SEO Marketing

SEO Title Tag Formulas: How to Create High Performance Title Tags

By Ken Lyons August 05, 2009 Posted In: SEO Marketing Comments: 51

One of the most important pieces of copy for SEO is the title tag. Having a strong, relevant, clickable title can have a major impact on rankings, click-through rates and overall traffic numbers.

Table of Contents:

In my mind, the title tag is so vital to the success of your SEO that I advocate rigorous testing of tags to find which ones work and which don't. Once you've found a winner, you should implement a title tag formula that everyone who touches SEO on your website can follow.

Benefits of an SEO title tag formula:

For the record, the current title tag character limit for Google is 70. It's critical to harness the value and power behind each of those single characters. Nothing should be wasted. There should be no "fat" in your title tags, only meat.

Also, I feel your title tag should read like an ad text headline (short and pithy), not like the title of an article or paper. Save the creativity and the cleverness and longish descriptives for on-page titles, not title tags.

Step One: Start from the Beginning. Add Keywords First to Title Tags!

Having the keyword first means better rankings. Plain and simple. I've tested this theory repeatedly, and moving the primary keyword to the first position will boost your page's ranking in the SERPs. By now this should be common knowledge, but I'm baffled by how many companies still lead with company name in the title tag.

Front loading your brand is a waste of a title tag

In addition to better keyword rankings, the query for your primary keyword is what prompted your page. So it's only logical to front-load that keyword where the searcher will see it immediately (visual cue) to create a connection and coax relevant clicking, rather than pushing it three or four words deep behind the company name and a senseless tag line (see the above Rain-X listing).

But what about the home page?

Now, some in search feel strongly that the homepage is the exception here, and that company name should be first to "brand your site." I have a different take. Because of the natural linking order of the Web, homepages typically:

  • attract the lion's share of authority links; and
  • have the strongest PageRank

Therefore, your homepage's title tag algorithmically is THE most powerful element of SEO copy on your entire site. So logic would dictate that here's where you would insert your most competitive keywords, ie the hardest ones to rank.

To me, leading with your brand here is a total waste of real estate for most companies. If you really feel compelled to brand yourself, do it in the meta description.

Step Two: So What Comes Next in the Title Tag Formula? 'Action Words'

After front-loading your target keywords in your title tag, you should add action words (verbs), which compel or persuade the searcher to take a desired action. Now, I've tested title tags with and without action words. And, time and again, the clear winners are always the title tags with a compelling verb.

For a better idea what I'm talking about, here are a list of some action words, which I've segmented by searcher intent for enhanced relevancy.

  • Informational Action Words - learn, discover, find, read, see
  • Transactional Action Words - try, get, buy, download

For more on searcher intent and its impact on your SEO and keyword strategy, see my earlier post on keyword mapping, particularly the section on grouping keywords by intent.

One more thing...this may sound obvious, but when writing title tags, be sure the action you're promising the searcher is in fact present (and prominent) on the page. Often, SERP listings promote something like a free download, for example, yet there's no payoff. The download offer is nowhere to be found on the actual page, or it's buried "below the fold."

Nothing will drive up bounce rates and frustrate users more than not delivering here, so keep it in mind when creating those title tags.

Step Three: Drop in Keyword Variations and Secondary Keywords in Your Title Tags

You can further leverage the power of HTML title tags by adding variations of your primary SEO keywords. By doing this, you increase the chances of ranking on multiple search queries for variations of your primary keywords.

For example, say my business sells products for bird watching, and we've created a "Bird Watchers Guide." Using the preceding title tag formula, I would:

  • Front load the primary keywords
  • Add an action word
  • Mix in a keyword variation or secondary keyword
  • Close with my brand

So my title tag look like this:

Example of a title tag formula for a fictitious bird watchers guide

By adding these secondary keywords and variations, this page has the ability to rank on the secondary keyword "bird watching," variations of long tail keywords "learn about bird watching," and my primary keyword "bird watchers guide" and even "bird watchers." This strategy is a very powerful method for getting the most out of your SEO title tags and ranking for a wider variety of queries.

Too often, I see SEOs duplicate the primary keywords in the title tag. Not only does this look spammy (killing the credibility of the site), but also it offers no technical SEO benefit.

But don't tell that to pagerankupdate.org or pagerankupdate.net.

Two examples of very spammy title tags

In any case, I've tested and re-tested duplicate keywords in the title tag and have seen zero positive impact on rankings.

