Title Tags & SEO – A Complete Guide [2024]

Author: Stephen Kinsella

Last Updated: January 27, 2021

When it comes to SEO, one of the most important factors to ranking pages on Google are the title tags.

The title tags are a HTML code that lets both Google and search users know what your pages are about. Knowing how to best optimise them for SEO is really important.

Don’t know much about title tags? Don’t worry — this guide will cover everything you need to know, including:

  • What a title tag is
  • How title tags affect SEO
  • The difference between a title tag and a h1 tag
  • How to optimise your title tags for SEO
  • How it looks when you put it all together

Ready? Let’s get into it.

What Are Title Tags?

Title tags are HTML tags that describe what a page is about to Google and search users. They’re the clickable title of a page on a SERP (search engine results page.)

Here’s an example:

Title Tag Example

They can also be seen at the top of your web browser.

Dogs Are Humans Title Tag Bbc

If you create a bookmark of a page, it’s also visible.

Title Tag In Browser

If a page is posted/shared on social media its title tags can be seen there as well.

Title Tags Appearing In Facebook

Title tags are also referred to as page titles, SEO titles, and meta titles. They’re most known as title tags because of how they look as actual HTML code. Here’s an example:

Title Tag Example In Code

See? The actual HTML tag are “title tags.”

Why Are Title Tags Important for SEO?

When you boil it right down, there’s really only 2 reasons why title tags are important for SEO:

  • It’s a good place to put a keyword
  • They affect user experience and click-through rate

Keyword Placement

Firstly, it has been shown again and again that featuring a keyword in your title tags improves search rankings. Ahrefs conducted research into the matter and found a correlation between keyword title tag usage and Google ranking position.

Usage Of Keyword In Title

Image Source: Ahrefs

Even though it’s only a subtle correlation, it still exists. Google anything really and you’ll find that keyword title tags are featured in most, if not all of the top results.

IMAGE (Image of search results all with keyword page titles)

User Experience + Click-through Rate

Title tags also matter because they improve user experience and click-through rate. When people use Google to find something, the first thing they see regarding search results is the title tags. It’s what lets them know what the page is about.

A well crafted page title can effectively communicate what a page is about. This’ll make them more likely to click on the result, which improves the “click-through rate” metric.

Click-through rate in of itself is hotly debated regarding whether it’s a Google ranking factor. It may or may not be, but what’s clear is that it does somewhat influence SEO — at least indirectly.

NOTE: This also isn’t just for Google — social media also shows your title tags as well. A high quality page title will entice and encourage people to click, just as it would on Google. 

Title Tag vs. h1 Tag: What’s the Difference? 

The title tag and the h1 tag are often mistaken as being the same thing. The truth is that they’re two separate things.

The title tag is your page’s title on the Google search results page.

This is the title tag

The h1 tag on the other hand, is the title of your page on the actual page itself.

They’re frequently confused as being the same thing because often they have the exact same text. There’s generally no reason to have a different title tag and a h1 tag. Good practice is essentially the same for both HTML tags — no need to complicate things.

To see both the title tag and h1 tag of a page, simply right click and select Inspect.

Title Tags How To View Code

An interface on the right should appear.

Title Tag Example Of Viewing Code

Press Ctrl + F and type “h1” to find the h1 tag.

H1 Html Code

For the title tag, do the same and type “title.”

Title Tag Code Example

How to Optimise Your Title Tags for SEO

There are many different things you can do to optimise your title tags for SEO. I’ve listed some of the best below.

  • Use a Keyword
  • Front-load Your Keyword
  • Use Keyword Variations
  • Keep It Short
  • Use an Odd Number
  • Use Some Title Modifiers
  • Target Search Intent

Use a Keyword

As was mentioned earlier in this guide, your title tag is a great place to put a keyword. This is because it’s been shown to subtly improve search rankings on Google.

This is exactly what Brian Dean of Backlinko discovered.

Keyword Appears In Title Tag Exact Match

Image Source: Backlinko

Matthew Barby also came to the same findings with his own research.

Keyword Appearance Title Google Ranking
Keyword Appearance Title Google Ranking

Image Source: Matthew Barby

Basically? Keyword in your title tags = good for SEO. 

NOTE: Avoid keyword stuffing. You only need to put your primary keyword in there once. Google has stated this themselves.

Google Search Central - Title Tags Keyword Stuffing

Front-load Your Keyword

Not only should you put your keyword in your title tags, but you should “front-load” it.

Front-loading basically means you put it towards the start of your page title.

Front Loaded Keywords In Title Tags

Why should you do this? Well, it seems to improve search rankings on Google. Just take a look at most 1st page results — you’ll find a lot of front-loaded keyword page titles. 

If anything, the practice seems to align your title tags better for search users and search intent.

NOTE: Front-loading doesn’t mean it has to be right at the start. Just generally towards the front. As an example, these two titles would both be adequate:

  • Title Tags: Complete Optimisation Guide (2021)
  • Complete Title Tags Optimisation Guide (2021)

Use Keyword Variations

Did you know that pages actually rank for not just one keyword, but many?

Research from Ahrefs found this to be true — the top results on Google rank for literally 1000’s of different keywords.

