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All About Title Tags

by Jill Whalen

What Is a Title Tag?

The title tag is one of the most important factors in achieving high search engine rankings.

A title tag is essentially an HTML code snippet that creates the words that appear in the top bar of your Web browser.

The HTML code for a title tag looks like this:

<HEAD>
<TITLE>XYZ Company Home Page</TITLE>
</HEAD>

The title tag belongs in the <HEAD> section of your source code, and is generally followed by your Meta description and Meta keywords tags. The order of these tags is not critical, so don't worry if your HTML editor places them in a different position.

Some Web site design tools and content management systems (CMS) automatically generate the title tag from information you provide. You may have noticed Web pages that are labeled "Page 1," "Page 2," or "Home Page" in the browser title bar. You'll often see titles like these being used by beginning Web site designers who simply don't know how to use their software or their title tag for maximum benefit.

Search Engines and Title Tags

All search engines use title tags to gather information about your Web site. The words in the title tag are what appear in the clickable link on the search engine results page (SERP). What you put in this tag is a key factor in which search queries you will rank highly with in the major search engines. Title tags are definitely one of the "big three" as far as the algorithmic weight given to them; they are equally as important as your visible text copy and the links pointing to your pages.

Do Company Names Belong in the Title Tag?

For years I was adamantly against "wasting" precious title tag space on company names. However, now that I work with many well-known brands, I've altered my thinking on this. I've found that it's fine to place your company name in the title, and *gasp*, even to place it at the beginning of the tag! In fact, if your company is already a well-known brand, I'd say that it's essential. Even if you're not a well-known brand yet, chances are you'd like to eventually be one. The title tag gives you a great opportunity to further this cause.

This doesn't mean that you should put *just* your company name in the title tag. Even the most well-known brands will benefit from a good descriptive phrase or two added to this tag, as it will serve to enhance your brand as well as your search engine rankings. The people who already know your company and seek it out by name will be able to find you in the engines, and so will those who never heard of you, but who seek the products or services you sell.

For example, if your company is "Johnson and Smith Inc." and you are a tax accounting firm in Texas, you shouldn't place only the words "Johnson and Smith Inc." in your title tag, but instead use something like "Johnson and Smith Inc. Tax Accountants in Texas."

Title Tags Should Contain Specific Keyword Phrases

As a Texas tax accountant, you would want your company's site to appear in the search engine results for searches on phrases such as "Texas tax accountants" and "CPAs in Texas." You would need to be even more specific if you prefer to work for people only in the Dallas area. In that case, use keywords such as "Dallas tax accountants" in your site's title tags. This is a key point: If you're only seeking customers or clients in a specific geographical region, your keywords need to reflect that. People looking for a tax accountant in Dallas may begin their search by simply entering "tax accountant" in the search engine. However, once they see that their search is returning accountants from all over the world, they'll narrow the search by adding "Dallas" to their search terms. When they do, you want your site to be right there on the first page of new results.

In our Dallas accountants example, you might create a title tag as follows:

<TITLE>Johnson and Smith Inc. Tax Accountants in Dallas</TITLE>

or you might try something like this:

<TITLE>Johnson and Smith Inc. Dallas CPAs</TITLE>

However, there's more than enough space in the title tag to include both of these important keyword phrases. (In fact, search engines will display 60 to 115 characters of your title tag.) Here's an example of an approach I like even better:

<TITLE>Johnson and Smith Inc. - Dallas Tax Accountants - CPAs in Dallas, TX</TITLE>

Today's search engines are not case-sensitive; therefore I generally use initial caps in this tag because it looks the cleanest. I used to often use ALL CAPS in parts of my title tag because when the engines were case sensitive, it would give me a different variation of my phrase. However, ALL CAPS looks somewhat spammy in the SERPs, so I generally avoid this practice these days.

As for placing the word "Dallas" twice in the title tag, I have found this approach to be both permissible and effective. Just make sure that you don't put the same words right next to each other. For example, a tag that reads "Accountants in Dallas -- Dallas CPAs" may trigger a red flag with the search engines, possibly making that word ignored entirely. (Search engines see hyphens and commas as spaces, which is why they would count that example as the same word next to itself.) In order to play it safe, it's probably a good idea to not use any given word more than two times in the title.

Use Your Visible Text Copy as Your Guide

I personally would not be able to create a title tag for any page until the copy on the page has been written and optimized. I need to see how the copywriter integrated the keyword phrases into the visible text copy to know where to begin. If you've done a good job with your writing (or better yet, hired a professional SEO copywriter), you should find all the information you need right there on your page. Simply choose the most relevant keyword phrases that the copy was based on, and write a compelling title tag accordingly. If you're having trouble with this, and can't seem to get a handle on what the most important phrases are for any given page, you probably need to rewrite the copy.

The optimal approach when writing copy for a Web site is to think of the main phrases that best reflect your business, and then compose the text around them. When you write your title tag, you simply revisit these same phrases, and compose your keyword-rich title accordingly. I recommend that you *don't* take an exact sentence pulled from your copy and use it as your title tag. It's my preference to have a unique sentence or compelling string of words in this tag.

So what if a keyword phrase you want to use doesn't actually appear within your visible copy? Does this mean you shouldn't use this phrase in the title tag?

Well, yes and no. Since the title tag is given a lot of weight in the engines, even if you're not willing to change the text on your page, you may be able to rank highly simply by placing your phrase in this tag. Just note that for any phrase that is even slightly competitive, having it in the title tag and not the copy will generally limit its overall effectiveness. You'd want to be sure to gain lots of keyword-rich links to your site in these cases, which can also work in conjunction with your title.

You'd be better off still if you'd rewrite the text on your page so that it utilizes the phrases that are important to you. This doesn't mean to just stick keywords at the top or bottom of the page. It doesn't mean to hide them in the background. Nor does it mean to put them in a tiny font so that no one will notice them. If certain keyword phrases are important enough that you want your site to be found under them in the search engines, they are certainly important enough to be elegantly incorporated into the body text of your page.

Once you've incorporated your phrases into the text of your site, you'll find that creating brilliant title tags that help with branding as well as with getting found in the search engines is truly a no-brainer!


Jill Whalen is the owner of HighRankings.com and moderator of the free weekly email newsletter, the High Rankings' Advisor. She is also known for her moderation of the critically acclaimed, Rank Write Roundtable. Jill specializes in search engine optimization, directory submissions, SEO consultations and workshops. She has obtained hundreds of number 1 and 2 spots for her vast array of clients throughout the years. Clients include multi-million dollar companies, major universities, real estate agencies, attorneys, surgeons, dentists, and small-medium sized businesses.

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