Best Title Tag Formulas for SEO

So given all the steps I've laid out, these are a few of my favorite title tag formulas broken out by page type. These are examples you can use across a variety of websites and documents.

Examples of best performing title tags for SEO

Finally, Test and Re-Test Your SEO Title Tags

Okay, so that's my take on title tags and title tag formulas. Like a lot of things in SEO, much is still open to debate. So you don't have to take my word for it. Implement these or your own changes and test, test, test.

I test HTML title tags by measuring changes in rank and changes in conversions. You can also use Google Webmaster Tools to track changes in click-through rate (dont' tell me Google doesn't use CTR, or lack thereof, as a ranking signal). Under "top search queries," you can see the click-through rates for your top 100 queries and use those as a baseline for measurement.

In any case, the title tag is far too important to treat it like it's merely a place to dump website keywords or waste on "clever" taglines. I feel it's best to develop a few different title tag formulas, test them and find out what works. Then implement the proven formula site-wide, leaving nothing to chance.

 

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Comments

Wednesday August 05, 2009

David Zimmerman, SEO (not verified) Said:

I like this. It's a great idea. Sometimes I think it might be hard to do this in the suggested 65 characters (but, then again, who cares about the brand name anyhow!)

Thursday August 20, 2009

DEJAN SEO (not verified) Said:

I care about the brand, but it's sometimes about sacrifice. As you said 65 characters is a limited amount of real estate so best to use it wisely.

Friday August 28, 2009

Sandy (not verified) Said:

I agree with you David. But I don't think its too hard to limit to 65 characters. If the title tags are more than 65 characters, one can just utilize the first 65 characters as per this strategy and the balance tags can come after. I have , however, noticed many times that Google does pay attention to tags after 65 -70 characters also. Check out some results related to sites like 4shared.com
One thing I may want to ask is , should you use WP Plugins like All in One SEO etc to convert your category names into meta tags on your post pages ?

Wednesday August 05, 2009

Ken Lyons Said:

David, thanks for commenting. Glad you liked the title tag post.

Like I said, if a company is bent on branding in the SERPs, they can do it in the meta description.

Wednesday August 05, 2009

Robert Spears (not verified) Said:

Excellent and highly useful article. Thanks! Regarding branding - I concur that online consumers are seeking solutions first (e.g. benefits, features, etc.) and that authentic branding will occur during the experience of a site and it's products and services.

Thursday August 06, 2009

Daily Digest for August 6th | A Blog by John A. Lee (not verified) Said:

[...] SEO Title Tag Formulas: How to Create High Performance Title Tags | WordStream — 11:18am via [...]

Friday August 07, 2009

Rafael Montilla (not verified) Said:

Great SEO tip.

I will try it and let you know.

Sunday August 09, 2009

Orlando Web Design (not verified) Said:

I love this. I was just going through changing all the generic title tags our progammers put in place. I was trying some testing and this just answered all my questions and will now save me some time.

I have to ask though what is your opinion on having | vs :: . Our programmer put :: and I told him no lets not do that but I couldn't come up with a reason why not to do it, it is just that I have never seen it used a lot. But I guess programmers in all their weird tactics think it looks good.

If you could tell me what you think that would be great.

Thanks

Thursday August 13, 2009

Ken Lyons Said:

Can't say i'm surprised your programmer likes the nerdy double colon.

For the record, I'm partial to the | separator.

 

Wednesday August 19, 2009

Marjory Meechan (not verified) Said:

I agree with Ken and anyway the | separator uses fewer character spaces leaving more room for some keywords or action items.

Sunday August 09, 2009

Nigel Copley Internet Marketing (not verified) Said:

Great Article Ken - This is how the Pro's do it :-) - I'm soon going to be writing a piece on the key components of Keyword research from botha clients and search marketers point of view, if you're interested in hearing about it - i'll send you a link

Thursday August 13, 2009

Ken Lyons Said:

Nigel, definitely shoot me a link to that article.

Saturday August 22, 2009

Nigel Copley Internet Marketing (not verified) Said:

Thanks Ken, Should be in the next few weeks. I'm just redeveloping my site right now and will be producing a series of items and would welcome your feedback :-)

Sunday August 09, 2009

tag Länge « SEO FAQs (not verified) Said:

Sunday August 09, 2009

Alan Mitchell (not verified) Said:

Thanks Ken, some very useful info.

Monday August 10, 2009

Email Marketing Software (not verified) Said:

Great Idea. Thank you very much for these tips. Very helpful!!

