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Why titles should be more than just a label

Anyone wanting to get a quick SEO win on their website just needs to go through and improve the title tags. No great revelation there. The title tag for each page tells search engine algorithms what you think the page is about; it’s not the single most important thing for search engine ranking, but it’s something you can influence and improve, right now.

Getting into the search engine results is one thing, but getting people to click on your result is another. That needs an intriguing headline on the search result. But guess where that headline comes from? Yes, it’s that title tag again! The same little piece of code fulfils two really important functions.

So how do we write title tags which people want to click on? ‘Clickbait’ headlines might have got a bad reputation, but we can learn a lot from them. Many of the good ideas work in print too, and I was taught these in editorial training back in the 1980s.

  • Include numbers and dates: they’re eye-catching, and appeal to a technical audience;
  • Pose a question: not suitable for product pages, but quite possible for news;
  • Use the space available: short headlines with lots of white space next to them are a wasted opportunity. In search engine results, you have 60 characters, so use them;
  • Research the most-used terminology: don’t title your page ‘speedy widgets’ when people search for ‘fast widgets’; and
  • Think about the headline as a call to action.

A site crawl of your website, listing all the titles, is an essential first step in updating them. It’s worth the effort.