How to Write Page Titles for SEO
In case you weren’t already aware, page titles are one of the most important parts of onpage SEO.
First of all, they are a direct ranking factor and signal to Google what your page is all about. Secondly, they are able to draw clicks from the SERP increasing your click-through rate.
You might think that writing a title tag for SEO just involves sticking keywords in it right? The truth is that there is a lot more to it than meets the eye.
In this guide, you’ll learn exactly how to write page titles like a pro. Here are some of the things we’ll cover.
- How to use “special characters” to influence the human eye
- How to use copywriting to boost CTR
- A framework that can be used on all different types of sites
- Some examples of successful titles in the e-commerce space
- How to track CTR and position in Google search console to see the effect of changes
Ready? Let’s jump in.
What is an SEO Page Title?
First of all, we have to go over what exactly an SEO page title is in the first place. The simple definition is HTML that defines the title of a page both to people and to search engines.
Why Do Titles Matter for SEO?
They matter because they directly signal to search engines like Google what the topic of the page is. Also, they can influence CTR (click-through rate) of a page which is thought to be a ranking factor by most SEOs.
It’s no secret that first impressions matter a lot. Your title is often the first thing that a new visitor will see and you want them to stick around and check out your site. People are also more likely to check out your site again if you have a strong brand.
Also, the page title or “title tag” as SEOs often call it, shows up in a few different places as the “headline of the page. One of these places is the browser tab, which helps the user navigate if they have multiple tabs open. It can also be seen on social media when a page is shared.
So in short, our goal is to write a title that is clickable but also uses our keywords to signal to the search engines and to the users that our page is relevant to what they are looking for.
What Makes a Title Tag and an H1 Different?
These tags might seem similar but in reality, they are completely different. People often get them confused because the title will often copy the H1 if it isn’t set manually as it should be. The title and H1 should both contain your target keyword but be different.
So what’s the solution? Easy, scramble them up and reverse the order of your keywords.
Title Tag Rules to Follow
When doing a Google search, a common thing to see is a title that has a “….” at the end. This is called truncation and it happens when Google cuts off the title tag after a certain amount of pixels. You want to keep your titles under 60 characters, as you can expect around 90% of your titles to show properly at this length.
The limit for how long the titles should be is not based on characters but rather on pixels. The official limit is 600px and Google will usually display between the first 50-60 characters depending on a few different factors like device used and search query.
Here are a couple of tools that you can use to check your title tag length to make sure that it will show properly.
We would recommend not using all-caps when writing your title tags. A much better way is to use one of these two options:
Sentence case: this is where you capitalize the first letter of the first word in the sentence. For example: Writing title tags for SEO – Undrcut.
Title case: this is where you capitalize the first letter of all the words (excluding stop words). An example is: Writing Title Tags For SEO – Undrcut.
Of course, it’s fine to use an all-caps word once in a while, but don’t overdo it. It can draw attention in the SERPs but is easily abused and looks cheezy at times.
Here are a few key rules to follow when writing the perfect title tag:
- Keep all titles unique: Avoid having duplicate title tags on your site and don’t copy competitors’ titles.
- Don’t keyword stuff: Don’t stuff keywords into your title tag if it sounds unnatural to read. Write for humans instead.
- Give all pages a unique title: Audit your site with a tool like screaming frog and make sure that all pages have a unique and SEO optimized title.
Now that you know the basic rules to follow, let’s look at exactly how you should go about writing the perfect page title.
How to Write Your SEO Title
Step 1: Find the Main Keyword
In general, it’s better to target topics instead of just a single keyword because Google is getting smarter and ranks pages for lots of related terms that you can capitalize on by casting a wide net. Using AhRefs you can see that most top-ranking pages will rank well for hundreds if not thousands of other long-tail keywords.
Having said that, when it comes to the title tag we think you should optimize it around one main keyword and a few other long-tail keywords.
To find this main keyword first go to keyword explorer and type in a phrase that represents your page. Then go to the SERP overview and see which keyword gets the most organic traffic in the top 10 ranking pages.
If this doesn’t work you can go to “keyword ideas” > “also rank for” and check out the other keywords that the top-ranking pages have. Then just find the keyword that is the most relevant to your content.
