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April 18, 2008
Avoiding SEO Brain Freeze Part 3 - Creating Terrific Title Tags

If you've been following along with the "Avoiding SEO Brain Freeze" series, by now you should have mounds of keyword phrases that relate exactly to what your website offers, as well as a keyword phrase map that outlines which keyword phrases are appropriate for which pages of your existing website. If you haven't read the previous articles or haven't completed the steps put forth within them, I suggest you go back and do those before reading this article. Without knowing the appropriate keyword phrases that people are searching upon at Google, and without knowing which pages of your website are the most appropriate for them, you can't effectively move onto the next step -- creating terrific Title tags.


Writing terrific Title tags is one of the most important things you can do for your website. It’s not difficult, but it is much like solving a puzzle. You’ve got to take your few keyword phrases and arrange them in an order that provides you with the most benefit from search engines, while also appealing to your target audience within the search results pages.


For the purposes of this article, I'm going to assume you know what Title tags are (click the link if you don't), and you have access to editing them. It doesn't matter if you edit them through your content management system (CMS) or by making hand edits to your HTML files if you don't have a CMS; it just matters that you have the ability to customize them. If your CMS dynamically-generates Title tags based on certain rules, such as a product name or the first words on the page or the main headline of the page, you'll need to talk with your developer or IT team and ask them "fix" your system so that you can override these settings. Dynamically-generated Titles aren't necessarily bad, and for many of your deeper product pages, you may want to leave them in place (or create new rules for them); but for your home page and top-level category pages, it's imperative that you have some control of your Titles.


Since writing Title tags is more of a creative process than anything else, I can’t really provide you with specific “steps” to follow like in the previous articles. So instead, I’m providing you with some guidelines I’ve come up with through the years, which should help make the process more understandable for you:

Choose 3 keyword phrases for each Title. If you followed the steps in the 2 previous articles, you may have more than 3 keyword phrases targeted for each page of your website. Since Title tag space is limited, you most likely only be able to work 3 of them into the tag. (You’ll use the additional ones within your Meta description tags, and within the page copy itself.) You may want to choose the 3 that have the most number of searches according to your keyword research, but that’s not a hard and fast rule. Sometimes it’s worthwhile to have 1 highly competitive keyword phrase, and then 2 less competitive ones.


Longer is better. I prefer longer Titles over shorter ones and try to write them using approximately 10-12 words in total. Some people prefer shorter ones because the Title tag is what shows in the search results as the clickable link to your website, and longer ones will be cut off in the search results page. Don’t let that bother you; even if the entire tag isn’t visible in the search results, the engines are still indexing and weighting all the words contained within it. In fact, when the Title is partially cut off, it may serve as a teaser of sorts and perhaps even entice people to click to see the rest.


Don’t waste space with extra words. The tricky part of writing terrific Title tags is using the available real estate wisely. If you’re shooting for 10-12 words and are trying to get at least 3 decent keyword phrases worked in, it means you don’t have any space to waste. It’s imperative to keep any jargon, superlatives or marketing fluff out of your Titles for this reason. (Don’t worry, that’s what your Meta description tags are for!)


Put words together creatively. Presumably, the 3 keyword phrases you’ve chosen for your Title tag are going to be related in some way. In fact, there is most likely some overlapping of words within them. (If not, rethink your choices so that you do have this overlap.) This is where you get really creative and string your phrases together in such a way that the end of one phrase, starts the beginning of the next phrase. That’s one of my secret tricks to being able to place 3 phrases in a tag with only 10-12 words!


Don’t simply write a laundry list of phrases. The Title tag does get seen by people in the search results, and therefore has to be somewhat enticing for them to click on. Having just a list of words probably won’t cut it. On the other hand, as I’ve already mentioned, you don’t want to waste space on extra words. This is one of the biggest challenges you’ll have when writing your Title tags. You don’t want or need the Title to be a complete sentence, yet it still must make sense.


Take your time. You might not think that stringing 10-12 words together would be time consuming, but you definitely don’t want to rush them. This is where the puzzle aspect comes into play. If you think of each Title tag as solving a puzzle, you’ll understand why it takes time. Don’t be surprised if you spend at least 15 minutes on each Title. That’s okay! Eventually, you may be able to write them in 5 minutes, but certainly take your time when you’re first starting out.


Please note that these are very much just guidelines, not specific rules. There are no particular rules for Titles as every page is different and what works for one may not work for another. As with anything in SEO, there are a zillion ways to do it. If you have your own process that is different from mine which works for you, then by all means, keep doing it! You may also want to test different Titles to see what works best for your situation.


In a perfect world, you wouldn't actually create your Title tags until you wrote or re-wrote the actual content of your website's pages. To truly create terrific Titles you need the appropriate keyword-rich content that will match up with them. However, since Title tags are given so much weight by the search engines, I've found that just getting your keyword phrases into these correctly can jump-start your SEO campaign in a big way, which is why I’ve made it the next step to avoiding SEO brain freeze. Once you’ve written or edited your content, however, you’ll want to revisit your Titles and make sure they are still terrific!


Once you’ve got terrific Titles in place for your home page and its top-level category pages, there’s a good chance you’ll start to see an increase in targeted search engine traffic to your website fairly quickly (within weeks), especially if you previously had extremely poor Titles.


Happy Title-tagging (and puzzle solving!).


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As an SEO Consultant, Jill Whalen has been providing her no-nonsense, practical SEO advice since 1995. If you learned from this article be sure to sign up for Jill's popular High Rankings Advisor SEO Newsletter to keep up with the latest information in the ever-changing world of SEO. Follow her on Twitter @JillWhalen, "Like" her at Facebook, and "Circle" her on Google+.

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