Optimizing your Page/Post titles and title tags
Now we turn to a crucial pair of elements: Post/Page titles and title tags. We need
to make a distinction between a WordPress Page title and a Page’s meta title tag
because in a default configuration, WordPress generates the title tag automatically
from the Post title, but in an advanced SEO configuration (which we will employ
through the use of plugins), we will generate meta title tags manually.
Page/Post titles processing in WordPress
The WordPress Page/Post title is the upper-most element that you create when you
create a Page or Post. WordPress then employs this Post/Page title in a few ways,
depending on your setup:
• The Post/Page title is employed as the anchor text in internal WordPress
• The Post/Page title serves as both the title as well as the anchor text
when a Post is represented on category or archive pages
• Depending on the template, the Post/Page title will be employed
automatically as an h1 or h2 tag on the Post or Page itself (although
we’ll challenge this standard approach later in this Article under
• If no SEO plugin is present, The Post/Page title will be employed
automatically as the HTML title tag
Looking at the previous list, one might be struck by a few limitations. First, there
is a danger of over-optimization when so many important on-page elements are
in perfect concurrence. The other notable limitation is that what works for anchor
text might not work for a title tag, especially in a long tail environment. Some
webmasters prefer to keep their internal navigation neat and concise, but a longer
title tag can work great to squeeze a few extra keywords in.
The following screenshot shows the Post creation window (the Page creation
window appears exactly the same, but is titled “Add New Page”) with different on-
page elements identified: Post/Page title, body text, as well as meta title tag, meta
description, and meta keywords tag. Note that the “All in One SEO Pack” plugin
allows inclusion of the title tags and meta tags.
Here’s an example. A well-crafted title tag that works wonders in the plastic surgery
market around Atlanta is “Plastic Cosmetic Surgery Atlanta Marietta Georgia GA.”
This is an actual title tag for a high ranking page in that market. Yes, it’s awkward
and repetitive, but it ranks very well in searches that include either Atlanta or
the surrounding town of Marietta. However, that title tag would be completely
unsuitable as anchor text in a website’s internal navigation.
To solve both of these problems with one solution, we’ll use the All in One SEO Pack
plugin to give our WordPress site the ability to formulate custom title tags (we cover
installation of the All in One SEO Pack in Appendix A). This plugin is free (though
donations are encouraged) and is one of the most popular WordPress plugins of all
time. Once installed, we’ll create separate Page/Post titles and title tags to maximize
our SEO power.
Crafting title tags
Title tags are the most powerful of any single on-page ranking factor. Expert care
should be applied to crafting title tags—you will be rewarded with high rankings
and traffic if you do.
To begin crafting these title tags, keep in mind two concepts with which you should
now be familiar: keyword prominence and keyword overlap. Keyword overlap
dictates that you should try to collect a small family of keywords with common
words and group them together to create title tags that can capture multiple search
key phrases—just as we did a few pages before when discussing how to craft domain
names. Keyword prominence rules dictates that the highest value terms go at the
beginning of our title tag and the lowest value terms go at the end of our title tag.
We also need to consider that the space in title tags is limited. Search engines display a
page’s title tag when that page appears in a search result, but only so many characters.
Google displays up to 69 characters, including spaces, of a page’s title tag, and Bing
displays up to 65 characters of a page’s title tag. Yahoo! displays up to 72 characters,
but it’s unclear how that will change as Yahoo! works through its adoption of Bing’s
search technology. Now, if you exceed the character count, the search engines display
an ellipsis (…) to indicate that the entire title tag is not displayed.
From an SEO perspective, this may or may not be ideal. Perhaps (although there is
no evidence for this) Google rewards websites that consistently follow the dictates of
character length in various elements like title tags and meta tags. On the other hand,
an ellipsis tends to suggest “there’s more here,” which might cause just a few more
users to click through.
So, if you exceed the number of characters that the search engines display,
viewers won’t see those characters in search results. But there’s another question:
if you do exceed the 65 or so characters, will the search engines read and index
the extra characters? In other words, do you earn any ranking power beyond
65/69 characters? Various tests have revealed different results, and after much
disagreement among SEO professionals on this point, a fairly conclusive test by the
SEO blogger Hugo Guzman revealed that Google does read and index up to 164
characters of a title tag, as of May 2001.
The wise approach, however, may be to keep your title tags within the 65/69
character boundary. The first words in a title tag yield so much more ranking weight
than the last words; a long title tag isn’t going to deliver much extra power. Also,
who’s to say Google won’t change its algorithm in the future to exclude or even
punish long title tags?
Creating perfectly-sized title tags
To craft perfectly-sized title tags, use any one of dozens of character-
counter websites like lettercount.com or wordcountertool.com.
These tools are also helpful for crafting meta tags, twitter posts, and any
text snippet where character length is restricted.
Your brand or company name never belongs in the first few words of a title tag
if you are trying to rank for keywords. This is a common error that do-it-yourself
webmasters and unskilled web designers make. Sure, you want to rank for your
own business name, but you can achieve that by placing your business name in a
less valuable location than the prime position within the title tag. Just having your
business name in the body text of your pages or in the meta description tag will
cause you to rank for your business name. If you absolutely must include your
business name in the title tag, it belongs at the end, not at the beginning.
The following screenshot of a Google search results entry shows a well-crafted title
tag and meta tag. The title tag has the high-value terms in the “hot spot,” the area
proximate to the beginning of the tag. Keyword overlap is employed: “SEO Austin”
and “SEO Austin Texas” are both valuable phrases that are neatly covered by a
single phrase. The less-searched phrase “search engine optimization” is in the less
proximate position. Finally, the company name/brand is present, but not consuming
a high-value position.
