In June 2016, John Mueller revealed that keywords in the title and heading area were not critical to helping a site rank. This turned the conventional wisdom on its head which says that title tag is the most important on-page SEO factor. It is supposed to give accurate description of a page content and is a strong relevancy signal.
In a Google Hangout session, John Mueller was asked the following question –
How Important Is The Title Tag?
This is what his response was
“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 recognize 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.”
According to him, if a page has missing title tag, Google can still rank a page, but with missing content, it makes much harder for Google.
If title tag isn’t critical, then what John deems as most critical to a page.
The answer wasn’t rocket science.
It’s the actual content on the page
I am sure many people who were obsessed with link building will realize this cardinal truth as it has come straight from the horse’s mouth. Content is the reason why people link to you.
So, what’s the takeaway from this –
The title tag is STILL an important on page factor. Read what john said carefully. “it’s not the most critical part of a page”. He never mentioned it’s not critical at all. Keywords in title tag are important as ever. There is no need to stuff title tag with keywords, but if you don’t include keywords in title tag, Google may find it hard to rank your site for relevant terms.
Now, let’s come to the optimal format for crafting title tag. According to moz.com, it’s this:
Primary Keyword – Secondary Keyword | Brand Name
Another way could be:
Keyword1| Keyword2|keyword 3|Brand Name
Which of the above two looks messy. The second one.
Another misconception is that Google has a character limit for title tags. In reality, it’s length is measured in pixels. The limit is 512 pixels. But how do measure length in pixels?
You don’t have to. Fortunately, there are nifty tools which will do the job for you.
However hard you may try in writing a perfect title, Google will always have the last laugh. In other words, Google won’t ALWAYS display the right page title in SERP.
Google changes page Titles in their results based on what they think the topical focus of a page is. Google’s system may determine a different Title better represents the page better than what site owners think.
Here’s Google’s explanation:
“If we’ve detected that a particular result has issues with its title, we may try to generate an improved title from anchors, on-page text, or other sources. However, sometimes even pages with well-formulated, concise, descriptive titles will end up with different titles in our search results to better indicate their relevance to the query.”
It should be enticing enough for searcher to click on your SERP listing.
Length: Best practices say It should be no more than 50-60 characters long, including spaces. Although, there is no hard and fast rule. It depends on the pixel width of each character. Some characters will occupy much less space than others.
Placement: Place targeted keywords as close to the title tag as possible.
Branding: Should you add your company’s name in title tag? Some people are of the opinion that this should be done for branding purpose. Think of it this way. You MUST always rank for your brand name.
The point is that websites will always rank for searches involving company name anyway, even if it doesn’t appear anywhere in the title tag. Because there’s little competition for your company name as a search term. And your company name is NOT a high competition keyword.
But if you want to include your company name, put it at the end.
Separator: Don’t fuss about it so much. It doesn’t matter. You can use pipe (|) or dash (-).
According to Google’s Gary Illyes it “doesn’t matter” if you use pipes or not in your title tags. He never mentioned you have to use pipe symbol.
Uniqueness: Every page on your site has a distinct content. Shouldn’t the same hold true for title tags. Make them unique.
Relevancy: Title tags must accurately describe the content on the page. Don’t trick users into thinking that they landed on a wrong page. They will hit the ‘back’ button faster than you imagined. The searcher may find another website that addresses his pain point.
This is what you call Pogo sticking. And it sends a bad signal to Google.
To summarize, you must include your keyword as close to title tag as possible, make it unique, compelling enough for searcher to click while keeping an eye on the length.