“What Do Department Store Santas and Prostitutes Have in Common?”
“Why Do Drug Dealers Still Live at Home with Their Mothers?”
These are two chapter titles from the Steven Levitt and Stephen Dubner book Freakonomics, a work that has captured the interest of hundreds of thousands of readers. One of the big draws of this book is the catchy and intriguing title for each chapter. You just want to read on.
But how would Google rate those titles in terms of SEO? Where are the keywords/keyword phrases that are popular and commonly used by generic searches?
These titles would be massively confusing, and Google might even try to modify them with other snippets because the titles are long. The results might even be pretty funny – articles on prostitutes or on Santa Claus, for example. But they might not do wonders for your SEO.
This is the challenge for content writers. How do we craft page titles that will merit high SEO ranking and yet appeal to the human need for uniqueness and cleverness? Optimize too far for one and you risk losing the other completely.
Satisfying the machine and the human requires skill and art, but it can be done. Here’s a look at what machine and human “audiences” want, and then a plan to make that happen in a page title.
1. Page Title as an SEO Ranking Signal – Google May Change Your Title
The importance of keywords/phrases has been beaten into the ground. While SEO ranking in 2017 is much more than just the title tag, your page title can help your Google ranking, and keywords placed in your page titles can end up being links to your web page(s).
It is still important, though, not to stuff your keyword into multiple pages on your site – this does not make Google happy.
The other important thing to remember is that Google may display a snippet rather than the entire title, especially if it is too long (titles are now very query dependent). It’s probably a good idea to stick to titles that are a maximum of 55 characters if you want to avoid Google-created snippets.
The downside of this, though, is that you may miss out on some of the long tail benefits.
If you do not, under any circumstances, want Google to change your title, then you will need to keep it 54 characters or less and do a little research in the topic area and see what Google does with some of those titles. You may be able to craft one that Google will leave alone.
Is There a Perfect Title Tag?
The answer is no. The important thing is that it fully and carefully relates to the content on the page and that it is popular relative to how people search for the content on that page.
So, take keywords/phrases that are natural for the page text and also meet search popularity (you will need to use data for this).
You can use Google’s keyword tool or any of a number of keyword popularity tools that are now available.
Be mindful too that title tags may change over time. The best plan is probably to optimize for search engine traffic first and then optimize for display, realizing that as keyword search terms evolve, so too will those terms in your content and title tags.
These are the key factors in getting a title tag that Google will like:
- Relevancy to page content and critical keyword used once
- Keyword phrases of high value based upon search history volume
- Title that does not exceed one line of text (about 512px wide)
- Stick to around 55 characters. Actually, more of a title will show on a mobile device than a PC – go figure.
- You can probably include as many as 12 words in your title, but the first 8 or so will be most important. It is up to Google how many words of a longer title will be used as the actual title tag.
- No one knows Google’s “secret sauce” for how many characters or words it will actually use as a title tag – some long titles have ranking success and some shorter ones do not. One thing’s for certain, though: Google will read every word in your title, if only looking for stuffing – just don’t do it.
- Google will use a snippet that it believes to be most query relevant, and it may even use information it finds on your page (as well as links to the page) and craft a very different title snippet than the one you expect.
- Google will punish you for using a great title that is trying to support “thin” content or text that is way too short.
- In 2017, it looks as if calls to action in titles may be of benefit, if they reflect the intent of the searcher – such words as “buy,” “learn,” “discover,” etc. For example, suppose you have a review site that evaluates the top sites for writing assistance. You will want to place a call to action in your title – perhaps “Read what customers say about professional writing services.”
- Think keyword phrase more than multiple single keywords in a title.
- Titles for each page on your site should be unique – avoid duplication
- If your brand is critical, put it early in the title; if SEO is more important, put your brand near the end of the title.
- It is not a good idea to put special characters in your title – Google really doesn’t want them
- Remember, too, that the more trust or authority your domain commands, the more likely you are to rank well. And trust and authority have to do more with other factors than your title.
- Google does speak to “click satisfaction,” although it is not clearly defined. It does relate to users finding what they want by clicking through to you. Again, be certain that your title is directly related to the page content and that the content is rich.
Your page title is still important to Google in 2017; however, a unique and truly relevant title is no longer enough to satisfy. Google is looking for long-form text pages which are both keyword and content rich, that also have good titles. It’s better for users and foils spammers.