Step 2: Find Secondary Long Tail Keywords
Although your title is going to target one main keyword you should still target many other smaller ones. The reason for this is that the main one will likely take some time to rank but you can get traffic from the smaller ones a lot faster. These variations can be snuck into the title tag without too much work if you are creative.
What is a long-tail keyword you might wonder? Essentially, a long tail keyword is a search term that has low volume but a very high demand as a group. The name “long tail” comes from the search demand curve that plots keywords by search volume. These keywords tend to be longer and more specific than others.
Main keyword: “title tag” 2300 searches/month
Long-tail variation: “how long should title tags be” 70 searches/month
And so on…
If you’re wondering how you find these keywords in the first place then simply head over the keywords explorer and input the main keyword. In this example, we used the “title tag”.
Then use the “phrase match” feature to see other keywords that also contain the main keyword as part of them.
You can check the “having same terms” tab to see other keywords although they are likely to be less relevant. They contain keywords that contain the same words but not in the same order.
Step 3: Construct Your Basic Title Tag
Next, you will want to make the outline of your title tag. Here are a few things to keep in mind.
- Include your keywords: This is the most important part. You can’t rank well unless the title contains your chosen keywords. It helps to stick your main keyword towards the front of the title if possible.
- Keep it under 60 characters: Google will cut off titles that go over 600px so if you keep it under 60 characters it should show 90% of the time.
- Be descriptive: The title should describe to the searcher exactly what the article is about.
A good formula for writing SEO titles is to use: Main keyword + Secondary keyword + Brand. We should note that sometimes it’s best to leave the brand out in order to get more valuable keywords in.
Of course, if you want to do this right you’ll need to have done thorough keyword research first. Here is an example.
If we want to rank the Undrcut services Page for SEO related keywords then we would first take the keywords we want to rank for seen below.
Then we would put them together with the most important keyword near the front as that carries more weight. Here are some example titles:
We should note that the “most important” keyword is the one that makes you the most money. This might not be the highest search volume one necessarily. If the competition is high, it might make more sense to target one that you know you can rank for. It’s better to rank number one for a 300 search volume keyword than it is to rank number 7 for a 1000 search volume keyword.
Although these titles are well optimized to hit a number of different keyword without double counting words, they can still be improved in regards to clicks.
Step 4: Using Copywriting to Increase CTR
Once you’ve made it to the top 10 search results CTR becomes much more important. When you aren’t in the top 10 you don’t have to worry about this because almost nobody goes past the first page. This can change on page 1, and especially in the top 3 results. Here are a few methods to make the title get more clicks from the SERP.
Use Descriptive and Action Words
All of these words can help invite the searcher to take some kind of action. This is powerful copywriting at play.
The terms that you choose depends on who your audience is. Obviously don’t use the word call if you don’t have a phone line.
Use Emotional Language
People are motivated by saving money, there’s no question about that. So use words like these to trigger a response.
Also, you can use urgency tactics to try and force action.
Another tactic is to use words that signify a feeling of being “complete”, whatever that even means.
Overall you want to ask yourself what pain points people have that are searching for your keyword. Then highlight them in your title tag.
The final and probably most effective title tactic is to:
Use Special Characters
The awesome thing about this is that they don’t use up too much space in the title but help to really draw clicks in.
Here are some examples of special characters you can implement:
Going back to the example for our landing page at Undrcut here is a CTR optimized title that we could use once in the top 5 positions.
Here is what we have done to come up with this title:
- Main keyword is at the front of the title
- Secondary keywords are used throughout
- Uses FREE
- Uses #1 to draw the eye
But what about the title tag for the homepage? We use a different formula for that if it isn’t targeting any keywords and is merely a portal to the rest of the site.
Brand: Summary of the site – Benefit – Main keyword
Having the brand at the front of the title is important but after that is what works best for your site. On Undrcut however, we are targeting keywords on the homepage so we don’t follow this formula exactly.
How to Auto Generate Title Tags for Ecommerce
It’s no secret that e-commerce sites are some of the biggest sites in the SERPs. Some even have millions of indexed pages. A prime example of this is Amazon.com with 104 million pages. Indexed.
This is why automation is crucial! Nobody wants to create thousands of titles by hand, it would take way too long.
