When I first sat down to write this piece, the first thing to pop into my head was my eighth grade English class and Shakespeare’s famous play, “Romeo and Juliet.”
Hang on, hang on, hear me out – in a well-known monologue, Juliet asks Romeo, “What’s in a name?”
And it got me thinking – What’s really “in” a website title? What makes it so important, and why does it matter for your site’s SEO and your users’ experience?
“That which we call a rose, by any other name, would smell as sweet,” Juliet continues.
But, does her statement hold water? And does it apply to website titles? I mean, if we instead called a rose a “fetid,” would we actually trick our brains into thinking that it certainly does not smell as sweet?
What’s really in a website title?
To get to the bottom of this, we need a better understanding of what a website title is, the function of the title tag, and how this differs from the other H1 heading on the page. What’s more, we need to know how your website title affects its search engine ranking, and where the connection lies with your users’ experience.
Let’s dive on in:
What it is (a definition)
A website title (also known as the site’s title tag, or meta title tag) outlines and defines the content of the particular webpage.
The tech side of things: Title tag and source code
The “title tag” element refers to the HTML title code – for our more tech savvy readers, the website title literally appears between the <title> tags in the source code. They also appear in the meta property title tag if you’re using the Open Graph protocol.
For example, a website page with the title “Best blog ever written” will look like this to developers and search engine crawlers: <title>Best blog ever written</title>.
How is this different from other page headers?
It’s not uncommon for the website title to be confused with a page’s H1 header. In many cases, the website title or page title may be identical to the H1 header, and the difference really lies in where these elements are displayed and the function they serve.
As this example shows, the page title is shown within the little tab at the top of the web browser. The H1 header, on the other hand, is displayed on the actual page.
When you hover over the tab, the full page title appears:
Another key difference between your website title and H1 tag is the way these elements are used for search engine rankings and results. The website title will appear in search results snippets like the one below, whereas the H1 tag does not:
In addition to search engine results snippets, your website title is also used in featured snippets on social media:
The value for SEO and user experience
Besides providing the meta title tag content for users’ web browser tabs, search engine rankings and social media snippets, there are a few more things to know about the importance of website titles.
Back to our Juliet example – I’d argue that a rose (or website) by any other name (or title tag) definitely would not smell as sweet, and here’s why:
Your website title is part of your on-page SEO optimization
That’s right – your website title is what search engine crawlers use to display accurate results, based on users’ search queries and keyword attributes. Your website title should include relevant keywords so that it provides certain signals to the search engine. Any inaccuracies in your website title tag can mean missed opportunities for user search queries, and abysmal click-through rates.
It helps users find what they’re looking for
Your website title isn’t just about search engine ranking, though. It also provides key cues and descriptive hints to website visitors that help them find what they’re looking for. This means it’s really important for you to understand what search terms your audience is using to find the kind of content that you’re offering on that page. Including keywords that align with these search queries helps your website get found, and provides a better experience for your users.
It’s imperative for website accessibility and screen readers
Your website title is also used by screen readers and other assistive technology, and is typically the first element that assistive technology reads to users. This means it needs to be descriptive, and provide all relevant info:
The bottom line is that your website title needs to be an accurate reflection of the page’s content – don’t send false flags with your meta title.
There’s nothing more annoying for users than landing on a page thanks to its website title and search ranking, only to realize that the content doesn’t line up. (FYI for website owners: This behavior only adds to your bounce rate.)
Naming your rose: Best practices for website titles
When it comes down to creating your website title tag, there are a few things for copywriters and website owners to remember:
- Watch your length. Keep in mind that not only does your website title show up in Google and other search engine and social media featured snippets, but it also appears at the top of the browser tab, and that little spot only provides so much room. It’s best to keep your website title short, sweet and to the point. Best practice is currently 55-60 characters or less.
- Make sure it provides the full picture. You also need to strike a balance between concise, accurate and relevant. Your website meta title is the first item that assistive technology like screen readers announce to users. So, incredibly vague website page titles will do little to help them find content that best matches their search queries, or for their user experience.
- Include keywords – but don’t overdo it. The threat of keyword cannibalism is very real here, and even top brands are guilty of the offense. Lead with your most important keyword(s), and avoid keyword stuffing. If a top search attribute doesn’t accurately reflect the page content, don’t put it in your website title – reserve it for the page content instead.
- Title tag and H1 can match. But don’t forget to throw in a little variety for your H2s and other page headers.
- Consider including the brand name – if you have room. Including your brand name provides source cues to readers that go beyond the little logo displayed on the browser tab, and can help make your website title more accurate. But, don’t forget, you want to ensure the website title is an accurate microcosm of the page’s content, and is less than 60 characters. (For example, this statement here in parentheses is 65 characters.)
- Make it compelling. If your website title isn’t something you would click on, it’s time to head back to the drawing board. It should be relevant, but catchy and attention-grabbing.
- Avoid all caps. Don’t yell at your readers.
Star-crossed lover Romeo might have been quick to cast his name aside – he legit tells Juliet, “Call me but love, and I’ll be new baptized; Henceforth I never will be Romeo.”
But marketers should put a little more thought, planning and consideration into their website titles. These meta title tags don’t only impact your overall SEO, but can also have deep effects on the user experience you provide. Think carefully, and choose a website title that best describes the rose that is your page content.