The “title” of your web page is the bit which appears in the “title bar” at the very top of your web browser (if you’re using Internet Explorer, they also remind you that you’re using “Microsoft Internet Explorer” after it, on the same line). The “headline” for your web page is the big bold stuff above the main body copy. On many pages, these might well have been set to be the same thing. But they shouldn’t be.
Nowadays, the most important function of the page title is that it appears in Google. So the title and the headline have the same function – to persuade people to read the article. But remember the context. People look at the title on a Google results page, where it’s one of a list of similarly-themed titles, and they don’t know anything about the site the title is leading to. The headline, on the other hand, gets seen once people are on the site, and is viewed in glorious isolation.
So if you’re looking at this article on the web, my headline can just be a final enticement to read the article. You already know it’s for B2B marketers, for example, by that point. I chose “Why you should have different headlines and title tags on your web pages”. That would probably work in Google’s results, but it would be better if I could also convey the fact this is a short article aimed at B2B marketers, and anyway, that headline doesn’t jump out of a list particularly well. So for a title, I chose “2 reasons to have different headlines and title tags in B2B”. On the Google results page, the number “2” will stand out a mile, and the (admittedly rather superfluous) “B2B” will catch the eye of my desired audience.
Of course, that means I need another reason, and it’s this: Google only shows about 60 characters in the title of an article, so you need to keep it tight. Your headline, on the other hand, doesn’t need to be so artificially constrained, so don’t force it to be.
If you’re reading this in my email, the web page, where you can see the title tag and the headline working their individual magic, is here. You may even see the title in the Google results already, if it’s been quick enough off the mark.