With the preceding best practices and guidelines in place, let’s look at some real
keyword data and undertake the step-by-step crafting of a sure-fire title tag. The
following table shows keyword data for key phrases related to air conditioning in
|Keyword||Monthly Search Volume|
|Jacksonville air conditioning||82|
|Air conditioning service Jacksonville||33|
|Jacksonville air conditioning contractors||33|
|Jacksonville air conditioning companies||25|
|Jacksonville air conditioning repair||25|
A few important points are immediately obvious. First, “Jacksonville” is the first
word in most of the phrases. Because we always want to mirror the word order
of popular search phrases, we will place “Jacksonville” as the first word in our
title tag. Another lesson that this keyword data yields is that we are fortunate to
have a great degree of keyword overlap. That means we can rank for several key
phrases by cleverly employing the overlapped portion in our tag. Specifically, the
phrases “Jacksonville air conditioning,” “Jacksonville air conditioning contractors,”
“Jacksonville air conditioning companies,” and “Jacksonville air conditioning repair,”
all overlap on the phrase “Jacksonville air conditioning.” This repeated overlap is a
bit of luck—typically, key phrases are not so conveniently arranged.
Break up title tag elements with special characters to aid readers and set
apart important elements. The “|” character (called a “pipe”) is well-suited
to separating element of title tags like keywords and your company name.
An example would be “Utah Ski & Snowboard Vacations | SkiCenter
However, the phrase “Air conditioning service Jacksonville” does not share the
same word order. How do we deal with it? Well, we have such good overlap and
word order with the other four phrases that we don’t want to undermine our title
tag by trying to rank for all five phrases with one title tag. We can do two things:
optimize our title tag for the four overlapped phrases and just hope for the best for
the dissimilar fifth phrase or we could eventually create a separate page with its own
title tag for “Air conditioning service Jacksonville.” However, we always want to
create our higher value pages first, and move on to lesser search volumes later.
Now that we have our four search phrases and search data, we can proceed through
the exercise. “Jacksonville air conditioning” has the highest search volume of all
the phrases, and is repeated in all the other phrases, so we place that phrase at the
beginning of our tag. The remaining phrases have differing search volumes ranging
from 33 down to 25 searches per month.
Generally, the high search volumes are the higher value terms, so “Jacksonville air
conditioning contractors” at 33 searches per month is slightly more valuable than
“Jacksonville air conditioning companies” and “Jacksonville air conditioning repair”,
each with 25 searches per month. So, the non-overlapped word “contractor” is more
valuable than “companies” or “repair.” As such, a sensible title tag would be the
• Jacksonville Air Conditioning Contractors, Repair Companies
In this exercise, we did quite well. We have our high-value terms in the high-value
position, and our lower-value terms in the low-value position. We ended up with 59
characters, which will display perfectly and be read by all major search engines. We
combined the last two words to “Repair Companies” because they were equal in search
volume and “Companies Repair” doesn’t read as well. We capitalized the terms so the
title tag looks neat and appealing when displayed on a search results page.
One variation we might have employed would be to drop the term “companies” to
make room for a brand or company name, but that’s optional.
The final step is to enter our finely-crafted title tag into the “Title” edit window in the
All in One SEO Pack section of our Page/Post edit page and WordPress will display
our title tag for users and search engines.
Crafting Page/Post titles
Crafting Page/Post titles closely parallels the process of crafting title tags,
and should be done in conjunction. We need to think a little differently about
Page/Post titles because their function and usage differs from title tags:
• With Page/Post titles, we aren’t restricted to 65/69 characters as we are
with title tags.
• Page/Post titles are not hidden tags: WordPress uses Page/Post titles to
generate internal navigation anchor text and the titles appear as titles to
content pages. We must, therefore, consider readability.
Internal navigation anchor text is a ranking factor, as is a content page’s title. So,
we want to be mindful of crafting keyword-rich Page/Post titles. To return to the
“Jacksonville air conditioning” example, we do not want to simply repeat our title
tag, “Jacksonville Air Conditioning Contractors, Repair Companies.” First, we could
risk over-optimization if all of our key elements are perfectly repeated. Second,
our title tag, while very effective as a “net” for high-value search phrases, reads
somewhat awkwardly. However, we know our title tag is keyword-ready, so we just
need to fine-tune a bit. To adjust for these two considerations, we simply need to
make our title tag a bit more readable, like so:
• Jacksonville Air Conditioning Contractors and Repair Company
Now our Page/Post title reads nicely. We have jettisoned “Companies” in favor of
“Company”. While we may have lost “Companies” as a search term, Google might
automatically combine the singular and plural—we can certainly just test to see the
effect. Importantly, though, we have gained readability and we have differentiated
our Page/Post title from our title tag.
Finding search synonyms
With the tilde operator (~), you can find valuable search synonyms. Try a
Google search for “~company” and Google returns results for “company”,
“business”, and “jobs” Optimizing meta tags.
Meta tags, like title tags, are “hidden” on-page elements—they appear on search
results pages and in the code of a web page, but otherwise do not display to website
visitors within the body of the web page. While not afforded as much weight as title
tags in determining search ranking positions, they are certainly an important ranking
element. Because meta descriptions display on search engine results pages, they
have a supplemental function as a click-through conversion tool. Recall that search
engines only display a certain number of characters, so your meta description needs
to meet certain length requirements.
So, the optimum meta description tag is keyword-rich, persuasive, and of a certain
length. And, like title tags, search engines follow rules of keyword prominence when
evaluating meta description tags. So, your high-value keywords belong in the first
few words of the meta description.
This screenshot of a Google search results entry shows a well-crafted meta
description tag. The big money keywords are prominent and proximate to the start
of the tag. The tag is readable, persuasive without being trashy, and is perfectly
sized for display on search results pages. As a bonus, the tag includes the common
keyword qualifiers, “pricing” and “expert.”