Monday August 10, 2009

gudipudi (not verified) Said:

thats an interesting catch

Monday August 10, 2009

Jared Little (not verified) Said:

This is really good information. I have bookmarked it and plan to share with others. I made it am mission to learn as much about seo this month so I am not hurting my blog. I like the fact that you showed examples and talk about how you tested this stuff. Testing is so important.

Tuesday August 11, 2009

evinco (not verified) Said:

Good idea. I will try it. Thanks!

Tuesday August 11, 2009

Nick Stamoulis (not verified) Said:

Title tags are one of those things that are always a work in progress. Something many companies are always trying to fine tune and tweak until they get them just right.

Wednesday August 12, 2009

Sheldon Nesdale (Marketing Consultant, Tauranga, NZ) (not verified) Said:

Oi! I charge people for this advice and here you are giving it away for free! Stop it!

Wednesday September 30, 2009

Sean (not verified) Said:

We charge for this too! Excellent write up, Ken. Some great, free & useful information for beginners to digest as well as professionals to refresh.

I am curious to see what your take is on "density" within the title tag as there was no mention of it. From our testing/benchmarking, we usually see our clients rank higher when the keywords within the title tag (as well as any other tag) have the maximum-amount of density.

I would be interested to hear your take on this. Thanks again for sharing with all of us!

Thursday August 13, 2009

Inder@SeoNext (not verified) Said:

Excellant write-up Ken, These are some of the things if developers took care at the begining, it will be difficult for us (SEO's) to work on...Anyways, this things can be helpful for newbees in SEO as well...Good Work Ken...will definately sphinn it and will ask others to sphinn it too...Thumbs Up!!

Thursday August 13, 2009

Ken Lyons Said:

Thanks for the kudos, Inder.

And the Sphinn and Sphinn recommends are much appreciated.

Thursday August 13, 2009

Rex Freiberger (not verified) Said:

Hey Ken, Great article. I'm powering through some title tags right now for an ecommerce site and found your points very insightful, especially using an action verb in the title tag.

Tuesday August 18, 2009

7 Worst SEO Mistakes You Can Make (not verified) Said:

[...] of the single largest factors for on-page optimization. If you have not done so yet, please read SEO Title Tag Formulas to get a better understand of what [...]

Tuesday August 18, 2009

7 Worst SEO Mistakes You Can Make | Guilda Blog (not verified) Said:

[...] of the single largest factors for on-page optimization. If you have not done so yet, please read SEO Title Tag Formulas to get a better understand of what [...]

Tuesday August 18, 2009

7 Worst SEO Mistakes You Can Make : WordPress Templates (not verified) Said:

[...] of the single largest factors for on-page optimization. If you have not done so yet, please read SEO Title Tag Formulas to get a better understand of what [...]

Tuesday August 18, 2009

7 Worst SEO Mistakes You Can Make (not verified) Said:

[...] of the single largest factors for on-page optimization. If you have not done so yet, please read SEO Title Tag Formulas to get a better understand of what [...]

Wednesday August 19, 2009

Drew (not verified) Said:

Great article, Ken. I'm going to implement this formula on my site right now. Thanks so much.

Wednesday August 19, 2009

Ken Lyons Said:

Hey, Drew.

Thanks for stopping by and glad you liked the post.

Ken

Wednesday August 19, 2009

Carolyn (not verified) Said:

In my experience, everything you said here is spot on!

My ongoing dilemma is what to do when a business has a very long name and wants to be found for it. Even at the end of the title, it uses up valuable characters. Typically I select a few 'non-crucial' pages, like About Us or Company Overview, and I use it at the beginning of the title for those pages.

Sometimes I add it AFTER the 70 characters, separated by a pipe - visitors may not see it in the SERPS but Google can still read it.

Any other ideas?

Wednesday August 19, 2009

Ken Lyons Said:

Hi, Carolyn.

If the domain name is the brand and the company name is mentioned in the page content, the company should get found by the engines and rank well (if not #1) for a branded query, even without brand in the title tag.

That said, if this isn't the case, you could just build some links (internal and external) with branded anchor text back to the home page, which should do the trick.

Good luck,
Ken

Wednesday August 19, 2009

Rajan Bhanot (not verified) Said:

Great piece, thank you. Will test your method and let you know what happens.

Wednesday August 19, 2009

Anne Carol (not verified) Said:

Very informative! will start using this in today's articles.

Wednesday August 19, 2009

Janaki (not verified) Said:

Excellent analysis! I really liked the way it is put across, with lots of examples. I completely agree with the author, I experienced the changes in SERP with minor changes done to the Title. Title tag is a valuable element in SEO and also a easy variable to experiment.