2. Bringing Machines and Humans Together
When a consumer walks into a bookstore, and they are searching for, let’s say, a book on personal finances, they will first read the large section signs. Once they find the right section, they will peruse the book titles.
Guess which ones they will pick up and actually look at? Those with something catchy or clever in the title. Your title tag has to be like that bookstore. The keyword/keyword phrase must be like the large section sign, and the rest of your title is like that book title – it needs to attract.
So, how does a title attract? Here are the things that research says will do the trick:
By Addressing Search Intent
You want to get this problem or need in the beginning of the title, as well as the keyword phrase of what they are looking for.
For example, someone may be looking for ceramic cookware. Obviously, this is a keyword that must go in your title, if you sell ceramic cookware. But what else can you put in that will meet a need or solve a problem?
Here are some options:
“lowest prices on ceramic cookware,”
“healthy, safe, ceramic cookware.”
Now add a call to action.
“Get the lowest prices on healthy ceramic cookware,”
“Buy ceramic cookware at bargain prices,”
“Low prices on quality ceramic cookware while it lasts.”
If the brand name is well-known, reliable and popular, it’s often an asset.
Here are two of the top-ranked SERP’s for the organic search, “ceramic cookware:”
Bed, Bath, and Beyond is a known and respected name, so it is included.
The appeal of Xtrema is that their cookware is healthy, safe and green – an appeal to those who are very safety and health conscious. The word “green” is especially appealing in an emotional way.
By Being Catchy or Clever
Neither of the titles above is particularly clever or catchy. Both are serious, and focus on brand and emotion. It’s hard to get clever and catchy, but there are some tools that can help. Using good title generator tools can actually give you ideas for being clever and appealing to emotions as well.
- The Emotional Marketing Value Headline Analyzer will give you value score for a title’s emotional appeal.
- SE Ranking will assist in finding synonyms for keywords, especially for long-tail keywords which are becoming much more popular. It will also give you an analysis of the popularity of selected search terms relative to SEO.
- Portent Content Idea Generator will give you witty and often humorous title ideas. While you may not like the total titles, you will find some catchy words and phrases that you can use.
Coming up with catchy and clever titles is not a new challenge, but it does take lots of thought. In 2010, SearchEngineLand.com published a post with a keyword phrase, “SEO Advice.” Here is how they added a clever and catchy twist:
Of course, this appeared on the first page of a Google search for “SEO Advice,” because SEL is a well-known brand and the keywording is solid. Once it got found, the title is intriguing enough to make a user want to click.
Now It’s Your Turn to Practice
There doesn’t have to be a conflict here. Now that we understand so much more about keywords/phrases, thanks to the research data that is available, we can carefully choose those keywords and those long-tail phrases that Google wants to see.
Further, we now have enough experience, even though we don’t know Google’s “secret sauce,” to figure out placement of those words and terms.
If we are careful about our SEO appeal, we will also have the space to add those clever and catchy words and phrases that will engage and intrigue searchers.
It can be done – but it will take thought and creativity. There is a reason why Upworthy spends as much time on its titles as it does on its rich and great content.
So here is your homework.
- Do the research suggested above and identify the best current keywords/phrases for your niche. Write them down.
- Now, research words that trigger emotions – humor, fear, joy, amazement, love, trust, anger, anticipation, sensation, and some lesser ones such as wealth and remorse. If you are having trouble finding them, you can get ideas here.
- You can also use words/terms that are newer and popular with your demographic. An example would be, “It’s what’s up” or “What’s up with that?” So, suppose you had a page for website designers/developers on user experience. A title might be, “Chatbots – It’s What’s Up for User Experience.” (You have two keywords here – user experience and chatbots). Or, you could throw in Taco Bell (a company phasing in chatbots).
- The next step is to put together a title that has your keyword/phrases and an emotional trigger word or phrase, popular jargon, or something/someone well-known. (e.g., “SEO Advice for Bill Gates.”)
About the Author: Janet Anthony is a blogger from Kansas City and content editor at TopWritersReview who has been writing professionally for five years now. She mostly writes about blogging, SEO, and digital marketing. Her motto is “What you do today can improve all your tomorrows.” Find Janet here: twitter, facebook