game the system. Overdoing it has negative implications.
However, you also don’t want to create a title that is unremarkable and shows too little of what your content is about. Balance is the key, and this is where SEO Professionals like us come in handy. We know how to craft titles that have the right keywords (including punchy adjectives) to attract the attention of both searchers and Google without appearing spammy.Titles are the first thing that draws the attention of viewers. Not only that, but title tags also inform Google what your content is about and its relevance to a search query. Click To Tweet
Google Title Edits
There are cases where Google rewrites the titles of pages that are not well-optimized. What are some reasons that could cause them to do this?
- The HTML code is faulty, and the title doesn’t generate correctly.
- The title is not relevant to the search query. (The content is good, but title is not specific enough or does not match searcher’s intent.)
- The title tag is too long (over 70 characters).
- The title tag or main heading is bloated with too many keywords instead of focusing on a select few.
- The title lacks uniqueness and does catch the attention of searchers.
Take note that Google still uses the original title for ranking purposes. However, a Google rewritten title may not perform better, might sound robotic, and deter possible visitors from clicking on the link to your landing page. This can also be true for local listings, so consider getting help from white label local SEO experts.
All in all, a rewritten title does not necessarily impact rankings as much as it impacts your click-through-rate. As much as possible, Google advises site owners to create titles that are concise, original, represent their content well, and are written for the people and not for the search engine.
Title Tags as a Ranking Factor
It becomes clear that if Google behaves this way towards titles, then title tags are indeed an SEO ranking factor. The question then is, how crucial of a factor are they?
During one of the Google Webmaster central office hour hangouts, John Mueller addressed a question regarding title tags as a ranking factor. In the YouTube live stream, Mueller stated that title tags were considered for ranking, but they were not a critical part of a web page. He went on to say that because it wasn’t as important as other factors, it would not be worthwhile, or the best practice, to just load up title tags with keywords to try and make it work. Instead, websites should focus on the actual content itself on their pages and work towards creating a title that best describes the content instead of one that is a string of keywords that doesn’t actually help searchers.
In a separate stream, Mueller elaborated on the value of title tags as ranking factors and titles as being important for SEO. He explained that there are better things on which to allocate your time than constantly tweaking your titles to see which ones work best. On another occasion, he said that it isn’t a factor that significantly affects ranking or website visibility. Although, in fairness, you have to take everything John says with a grain of salt and read between the lines. Google doesn’t like SEO folks, they don’t want their results manipulated, however, it’s in a marketer’s best interest to provide valuable content and apply the best practices we use so they actually get ranked.
Put simply, titles are certainly important, but definitely not the only ranking factor. Writing accurate titles that do include the most appropriate keyword for what the content is about is helpful, but don’t stuff them with irrelevant keywords hoping it helps. Their strength is moderate, and how they can boost your rankings depends more on how helpful they are to the searcher which informs Google if you should actually be ranked where you are. All Google needs to know is what your page is about. If you can say that in a way that appeals to searchers, too, then you have a winner.
Written by: Julia