Thursday August 20, 2009

Debbie (not verified) Said:

Really great post. I too am always amazed by the title tags starting with the company name. Such a waste! I also think the Meta Description is really important and not enough care is taken in writing these too.

Thursday August 20, 2009

Amit Bhatia (not verified) Said:

After so much time, I am finding a useful info on internet about writing title tags. Thanks for this :)

Thursday August 20, 2009

Travel (not verified) Said:

We are still in web development, but this is the time to do our individual page SEO [truth is they should of done this at the inception], though your article is brilliant and only makes logical sense. This is what I always love about your advice is that I am totally "green" with this SEO stuff yet your reasoning just always makes common sense -- it's like oh yeah why didn't I think of that!

If I am understanding you right, instead of writing the company name first, yeah I'm busted as that is exactly what i was going to do - in fact I was going to write something like "ABC Travel CO. Official Site: Great Rates on Vacation Packages.

So now how about Vacation Packages - Best Rates hotels, Flights, Cars | ABC Travel Co. Or am I even on the right track?

Thursday August 20, 2009

Ken Lyons Said:

Yup. You got it. 

Just make sure the keywords in your title tags are also in your page content as well.

Good Luck,
Ken

Tuesday August 25, 2009

Kunle Campbell (not verified) Said:

Hi Ken,

Could you check these SERPs for search phrase 'energy jobs' out: http://www.google.co.uk/search?q=energy+jobs&sourceid=navclient-ff&ie=UT...
Check out the No. 5 ranked site: earthworks-jobs.com

Title tag - 861 characters!
Meta Description - 647 characters!

Why does Google let this happen?!
Only the top two results of the SERPs start with the key phrase 'energy jobs' but I guess that is why they rank No. 1 & 2.

It looks to me like link popularity is taken far more into consideration for it to rank No. 5

Kunle

Thursday August 27, 2009

Rachel (not verified) Said:

Thank you for the tips this page was great and clear to understand,
changing my title now and see what happens
Thanks again

Wednesday September 02, 2009

Alessadra M (not verified) Said:

I'm going to implement this formula on my site right now!!!
thanx for the suggest me about this.. damn confused before read this.....!!!!

Thursday September 10, 2009

Bullet Proof Vests (not verified) Said:

Great tips!! Thanks so much. I am always looking for more knowledge when it comes to SEO.

Thursday September 24, 2009

Rasmus (not verified) Said:

This is an excellent walk through on how to generate optimized title tags. I have to disagree on putting the brand name at the end when handling very big brands. The brand can often lead to greater CTR when placed first.

Thursday September 24, 2009

Ken Lyons Said:

Hey, Rasmus. Thanks for commenting.

That's why I advocate testing. If front loading your brand leads to a greater CTR, and that's your target metric, then do it. Although, front loading your brand will undoubtedly result in a lower rankings for your target keywords, so even though you may be boosting your CTR, you'll likely see fewer impressions and clicks.

Cheers!
Ken

Sunday September 27, 2009

7 Worst SEO Mistakes You Can Make | Amarnath Online (not verified) Said:

[...] of the single largest factors for on-page optimization. If you have not done so yet, please read SEO Title Tag Formulas to get a better understand of what [...]

Thursday October 08, 2009

Larry (not verified) Said:

Ken, I read with keen interest and took your advice to heart about title tag work.

I am just so torn between description, keywords and branding; that and the fact of what to sacrifice to keep inside the character limit. I feel I could obtain better traffic and search results if I could somehow put your formula to good use. I have a very general, too general people title presently due to the fact of the variety of items on site. Description and keyword tags are pretty good, title just don't cut it.

Would consider it blessing, if you felt so inclined, to look at my site and comment on what you thought could be done with the title.
http://hotbuyssuperstore.com

I can't format each page title, it does have category names on page and in the url though, so I am looking to make a good overall descriptive title using your formula.

Thanks for any time or feedback

Wednesday November 04, 2009

Margery (not verified) Said:

This is a marvelous article-- very specific. Thank you.

Tuesday November 17, 2009

Page Titles » SEO Update (not verified) Said:

[...] Read all [...]

Tuesday January 26, 2010

Frank Pipolo (not verified) Said:

Nice post. I think it gives good initial direction on your title creation. Brand keywords are going to convert higher as we know but I think you can push them to the back of the title to still get the benefit of rankings and brand awareness.

 
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