12/02/16 // Written by Emma Phillips

John Mueller Google Hangouts Session: Title Tags

Google frequently arranges live Google Hangout sessions online, hosted by its Webmaster Trends Analyst, John Mueller, who runs one-on-one sessions with a select group of search specialists.

Dan Picken, of Ingenuity Digital’s sister company WMG, attends these sessions to ensure he’s at the leading edge of search science, asking the questions that will enable us to keep our clients’ businesses fully optimised online.

In a recent session, Dan asked the following question:

How Important Is The Title Tag?

This is a good question to ask as there is a growing trend in ever-prevalent ranking factors becoming less important to Google as their algorithms shift and change. They are becoming even more sophisticated and better at understanding your site, prompting us to get clarification on what really works best and what doesn’t.

This time we asked about a well-known element in the SEO community, the title tag and what impact it really has on the page as a ranking factor.

So we simply asked:

How important is the title tag as a ranking signal?

And John Mueller had this to say: 

“We do use it for ranking, but it’s not the most critical part of a page. So it’s not worthwhile filling it with keywords to hope that it works that way. In general, we try to recognise when a title tag is stuffed with keywords because that’s also a bad user experience for users in the search results. If they’re looking to understand what these pages are about and they just see a jumble of keywords, then that doesn’t really help.”

He did further add that when thinking about title tags try to write a short sentence describing what the page is about.

When I questioned what he would deem “critical” to the page he said “actual content on the page” which in our minds is something that’s been high on the agenda for Google for years. It makes sense that if you do not mention your keywords, then how could you expect to rank for them?

What Do We Think About The Title Tag?

Our stance on this is simple. The title tag is still a ranking factor and therefore should be optimised, but not in isolation. When optimising the title tag this should be done as part of a wider strategy to make the page relevant, so if you have pages on your site with thin or no content then we would suggest writing some relevant unique content that is going to help the visitor.

That being said, when thinking about title tags here are some best practices that we adhere to:

  1. Up to 65 characters per title tag. We appreciate that this isn’t always achievable, especially if you have an ecommerce site with a large number of pages. However, if you can use the 65 characters as a guide – at least for your most important landing pages – then this will prevent the title tags not only becoming truncated in the SERPs (where you get “…” because it’s too long) but also goes someway to preventing Google from rewriting your title tags altogether.
  2. Make sure your title tags are between header tags. By following the standard HTML structure for webpages you will ensure that Google will be able to accurately read the title tags and display them in the SERPs.
  3. Keyword your title tags. We’re not saying to keyword stuff them but if you don’t have relevant keywords in your title tags then Google may struggle to find and rank you for your chosen relevant terms. We would therefore recommend having no more than 2-3 keywords in the title tags followed by your brand name. What’s more Google will bold keywords in your title tag (and your meta description) so when you are visible to a searcher in the SERPs the searcher will be more drawn to your listing.
  4. Make sure they’re unique to the page. Google does use the title tag as part of the pages content to understand the relevance of the page. If you have a tonne of title tags that are the same with similar content, then you are essentially relying on Google to make the right choice about what page they should show to the searcher so always, always have a unique title tag per page.

We hope that helps. If this post has been useful to you, let us know how you got on, we’d love to hear from you.

To watch the question we asked about title tags, please click on the link here: https://youtu.be/gfXGfvKJnPY?t=3454