5 Ingredients for a Successful Page Title

Posted at April 17, 2011

It’s the part of your page that you typically create first, and then never give it a second thought.  But did you know that the title of your page can literally make or break your ranking on Google?  It gets better. There really are two page titles to consider:

  • Visible page title: this is what appears visibly within the reading area of the page; normally it’s the largest text on the page.
  • HTML page title: you only see this at the very top of your browser, either shown in the browser tab or in the upper “chrome” area of the browser window.

Google cares about both titles, but more about the HTML title.  Here are 10 things you should consider when creating your titles–and WHEN to change them:

  1. The HTML title should not include the name of your church. That’s too generic. Unless your page is specifically about your church, change it to reflect the actual contents of the page.Why is this important? Google frowns on too many pages on the same site with identical titles. Also, when Google shows your page in its search results, it will only show the first several characters.  If every page of your site is called “First United Methodist Church – <something>”, then your Google search results will be under-differentiated and as a result, they will under-perform.
  2. The visible page title should be concise yet descriptive. Think more like a blogger, and less like a poet.Why is this important? The primary audience for the visible page title is humans, not search engines. Not sure if you knew this or not, but humans have short attention spans! (In fact if you are still reading this post, you are probably in the minority.) Folks have a tendency to scan and skim, so make sure your page title is accurately “marketing” the contents of what appears below.  This helps build trust between you and your readers.
  3. The page title should be distinct. Remember that in many cases, your page title will also be appearing in navigation menus throughout your site.  If you have three different pages on your site called “More information” or “About Us,” you’re not helping us figure out why we should click on those links.Why is this important? We find that this is especially common within churches, where different ministry/department staff are editing different parts of the site.  Despite best efforts, silo mentality can lead to a myopic view of page naming.  For example, if I’m editing the Men’s ministry page, the page called “More information about our ministry” makes perfect sense. After all, I’m in the Men’s section of the Website right?  What I’m forgetting, however, is that my page title may show up in search results elsewhere on the site.  A simple change to “More information about our Men’s ministry” would fix this nicely.
  4. Page title should be free of spelling and grammatical errors. Don’t just spell check and re-read the body of your page.  Include the title too!  Make this a part of your regular routine each time you post something new.Why is this important? Errors on your site, especially in a highly-visible area such as the page title, will lower your credibility.  Worse, Google’s search crawlers are trained to look for semantic errors in your site, since those can be telltale signs of spam.
  5. Page titles should not be changed en masse.  If you decide to make sweeping changes to all your page titles in a single day, wait! Not so fast, grasshopper.  You’d be better served to go slowly, changing 3 to 5 pages one week, then a few more the next week, and so on.Why is this important? Google notices mass changes like this to your site, and can levy a penalty for trying to “game” the system.  Slow and steady wins the race.

If you’re part of the SiteOrganic family, remember that you have the ability to give your pages “split” titles.  That is, you can create a page with different information for the visible page title as well as the HTML page title.  This is a good practice and you should strongly consider it when crafting your content.

By the way, our thoughts are similar to those in this excellent post over at the Search Engine Journal.

Do you have any other guidelines you enforce for page titles in your organization?

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