After a few conversations with clients over the past couple of weeks, I’ve realised that it’s probably time to deconstruct the elements of a Google results page in an explanatory way, and that’s what I’ll be doing over the next few days. Although a bit “back to basics”, I hope it’s of interest to you, and will help you improve your site’s search engine optimisation.
Let’s start today with the main link which Google shows for each result – the “title”. This is probably the most fundamental element of a Google results page, even if the titles are rather drowned out by the adverts, images and videos nowadays.
The words in this main link – the title – are critical to getting people to click on your result, obviously, so ensuring each one of yours is attractive is a fundamental first step in getting more Google traffic. It’s also one of the main signals to Google as to what the page is about, so if you want the page to rank highly for a specific search, you need to ensure those words are in the link.
The nice thing is, this link is entirely in your hands.
Where does this link come from? Google simply takes it from the “title tag” of your web page. This is a bit of descriptive information attached to the page which doesn’t show on the page itself. How you write yours depends on how your pages are created: a modern content management system will usually have some data fields attached to each page which you can fill in, one of which will be the title. Some systems might have been set up to create the title automatically, perhaps using the headline you write which does appear on the page. This isn’t great, and nor are those systems which automatically add standard text to each title, out of your control. The company name is a typical example.
You can see the title of any web page on your site, exactly as Google does, by looking at the “page source”, the code behind the page. Here’s a good article on how to view the page source code in your particular web browser. The title will be towards the top of the document, between “title” and “/title” in angle brackets.
Creating a list of all the pages on your site and re-evaluating each page’s title is an exercise you should go through regularly. This process can be automated and the results put into a spreadsheet, and it’s the sort of free support job we do for our AdWords management clients on demand all the time.
So the title is your “headline” in the Google results, and is more important than any advertisement headline you’ll ever write. And the title on every major page on your website (if not every page) requires individual time and attention.
What should a perfect title look like? There are three major elements:
1. It needs to fit in the space which the Google results pages offer. This is normally taken as being a maximum of 60 to 65 characters. If you go over this, you’ll lose the last few characters and everything after that, to be replaced by an ellipsis (“…”). You wouldn’t put that in a magazine advert, so don’t allow it in your Google results.
2. It needs to contain the search term which you want the page to be found for. If the page title contains the words “blue widgets”, Google will rank the page more highly for searches on “blue widgets”, and it’ll put those words in bold in the results. So decide on the search phrase which each page is targeting, and get those words into the title. If you look down a page of Google results, you’ll also notice that the titles which have the bold text at the start tend to stand out.
3. It needs to suggest “click on me!”, just as you’d write the headline in a magazine advert to suggest “read the rest of this page!”.
So take a look at your Google results (type in site:www.yoursite.com into Google). If they’re looking really uninspiring and messy, it’s time to set up a project to rewrite the titles to be relevant to the page content and as compelling as any magazine headline. If you’ve been paying an SEO consultant and your results still look drab, for goodness’ sake just fire them now, will you?
This is what you want:
And this is what you don’t want: