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

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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.

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

Frank Pipolo
Jan 26, 2010

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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