The good news is that there are plugins that will auto generate titles for you. Here are a few examples of different cms’s:
- WordPress: the Yoast plugin is easy to customize the meta title, there are a number of tutorials on how to do this
- Magneto: Magento is also pretty easy to customize the titles on your e-commerce store. There is also an extension for additional functionality.
- Joomla: There is a plugin called “tag meta” that is similar to the WordPress Yoast option.
Here are a few example formulas that you can use for writing page titles for product pages:
- Product Title – Category – Brand
- Product Title – Brand
- CTA – Product Title – Brand
- CTA – Product Title – ISBN – Brand (this works for products where people search for the serial number or ISBN)
One thing to note is that Example 1, having the category in the title for the product page could cause keyword cannibalization with the category page, so use it with caution!
Here are some examples you could use for a local site:
- Service + City – CTA – Brand (Plumbers Chicago – Call Now – Rotorooter)
- Place Name – City – Category – Brand
The 80/20 of E-Commerce Title Tags
Obviously nobody has time to go through and rewrite thousands of title tags for e-commerce sites. So how do you optimize for CTR then?
The best strategy is to use the 80/20 rule and just optimize your top performing pages. To find thee go to AhRefs site explorer and then “top pages”. You can then see which pages are already doing the best.
It’s worth the effort to go through and optimize these pages manually because increasing the CTR will likely help your bottom line significantly.
Why Does Google Rewrite Title Tags?
So you spend a bunch of time crafting the perfect title tag and then search it only to find that Google has manually rewritten it. This is a frustrating scenario that happens all too often. Here is why this occurs.
Google Doesn’t Like Your Title
Here is a quote from Gary Illyes himself about why Google rewrites title tags:
“We will never quit rewriting titles. We’ve seen so many sites whose title really suck. A lot of sites have no title; a lot of sites have a title saying “Top Page”. In fact, Google almost always rewrites titles. We couldn’t provide useful results to our users if we quit rewriting titles. Experiments showed us users preferred written titles. So, we’ll continue to write titles.”
So basically, because not everyone takes the time to write good title tags Google will never stop rewriting them.
Google Thinks There’s a Better Title Tag For the Keyword
It’s definitely query-dependent on whether Google rewrites the title tag. This means that sometimes they will leave it and sometimes it gets rewritten. Here is what Gary says about this question:
“So the title tag is query-dependent. Basically what we are trying to do is ensure that people will click on the results. We see lots of bad title tags [me: like homepage] yes and untitled for example, and I know for sure that this is actually a good thing, even if people don’t like it.”
This is quite a common thing to happen. Most times Google will rearrange the title to move the brand to the front.
Google Considers Anchor Text to Determine Page Topic
It’s well known that Google considers the anchors of the links pointing to a page to determine it’s relevance to a certain search query. Here is a quote from Aaseesh Marina about this:
“If we see anchor text from website A linking to website B, sometimes we can pick, depending on the user’s query, sometimes we pick the anchor text that links from A to B as the title for that particular search result. Again, we obviously want to serve results that make the most sense for the users, users are what we try and make the best possible results for and in some cases if we think the anchor text is a good title, and it is more relevant for that particular query, then we’ll serve the anchor text.”
It should be noted though that Google will only use this if needed. For example, if a page is indexed but is blocking Google bot from crawling. This is a situation where the only factor Google bot can use is the incoming anchor text.
How to Stop Google Rewriting Your Title
According to Google you can’t stop title rewriting 100% of the time. Here is what he had to say on the matter:
“We also won’t provide ways to prevent rewriting entirely. We anticipate they can be abused. For example, keyword stuffing. […] Send us feedback that is on the bottom of the search results pages if you don’t like rewritten titles.”
Here is our personal opinion on this: the best way to stop Google from rewriting your title tag is to write a great one.
Here are some things you must do to ensure your title is seen as worthy:
- Gets good click-through rate
- Describes the qualities people want to see
- Accurately describes the content of the page
Nothing is guaranteed but if you follow those steps then there is a lower chance of Google rewriting your title.
Title tags don’t have to be that difficult. You just have to put in the time in order to write them correctly.
It’s important to always aim to improve them by monitoring statistics in Google search console. This way you can make gains in traffic without adding new links or content.