Keywords Also Rank For

Image Source: Ahrefs

What does this mean for your title tags? Well, it means that you should also try to use some keyword variations/LSI keywords, aside from your primary one. This’ll help provide Google with more contextual information, to better rank your page.

1-2 keyword variations is all you really need. 

Keep It Short

The length of your title tags is really important. Too short and you won’t be able to accurately describe your page. Too long and Google will cut it off, essentially ruining it for search users. Like most things in life, the answer is in the middle.

It has actually been shown that pages with shorter title tags correlate with better Google rankings.

Title Tag Length Google Ranking

Image Source: Matthew Barby

They’re also associated with higher click-through rates, as well as more social media shares.

So, what’s ideal? How long should your title tags be?

Answer: 60 characters or less.

This is because after around 60 characters, Google cuts the rest, making the page title look like this:

Title Tag Example Cut Off

Not good.

The cut off point might not exactly be 60 characters, as screen size and device being used matters. Viral headline research showed it to be 62 characters.

I think 60 or less is a good practice. 

Use an Odd Number

Using numbers — specifically odd ones — in your headlines can improve user experience and click-through rate. This is because we as humans love numbers. They’re easy to process, being specific and measurable.

A study from Conductor actually showed this, too. Check out the graph below. 

Conductor Headline Preference

Like I said before: people like numbers because they’re specific and measurable. Clarity, easy to understand. 

And why odd numbers? For some reason they seem to perform better. Research of 150,000 headlines from Hubspot showed odd numbers have a 20% greater click-through rate.

Use Some Title Modifiers 

You should also add some “title modifiers” to your page title. These are words that are added to the end of your keyword. Here are some common examples:

  • 2021 (this year)
  • Best
  • Guide
  • PDF 
  • Free
  • Course
  • Checklist
  • Easy
  • Review

You know when you type something into Google and suggestions appear, like the current year? These are title modifiers. 

Use Of Title Modifiers

Putting a few title modifiers in your page title will help it rank for more longtail keyword variations of your primary one. This allows your page to reach a broader net of search terms, bringing you in more organic traffic.

Which modifiers you use really depends on the keyword and content you’re making. The current year (2021) is fairly universal and can be added to most.

Target Search Intent

When you create your title tags, it’s essential that you write it so it aligns with search intent.

Search intent is the reason why someone searches for something in Google. It’s the specific intent of the word or phrase they type into Google.

If you Googled “how to bake a cake” you’d be looking for information about how to bake a cake. Fairly straight forward, right?

Title Tag Example How To Bake A Cake

Not all keywords have such an obvious intent. If you Google “SEO tool” content pieces about the best SEO tools appear, not a result for a specific tool.

SEO Tool Title Tag Example

There are 5 main types of search intent:

  • Informational: Looking for information on something.
    • Examples: “How to bake a cake” or “Who is Joe Biden?” or “Football scores”
  • Commercial Investigation: Doing research about commercial options.
    • Examples: “Best basketball shoes” or “Netflix vs Amazon Prime” or “Best hotel in London”
  • Navigational: Looking for a specific website or page.
    • Examples: “Twitter” or “CNN.com” or “Netflix homepage”
  • Transactional: Looking to make a specific purchase.
    • Examples: “Buy iPhone 12” or “Macbook cheap” or “Netflix coupon”
  • Local Search: Information regarding local topics and issues.
    • Examples: “Gas stations near me” or “Nearest park” or “Schools in my area”

Each keyword searched will have one, or a mix of these intents. When it comes to writing your title tag, you need to make sure it aligns with this. To get this right it’s as simple as googling your keyword and observing the top ranking results page titles.

NOTE: If your page and its title tag have a local, geographical intent, look at the right search results. Every geographical region has its own top ranking results on Google. If you were trying to rank a service page for lawn mowing, you’d definitely want to check local Google results.

Optimisation: Putting It All Together

Here’s how it looks when you put it all together. 

Title Tag Structure

NOTE: You might not be able to utilise every strategy outlined above for every title tag. For example, there are instances where using a number wouldn’t make sense. For most you should be able to implement the keyword and length strategies.     

Key Takeaways

  • A title tag is a HTML tag that lets Google and search users know what a page is about.
  • Title tags can also be called page titles, meta titles, or SEO titles.
  • It’s not the same thing as a h1 tag.
  • The title tag is the header of your page on the SERP (search engine results page.)
  • The h1 tag is the header of your page on the actual page.
  • Use a keyword. 
  • Front-load your keyword.
  • Use 1-2 keyword variations if possible.
  • Limit the length of your title tag to 60 characters or less.
  • Use an odd number if possible.
  • Add title modifiers like “2021” or “guide.”
  • Make sure your title tag is written for search intent.

Final Thoughts

In this guide we covered everything you need to know about title tags.

Your title tags are the titles of your pages on Google. It lets both search users and Google know what your page is about, which is why it’s so important for SEO.

Utilise the best practices outlined in this guide to completely optimise your title tags for SEO.

Got any questions? Get in contact with us here.

Stephen Kinsella

Stephen Kinsella

Founder / Head of SEO - We Love SEO

Stephen's managed SEO campaigns for over 400 clients since 2006 ranging from start-ups and SMEs to large multinational companies including Brave Software, eBay, Lonely Planet, AXA and Samsung.