How much do titles matter for SEO?
First, consider how people use page titles:
- People use them on the search engine results page to decide where they should click. If you don’t specify a title, or if the search engine doesn’t believe that your title provides the best information, the search engine may provide a title for you.
- People also use titles when they have a lot of tabs open on their computer screens, to find the page they want and to get back to it. This means that the first few words should make it quite clear what your page is about. The words should also be different on each page. People might have several pages from your website open on their screen. Choose “Contact Bayview Clinic” and “About Bayview Clinic” rather than “Bayview Clinic| Contact” and “Bayview Clinic| About Us.”
- Search engines use them, we think, to determine the point of your page. This means that your keywords should be included in your page title if they can be included naturally. Some believe that, since you can usually expect to rank for your company name, your page title shouldn’t be the name of your company. So, instead of having “Bayview Clinic” for a page title, they suggest that you should have “Biloxi Doctors.” I think this looks odd to the humans, and I don’t think that page titles carry so much weight that it’s worth making humans wonder about your trustworthiness. If you feel you must do this, go with “Bayview Clinic| Biloxi, MS.” This way, people can find the right tab on their screen without difficulty, and will click through to your page from the SERPs instead of thinking, “Those guys have a weird generic page title. I’ll go to some other, less weird company.”
Page titles for SEO
If you believe that page titles are the most important part of the page for search, I invite you to perform a couple of experiments:
- Check your main keywords: the terms that bring people to your site most often. Apart from your company name, how many are in the title of the visitors’ landing page?
- Do a few searches at your favorite search engine. How often are the keywords you used in the page titles of the top ten results?
I ran this experiment quite a few times for a number of different sites, and the results don’t confirm that page titles are the be all and end all for SEO. Often, sites whose titles don’t contain the search term rank higher than those with titles containing the search term.
In other words, titles have more value for your human visitors than for search engines.
Take an example from our lab site, FreshPlans. We know that from May through September, “classroom themes” is our primary keyword, while “lesson plans” is the main one for the rest of the year. This year, jungle classrooms are the rage, so our “jungle classroom theme” is the most popular page at our site for June. However, the second most popular page is titled “monkey lesson plans.” Look at the top ten keywords people used to reach this page:
- “classroom themes”
- “monkey classroom theme”
- “classroom theme ideas”
- “monkey themed classroom”
- “classroom theme”
- “monkey bulletin board”
- “monkey classroom”
- “monkey theme”
- “monkey theme classroom”
- “monkey bulletin board ideas”
People used lots of other searches, 182 in all, including “jungle classroom theme” and “learning lesson for kids hear no evil see no evil with the monkeys.” Of 853 visits from search, only one visitor actually typed in “monkey lesson plans.” Last fall, far more visitors to this page used the phrase “lesson plans.” That’s what our population happens to search for in the fall.
What’s the bottom line?
So give your pages, post, and press releases good titles that will work for humans and visitors, in the SERPs and on your page.
Choose simple, short titles most of the time, and follow Yoast guidance unless you have a good reason not to do so.
Use your keywords a lot in your titles, but not so much as to be unnatural. Occasionally use something cute or funny, if that fits your website (go ahead, check out “Suddenly You Realize: Your Husband’s Underwear is Ridiculous.” I dare you.). And be sure to keep in mind that a great page title can’t rescue a poor page.